monica bonvicini's 'never again' returns 20 years later reflecting on space, sexuality & labor

monica bonvicini's 'never again' returns 20 years later reflecting on space, sexuality & labor

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Monica Bonvicini’s Never Again (2005) at Art Basel 2023

 

In 2005, Monica Bonvicini‘s installation Never Again made its debut at the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin, captivating audiences with its message on societal norms and human engagement in art. Nearly two decades later, the artist revisited the same installation, exploring how its meaning has endured and evolved over time. However, this time, the artwork was exhibited as part of an art fair, on the occasion of Art Basel 2023, rather than in an institution. As she mentions, ‘the set up is different, but the message is the same’. During our visit to the event in June 2023, designboom had the opportunity to sit down with the artist, delving into its reception both in 2005 and within the contemporary context. We discussed the concept behind the project, Bonvicini’s influences, and how they have influenced her creative process. For a deeper understanding, you can explore the artist’s answers below.

 

Through her architectural installations, Bonvicini challenges traditional exhibition viewing by inviting viewers to physically engage with her swings made of steel pipes, black leather, and chains. As spectators navigate the space, the customary politics of observing exhibitions undergo a subtle transformation, offering a critical commentary on societal and structural norms. By incorporating elements of psychoanalysis, sexuality, labor, feminism, and architecture, Bonvicini delves into the impact of urban, private, and institutional spaces on human behavior. Never Again raises questions about the sanitization of minimalist art from the human body.

 

monica bonvicini's 'never again' returns 20 years later reflecting on space, sexuality & labor
image © designboom

 

 

a provocative artwork that has endured throughout the years

 

Bonvicini was eager to witness how the installation would evolve and be perceived after nearly two decades. ‘I was very curious to see how the installation functions and how it can be understood after almost 20 years. I must say, though, that it’s a work that has been exhibited at different times, unlike some works that are only exhibited once, and you never see again. This is not the case here,’ explains the artist.

 

In 2005, she anticipated the idea of museums as social and communal spaces. However, today, she questions whether museums have become too commonplace, blurring the line between art and everyday experiences. ‘This is a work that is about the relationship between the artist and the institution, but here, there is no institution, we are in an art fair, so the set up is different, but the message is the same. Works around performativity have increased in the last 20 years, so, in that sense, the reception of Never Again might be different,’ she continues.

 

‘Back in 2005, I think I anticipated the idea of a museum as a social and common place. Sometimes now I have the impression that museums are even places for too common experiences. I mean, do we really need to do yoga in front of Rembrandt? Maybe it is more radical now to not bring a cellphone into the museum, to learn how to look at art again.’

monica bonvicini's 'never again' returns 20 years later reflecting on space, sexuality & labor
the experience is enhanced by the sounds of the chains when they move | image ©designboom

 

 

Never Again: A Timeless Exploration of Desire, Sexuality, and Transformation

 

Never Again appropriates the aesthetics of BDSM to address desire, chance, submission, and control, echoing the changing understanding and experience of sexuality over the years. ‘Also, what changed is how the work reflects on social understanding of sexuality. How we see and experience sexuality has changed a lot in the past 20 years. If there was a kind of ‘subculture’ in 2005, I don’t know how much there is one now. Or let’s say that that aesthetic has now been occupied by some liberal forces.’

 

Despite the passage of time, the installation’s aesthetic power endures. ‘In reality, we could talk of two different works in one. Never Again as it is, is a minimal and kind of harsh installation. People don’t really want to walk through it — as was the case in 2005,’ describes Bonvicini. ‘But once people use the swings, without even knowing how, they activate it into some sort of an adult playground. It becomes something completely different, also because of the sounds of the chains when they move, there is a sensorial level which also adds to the experience. You kind of distance yourself when it’s empty, but when it’s full, it becomes something to embrace, it is almost joyful.’

monica bonvicini's 'never again' returns 20 years later reflecting on space, sexuality & labor
image ©designboom

 

Reflecting on the installation, the artist shares her perspective, stating: ‘The installation doesn’t feel very welcoming when it is not used by people. I call it a minimal piece of art when it’s devoid of people. It deals so much with the body without actually having one in there. Without having a representation of a body. It plays with the idea of the absent body. In that sense it explores, both now and in 2005, the idea of freedom, of choices. We had a lot of discussions in the past years about freedom in art, what it means, from a political point of view.’

 

During the opening at Art Basel, visitors interacted with the swings, laughing and reveling in the experience. However Monica expressed that it wasn’t her primary intention to entertain people. ‘It’s not my primary intention to make people smile. It happens and it’s also very nice. For me, it’s always been important to do works that are understandable on different levels and by different audiences.’

 

As for the equipment, the artist describes it as left to the discretion of the individual. ‘I don’t think that visitors must use the swings — it’s an extra. I like the idea of an artwork that can be generous. If you want to, you can use it. If you don’t want to, you can interact with it in another way. You can walk though, touch the chains, and see the leather swings and their design from different angles; there is a lot to discover. This is a quality of the work that I like. Back in 2005, maybe I wanted to scare people a little bit, the museum I show the work first was very conservative. I wanted to have them and the viewers thinking about what’s possible and what’s not within notions of desire and control.

monica bonvicini's 'never again' returns 20 years later reflecting on space, sexuality & labor
made of steel pipes, black leather, and chains, the swings challenge traditional exhibition viewing | image ©designboom

 

 

‘We say ‘never again’, but then it happens again’

 

She comments on the work’s aesthetic and title: ‘I am appropriating a certain aesthetic, which is immediately recognizable. Almost everyone associates leather and chains with BDSM practices. On the other side, these are all swings that I designed, they are all variations based on sizes and forms of love swings. Hanging them double means, of course, dismissing their original function. The function of what you think you recognize is denied by the design of the work.’

 

‘The first time I showed this work, the title was spatially divided; you read ‘Never’ first and ‘Again’ once you went through the installation into the next exhibition space. Never Again is a phrase commonly used in love, friendships, or business relationships. We say ‘never again’, but then often, it happens again. The use of the swings physically duplicates that kind of back and forth motion that we all know in our life.’

monica-bonvicini-never-again-chain-space-sexuality-social-critique-art-basel-installation-designboom-21800

viewers are invited to physically engage with these provocative artworks | image ©Art Basel

monica bonvicini's 'never again' returns 20 years later reflecting on space, sexuality & labor
Bonvicini’s work incorporates psychoanalysis, sexuality, labor, feminism, and architecture | image ©designboom

monica bonvicini's 'never again' returns 20 years later reflecting on space, sexuality & labor
image ©Art Basel

monica bonvicini's 'never again' returns 20 years later reflecting on space, sexuality & labor

image ©designboom

monica bonvicini's 'never again' returns 20 years later reflecting on space, sexuality & labor
image ©Art Basel

monica bonvicini's 'never again' returns 20 years later reflecting on space, sexuality & labor
portrait of Monica Bonvicini in front of the Never Again chain installation at Art Basel 2023

 

 

project info:

 

name: Never Again 2005

artist: Monica Bonvicini | @studiomonicabonvicini

event: Art Basel 2023

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