Monica Bonvicini

Galleria Emi Fontana

Monica Bonvicini’s most recent exhibition in Italy marked an important turning point in her work, bringing to maturation themes present in earlier pieces that focused on the idea of the fetish. The two canonical definitions of the fetish, those of Marx and Freud, were explicitly referenced, written in pencil at the bottom of Drawing for Blind Shot (Fetish), 2004. The fetish, considered both as a sign of the alienation of the worker from the product of his work and the substitution of the eroticized body with an object equivalent, is fundamental to the principal relationships that exist in Western society and basic to much of the collective imagination. Bonvicini has delved into many aspects of this imagination, particularly the ideological covers that legitimize sexual dynamics and the antithesis between man and woman. She has done so in this show with her usual severity, that is, with works that concede very little to formalism and that prod the observer but without turning into mere “provocations.”

Four large, black metal cages rested on high cement bases. Construction and demolition tools hung inside the cages: a jackhammer, a stone saw, a mixer, a chain saw. But the objects’ functionality has been annihilated, for they were covered with sheaths of black adhesive leather, revealing the objects’ shapes but mummifying them, as it were, while subjecting them to an act of negation. The leather sheaths bring each object to the level of pure fetish, understood precisely in terms of its primary meaning, as an object that can no longer be used except for some “other,” divergent, and above all virtual form of consumption. Indeed, a fetish is never used up, being the object of fantasized and libidinal rather than disquieted devotion; as Walter Benjamin would say, it is through fetishism that the object of use, common to the point of banality, is “saved” from death through consumption.

The fetishistic nature of the work of art, like any other commodity, emerged with great power in this disturbing installation. In the last area of the L-shaped gallery, separated from the rest of the space by a bench made of scaffolding pipes and black leather belts, an electric drill, painted black, hung from the ceiling. The tool turned on automatically at regular intervals, vibrating and emitting an unpleasant noise. What immediately came to mind were the elegant machines and musical instruments of Rebecca Horn, a precedent from which Bonvicini has deviated radically: Gone are utopian urges typical of Horn’s generation; instead we encounter the disenchanted observation of a generalized alienation and the need for more-precise, less-idealistic analysis.

Graphic works, drawings, collages, and photocopies were scattered over the gallery walls, and these contained installation plans for the exhibition, with the silhouettes of the mechanical tools and then words, phrases, and fragments of images belonging to the “tough” universe that often recurs in the artist’s work—male “views of the world” with all their underlying values. For Bonvicini, this is the suitable setting for her critical investigations (on the relationship between body and architecture, sex and urban space), which reached maturity with this recent and lucid reflection.

Giorgio Verzotti

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.