A Fetishist Feminism

Black rubber, metal, cracked glass, flashing lights, and workers’ tools dominate well known Italian-born artist Monica Bonvicini’s latest exhibition, ‘NeedleKnows’. Drawing on materials and images that typically represent masculinity, the artist critically explores inequalities in contemporary society, but does she reach the heart of the matter?
Power, industry, masculinity
Large scale mechanical sculptures made up of materials and objects typically associated with being a man, are set against a backdrop of stark white walls in the industrial building of the former GDR in which the Max Hetzler gallery is situated. The word sculpture BUILT FOR CRIME (2006) confronts any visitor entering the show. A choreography of lights illuminates the letters, reflected on the surfaces of nearby artworks. Initially dazzling yet gradually maddening the electricity can be heard whirring throughout the flashing bulbs, fixed on a base of cracked glass. Chainsaws hang from the ceiling on steel chains along with six construction workers’ harnesses covered in black liquid rubber. A second word sculpture SATISFY ME (2010) allows viewers to explore their narcissistic sentiments, admiring themselves in the artwork’s reflective surface.  

Monica Bonvicini - "Harnesses"

Is this what I think it is? Monica Bonvicini – “Identify Protection”,  © Monica Bonvicini / VG Bild-Kunst, Courtesy of Monica Bonvicini + Max Hetzler Galerie, Berlin. Photo: Elizabeth Johnson 

Highlights unequal society

The sculptures are dominating, bold and gesture towards sadomasochism. The hard, damaged surfaces, laid out in a rigid format, are confronting and effectively lead to reflection on the malfunctioning yet inflexible power structures that are common in modern industrial life. Bonvicini toys with an upbringing in late Fascist Italy where male Catholic figures dominate, and an adult life in an apparently free, sexually liberated Berlin. Her works illuminate unequal gender hierarchies that remain relevant across the locations.
Recycling debates
Whilst Bonvicini’s unsubtle sculptures do remind us of some of the problems of urban societies, it is hard not to view them as rather cliché. Her initial works of this kind in the 1990s, at the time of the birth of postmodern feminism were more likely to hit the nail on the head. Today, it does not feel like Bonvicini is adding a new voice to gender discourse, but rather recycling arguments that have already taken place.
  • Galerie Max Hetzler  – Monica Bonvicini – “NeedleKnows” February 18th – April 14th Tue-Sat: 11am – 6pm