People say that an artist’s intent is beside the point, but sometimes the intent is the only point worth taking. Artist Bunny Rogers‘ aesthetic isn’t for everyone, but it is conscious and significant, and that meant something to me. A few days into the exhibition, I biked over to Société, a small gallery space tucked into a nondescript pre-war building by Tiergarten, to take a look her latest show, Columbine Library.
All four of the gallery’s rooms are populated by the exhibition, each inspired by the now-infamous Columbine High School Massacre of 1999. In the first room, a public school-style library bookcase stretches diagonally across an empty room, each side stuffed with plushy Neopet toys staring blankly from their shelves. “The bookshelf is an exact replica of the one in the Columbine library,” a gallerist tells me. Bunny had found the images of the high school online and re-created accordingly. “Well,” he adds, “this one is bigger, but close enough.” It is eerie, seemingly senseless, but when I’m told the toys were created by Bunny herself and born of a childhood obsession, the aesthetic of the exhibition quietly comes into focus. Looking closer, I see that each toy bears a unique “Elliott Smith” tag, for the “Shooting Star” singer, as well as a ribbon depicting the gentle, flower-smelling bull from The Story of Ferdinand that Smith wore tattooed on his arm. “She’s obsessed with him,” says the gallerist later, but doesn’t elaborate.
In the adjoining room are two sets of chairs, huddled in pairs on opposite sides of the room and adorned with velvety, hand-made backpacks and flower-embellished tubular purses. On the backpacks are depictions of cartoon characters from childhood cartoons, Joan of Arc of Clone High across one, Gaz of Invader Zim across another. On one of the walls, seven ghostly “self-portraits” hang suspended on the walls, depicting a cartoon-like Bunny holding a Neo-pet sadly, Bunny with icicle hands and a purple heart, Bunny with her mouth covered by a butterfly.
Without context, the room seems meaningless, unsettling, the iconic references jarring and ill fitting alongside one another. But once the context begins to materialize – that of innocence lost, children’s backpacks exploding with home-made bombs, the bleeding personal narrative of Bunny’s own childhood juxtaposed against the tragedy of the shooting – the exhibition’s kitschy hollowness takes on another meaning. What had felt incomplete, unrehearsed, becomes a meandering through the cultural icons and symbolic figures of lost childhood.
In the last and final part of the exhibition are two adjoining rooms, each bearing a video installation, synced with one another meant to be in a constant loop depicting each of the two cartoon characters standing before the re-imagined spaces of the Columbine Massacre – the empty, disheveled cafeteria standing silently under exploding sprinklers; two armchairs before a curtain in a dark, mossy room – reading from Bunny’s latest poetry collection, Cunny Vol. 1. The videos loop for 20 minutes, the affectless drone of Bunny’s voice feeding through the cartoon mouths. I focus in and out of the videos, and when I tune back in, I hear Bunny’s voice say “looking for something to lighten up the dark corner / company at the foot of your bed to garble your griefings” and feel instinctively what the exhibition is about. **