Two fish dressed up in skirts and shackled to guitars guard the entrance of Magasin III in Jaffa at Cosima von Bonin’s first solo exhibition in Israel.
‘Ocean and Caffeine’ looks as if it is inspired by the essence of the port city as a surfboard leans horizontally on the wall, but it is a crash course in nearly two decades of von Bonin’s work about marine life. Growing up by the Indian Ocean on the coast of Mombasa, Kenya was where her fascination and concern for reefs and sea life began.
The spirited exhibition utilises the gallery’s lofty space, from long boats running across the parameter to textiles scaling up the walls. Many of the works are ready-mades, tracing the artist’s travels and experiences. Plopped in the middle of the gallery is a plush octopus, ‘Seasons in the Abyss’ (2006). The eight arms have embellished tips made of swirling mocha marble glass. The octopus is slightly elevated by a blank canvas and a stack of cardboard. The blank canvas is raised from the ground by a garden figurine with a plump, angry face, smoking a cigar. Perhaps this is a nod to how humans pollute the ocean?
Resting on trestles ready to sail into the Mediterranean Sea is an 11-metre boat, which spans the length of the gallery. The boat (now-ready-made-sculpture), titled ‘Item’ (2001), is shaped like an almond and was customised to have the seats covered, diminishing its usability. Usually the boat is wrapped with a dress and fastened with buttons; the decorative textile hangs on the wall in the gallery as a tapestry. The fabric is a collage of textiles with one patch being a souvenir from Waterloo. ‘Item’ was commissioned for the 2001 exhibition ‘Free Port’ at Magasin III, Stockholm and is one of four works on view from the Magasin III collection.
Dressing objects is at the core of von Bonin’s work and what she calls “accessorising”. A jug sits on a chair; it looks like a large coffee pot that could be purchased at the Jaffa Flea Market. The work ‘What if It Barks 7 (Coffee Pot Version)’ (2018) is draped with fabrics such as black gingham, silver faux snakeskin, red and orange jersey, silver chains and shoelaces.
Von Bonin is known for collaborating with artists and musicians, even inviting them to participate in her “solo” exhibitions. At the edge of the gallery is a surreal scene where a transparent jellyfish speaker blasts techno music by composer Moritz von Oswald above a hermit crab as it reclines on a blue chair designed by Jean Royère. The music for ‘Hermit Crab in Fake Royère & MVO’s Hermit Crab [Fake Royère]’ (2010) was a collaboration between the two artists, surprisingly made without meeting face to face.
The exhibition is an under-the-sea amusement park of hand-picked artworks that fit seamlessly into the surroundings of the gallery, but does not deliver a direct concept to the viewer. Perhaps it is because of the way that von Bonin works with a team, meaning that there are multiple hands creating these objects? Or is it because of the lack of visual critique of humans harming marine life? The exhibition is an animated techno party, a spectacle celebrating the home of von Bonin. As she says in her own words “I am from the ocean”, and maybe seeing her world is enough.