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Stuffed animals occupy Vienna’s mumok

Vienna’s mumok is presenting a get-together of beats, music, installations, films and stuffed animals. Yes, you read correctly – stuffed animals. Cosima von Bonin’s exhibition ‘Hippies use side door. The year 2014 has lost the plot.’ has transformed the museum into a huge playground with an after-party atmosphere: From an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ scenery where visitors become dwarfs between oversized mushrooms, tables and missiles up to installations rebuilt out of cardboard. Sound and music are a recurring theme. On almost every exhibition floor, loudspeakers are playing decent beats which were especially composed for the exhibition by Moritz von Oswald. Headphones are placed on a platform overlooking the room, blaring techno music in club-like volume. Stuffed animals are almost everywhere: riding on missiles, vomiting on themselves, lying around lazily next to a TV or hanging out in front of a wooden shack. Simply every floor of the mumok has become an adventure of its own.

Right at the entrance, visitors are welcomed by a set of three stuffed animals: two giant dogs and one donkey. Made of expensive couture fabrics and designer scarfs wrapped around their necks, they are placed like majestic statues on white platforms. Only at second glance, one identifies these platforms as shoe boxes or as white boxes used in designer stores for packing expensive goods. Reference is made to today’s consumer world on the one hand, but on the other hand one could also see a connection to the 1960s Pop Art whose artists also used commercial products as themes for their work.

The exhibition itself is a retrospective of Cosima von Bonin’s art. Pieces are rebuilt for the occasion, others are reused from previous shows and some – like ‘The Italian’, a sculpture standing on a balcony attached to the outside wall – were made especially for Vienna. The front wall of the museum has only one big window near the top and the balcony had to be positioned right there. Now it is for the spectators to decide if the sculpture is retching due to Cosima von Bonin’s exhibition or due to the height of its placement.

Inside the museum’s walls right behind the window where ‘The Italian’ lingers, one finds a surreal world of oversized desks, stuffed animals, shacks, mushrooms, music beats and videos. This floor plays with proportions and turns visitors into tiny little figures ready to explore a wonderland. There are stuffed animals like bears, rabbits and mussels sitting in front of shacks or on skateboards and swings. This world is a new staging of Cosima von Bonin’s European tour ‘The Lazy Susan Series (2010-2012)’. The term ‘Lazy Susan’ refers to moving platforms on restaurant tables that are used for easily sharing food between the guests on a particular table. One piece that catches your eye in this rather chaotic setting is a stuffed animal – a vomiting chicken – riding on a neon pink and green colored missile. The name of this work: ‘Missy Misdemeanour (The vomiting white chick, Riley (Loop #5), MVO’s Rocket Blast Beat)’.

The second floor of the exhibition is a continuing journey through surreal installations. A giant white bikini is hanging on a wall – offering all details of its real-life counterpart. One could even attach the strings to fit a certain size. In both corners of the room, maritime home goods and souvenirs are on display as well as a giant stuffed animal shark sitting on a school bench.

Walking through the exhibition, one arrives at Cosima von Bonin’s fabric pictures. These were shown in the exhibition ‘Fatigue Empire’ back in 2010 in the Kunsthaus Bregenz in Austria. Her fabric pictures have a patchwork-resembling style, often showing the silhouettes of comic-figure dogs with messages stitched into them. One of those messages reads ‘Harmonie ist eine Strategie’ (‘Harmony is a strategy’) which is also a song title by the German rock band Tocotronic. Their lead singer is a close friend of the artist and it is said to be an inspiring friendship for both sides. For example, the band’s 2007 album is called ‘Kapitulation’ (‘Capitulation’), named after Cosima von Bonin’s correspondent work which is now in private ownership. This fact did not stop the artist from showing this particular installation in her Viennese exhibition. She simply organized a life-sized recreation of the work made of cardboard. It consists of three white walls and a huge catamaran in the center. During the actual installation this catamaran was destroyed by people jumping on it from all sides.

Cosima von Bonin’s approach for realizing her art is teamwork – ‘Ich bin viele’ (‘I am many’) or ‘Wir sind viele’ (‘We are many.) are her mantras. The mumok describes her work process as ‘cultivating an art of delegation’ as she hires experts for making her ideas come to life. The stuffed animals at the entrance for example are made by seamstresses who are masters in their field. Her work is not focused on a particular medium but consists of sculptures, installations, fabric pictures, photography and film. For Cosima von Bonin, a creation process is a back and forth of ideas, exchanged between different people – artists as well as friends – from different backgrounds like music or fine arts. This is perfectly reflected in the mumok as one wall is dedicated to all the people that worked on realizing this exhibition. A vast list of names is painted above the entrance, from seamstresses to museum guides up to a veterinarian who looked at her dogs while she was staying in Vienna.

The exhibition also shows pieces from artists that Cosima von Bonin admires, such as Isa Genzken, Martin Kippenberger, André Cadere and many more. The sculpture ‘Blume’ (‘Flower’) by the artist Okka-Esther Hungerbühler was actually bought by Cosima von Bonin and is also a part of her current show. This flower – a robot with an integrated camera – opens its leaves when it is slowly approached by just one person at a time. Hasty movements or groups of people scare the flower and the leaves close immediately. By showing her own pieces as well as works from other artists, Cosima von Bonin shows her admiration but at the same time puts herself on an equal level with them.

For her first show in Hamburg in 1990 she created an installation of balloons together with Josef Strau. On these balloons they wrote down the names of famous conceptual artists, as Cindy Sherman, together with their date of birth and the date of their first solo exhibition. The balloons stood for the hype and fading of artists within the art market. Some balloons stayed up in the air throughout the exhibition whereas others drifted slowly to the floor over time. During this show Cosima von Bonin took a seat in the exhibition window to become a product of the art market herself – to show the ever growing mix up between art and market value.

An interesting thing about Cosima von Bonin is that her art is very outgoing, loud and open for interpretation whereas she as a person is said to be rather shy, not giving any interviews or insights into her art. Furthermore, she says that she does not want to transport any messages with her work – neither politically nor socially. When asked by the mumok why she decided to put ‘The Italian’ on the outside of the building she simply stated: ‘I have always thought that the museum needed a balcony.’

Cosima von Bonin refuses being pressured by the art market, by its demand for being creative all the time and being turned into a commercial product. Her stuffed animals are transporting these notions by vomiting, lying lethargically on the exhibition floor and indulging in sweet idleness.

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