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It’s not a whip: Monica Bonvicini

INTERVIEW! Right after the final swing of her mechanised flogger at the Berlinische Galerie, Monica Bonvicini’s provocative work comes to König Galerie’s chapel starting Mar 3.

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Photo by Karolina Spolniewski

Right after the final swing of her mechanised flogger at the Berlinische Galerie, Monica Bonvicini’s provocative work comes to König Galerie’s chapel.

The Berlin-based Italian artist is known for sculptures and installations that use leather, latex and chains to challenge gender and power dynamics. We caught up with her at her Berlinische Galerie solo exhibition, which closed at the end of February, to discuss where she’d go from there.

What brought you to Berlin and why did you stay?

It was a train that brought me to Berlin. [Laughs] Like many people, I never thought of staying so long. First, I came to visit a friend, and then I went to see the university. I was telling my mom, “Oh, another two months… another three months…” and then I kind of stayed here forever.

What makes good art?

I like art that makes you think. I like precision – in thinking and the translation of that into materials. I also like art where I don’t have to read 15 pages before I understand what it is – which means it has to have an impact on me somehow, physically or visually.

“Impactful” certainly applies to your own work. When did you start using objects and materials related to fetish culture – the rubber, latex and sex swings?

I think I started in 2002. I did a solo show in New York called The Fetishism of Commodity – it was a quotation from Marx – where I was interested in art as a fetish for society, for collectors, for a game, for this power structure. Strangely enough, I also connect the word to Mies van der Rohe, who’s somebody that I am always going back to – my next big project will also relate to him. He’s famous for his materiality and especially for using an enormous amount of glass to portray the “transparency of Modernism”. I made a work that had a gate structure with chains and glass and the swing in the center, and I also used latex sheets for the first time.

Where does that fascination with fetish culture come from?

For me it was quite a liberating feeling to go to a few clubs in London and New York around that time. I went as a tourist, or like a researcher, but I went with a totally open mind. It was really beautiful to see how you could use a space for something that was not private, not public, not recreational or musical. You could totally fill the air of these spaces with the smell, with sweat, with everything that is so much part of all of us. At the time it was also quite gay, I mean male gay. That was also a way for me to critique a certain kind of system, a power structure in the arts that was also very gay, like a network. I think that is also starting to change, but especially at the time this was the case.

Anything else you want to add about that?

Honestly, I’m pissed off at all these journalists writing about fetishism in my work. For example, this work, Breathing [at Berlinische Galerie, photo] – I call it a broom, like a witch’s broom or something. It’s not really a whip, it doesn’t have any features specifically defined as fetish. It’s so reductive somehow.

So, you think that is overemphasized in how your work is framed?

Yeah. I discovered yesterday that on January 19, the director here announced: “Come for International Fetish Day!” [Laughs] Yeah, I think it is really reductive.

What about your exhibition at König Galerie?

For the exhibition I am working on a new production: a sculpture in the form of an oversized hip hop-lookalike necklace, the chain hanging from the ceiling with the golden hanger lying on the ground. I will also produce a limited edition of bad-ass necklaces out of polished steel as well as caps, all bearing the word “Guilt”. It’s gonna be a fun show!

Monica Bonvicini Mar 3-Apr 15 König Galerie Chapel, Kreuzberg