Placed in the pavilion designed by Karl Schwanzer, Monica Bonvicini takes over the impressive open-plan ground floor of the Belvedere 21. Bonvicini’s pieces redirect the viewer’s experience towards a performative space that welcomes the outside world, touching on questions of politics and society. Using institutional ways of conditioning her subject, the artist highlights the impact of societal structures. Through her work, Bonvicini reflects on the relationships between this space and the viewer.
Recontextualising the patriarchal symbols of wire fences, cowboys and belts for expressing dominance, Bonvicini’s pieces are placed in a circular plan. The viewer’s gaze wanders from one artefact to the next and in the centre of it all ‘I CANNOT HIDE MY ANGER’ (2019) dominates the space. This piece comprises 112 aluminium sheets that form a tubular steel structure with an inaccessible interior. It is a representation of power, like a fortress at the heart of the space – a large threshold that is impossible to be crossed. The longing to enter is discouraged by the choice of metallic materials, which reflect the surrounding space, as well as the positioning of the pieces, partly excluded and partly connected with the ‘fortress’ itself. Approaching, the viewer chooses which way to circumvent the structure and becomes a part of the performance, acting as the final element of the constellation of pieces around the fortress. Despite all these distractions, the aluminium structure remains a constant presence in the room that affects our reading of the artefacts.
The exhibition alludes to questions of geographical and political divisions. One of the pieces -‘Marlboro Man’ (2019) - displays a cowboy riding along a fenced off territory that is manly and patriarchal. Opposite, we encounter ‘Double Trouble’ (2019): a bunk bed like those found in refugee camps, which has been replaced by a series of mirrors and a belt that repeat endlessly, as if to discourage privacy. The works touch upon discrimination and social injustice by referencing the building of walls and borders versus open thresholds. Furthermore, ‘Wildfire Kern’ (2010) – a black and white canvas showing houses affected by wildfires - brings forward the link between climate change and injustice caused by global decision making.
Bonvicini uses her work and its constellation as a stimulating medium to change the way in which we experience art and architecture. The artist plays with behavioural patterns and the differences between the viewer’s public and private perspective through the framework of the museum - revealing how the sense of our surroundings can be manipulated.
To finish off the exhibition, Belvedere 21 invites the viewer to peak into the other exhibition taking place upstairs. Upon entering the upper level the viewer is thrown into an open space where they can sneak a glance through a balcony into the fortress on the ground floor. Undisturbed, one can now see into the space inside of it. Knowing that behind the vast inaccessible walls of ‘I CANNOT HIDE MY ANGER’ is an empty nothingness forces the viewer to question their relationship and feeling towards the aluminium fortress. Watching tiny visitors circulate around it from above, however, did not impact my feelings on this monstrosity. On the contrary it left me with a strong sense of awareness of societal power hierarchies.