Bunny Rogers, Locker Room, 2020, mixed media. Installation view.

Bunny Rogers, Locker Room, 2020, mixed media. Installation view.

Bunny Rogers

“Thinking is linear; emotions are space,” said the Swiss architect Peter Zumthor. His acclaimed Kunsthaus Bregenz was the setting for an extraordinary exhibition by Bunny Rogers, who turned the cast-concrete cube into a mausoleum. Her sprawling show, “Kind Kingdom,” consisted of four allover environments, one on each of the gallery’s floors. The immersive tableaux could be taken in with all senses: Scent, sound, even room temperature enhanced the visual dimension. Rogers’s art speaks loud and clear—evoking themes of loneliness and loss, kitsch and garbage, melancholy and paranoia, Lady Diana and the sinking of the Titanic, beauty, youth, adolescent binge drinking—while always foreshadowing the inevitable end.

Rogers’s memento mori started in the nocturnal chiaroscuro of the lobby, where she imagined her own funeral in Memorial (all works 2020), comprising a grave mound, bluish-black roses (symbols of forbidden love), wreaths, and a painted self-portrait, bordered with eucalyptus, of the artist as a thirteen-year-old. LED fireflies flashed up amid the velvety blue—the creatures venturing their lives for a night of lovemaking. A piece of actual lawn, moist and fragrantly green, had been rolled out as a repoussoir in front of the catafalque.

All of these elements could also be read as references to the communal work of mourning the deaths of stars and VIPs—Rogers notes that she finds celebrity tribute memorials irresistible. At the tender age of seven, in 1997, she watched the public obsequies for Lady Di on television; she was captivated by it all, including the devastated sons and the hysterically sobbing Londoners lining the streets. Here, Diana souvenirs were scattered over the lawn: a purple Beanie Baby bear with an embroidered white rose, a few shattered CDs of Elton John singing “Candle in the Wind.”

This first chapter of the “Kind Kingdom” tetralogy was suffused with the hyperromantic mood of, say, Franz Schubert’s Death and the Maiden. The theme ramified in different directions on the next three floors. After Memorial came the raging, toxic Trash Mound. A pile of garbage bags took the place of the burial mound on the floor below; the lawn was strewn with bottles, Coke cans, and leftover food; you could almost smell a lingering scent of alcohol in the air. It was the morning after the party that you thought would dispel your misery. No such luck: You were hungover, and your head was pounding as you frantically tried to remember what had happened the previous night.

On the third floor, with Cement Garden, the artist used blocks of cement with dried roses embedded in them to propose a sculptural abstraction of processes of grief and a Snow White–like mummification of beauty. The walls and floor of the uppermost gallery were covered with some twenty-five thousand tiles along with fully functional showers: Locker Room was an oversize mock-up of the changing room of an American high-school gym, a setting where students come together, but also a place of enormous vulnerability. Vast and empty, the room felt comfortless and forbidding. Water trickled from the shower heads now and then; steam wafted through the air. The artist’s signature sculptures, floor mops in various colors discreetly decorated with ribbons, stood in a corner.

This was not Rogers’s first time grappling with the psychology of spaces. The 1999 Columbine school shooting, which seared itself into Americans’ collective consciousness, has been part of her stock of subjectively resonant images from the beginning. “Kind Kingdom,” in fact, picked up on her trilogy “Columbine Library,” 2014; “Columbine Cafeteria,” 2016; and A Very Special Holiday Performance in Columbine Auditorium, 2017. Rogers’s personal cosmology may be somber, but the exhibition’s subtext, she avers—surprisingly—is optimistic: It opened with death and ended with water, a potent symbol of life.

Translated from German by Gerrit Jackson.