The presence of Bunny Rogers’ installation at Hamburger Bahnhof reaches far beyond the doorway of the room it is placed in. All the way down the half a kilometre long hallway leading to her environment-based piece “Mandy’s Piano Solo in Columbine Cafeteria”, tiny specks of silver have trembled off of the hair, clothes and shoes of visitors onto the concrete floor. As the youngest artist exhibited in an extensive exhibition inquiring the narrative potential of spatial installations, Rogers has managed to showcase a piece that sticks with its visitors. Amongst the works of Marcel Broodthaers, Bruce Nauman, Isa Genzken and Joseph Beuys, curator Anna-Catharina Gebbers sees Bunny’s piece as a leap into the future, a young yet mature artwork in which the physical overlaps with the virtual, and the fictional with the biographical.
The piano room on view at Hamburger Bahnhof makes up about a fourth of Roger’s Columbine Cafeteria installation that was on view at Greenspon Gallery, New York earlier last year. Within the show that processes the 1999 Columbine school shooting, the room serves as a sanctuary. It is a space for inflection within Roger’s highly confrontational and subjective replication of the Columbine cafeteria hall. The room is filled with little more than a video projection of an animated female character crouching over a piano and an actual piano complete with a matching bench. All around the basement room, shimmery artificial snow is constantly and silently falling. It is dimly lit, illuminated only by the flickering lights of the video’s projection screen and a number of artificial candles spread evenly across the room. They shine like little specks of gold within the sombre grey light and the ever-falling snow reminiscent of the noise image of a tube TV. Contained by hollowed out apples engraved with grimaces, the candles look like miniature green Jack-o-lanterns. At Greensporn, the tiny apple lanterns spread across the entire exhibition, scattered across a replica cafeteria table and cornered behind a puddle of wine-slash-blood together with trash bags, plastic bins and heaps of plastic snow.
The animated figure in the video is inspired by a character from the animation TV series Clone High. Although it only aired for one season, the show has a special place in Roger’s heart. “It was my favourite cartoon when I was younger”, she explains. “When it came out, I was at an age when it felt wrong for me to watch it, so it was really appealing – I felt mature watching it, although the humour was completely over my head”. Voiced by Mandy Moore and introduced as the Sexy Dumpster Teen, the character on screen made an appearance in a special christmas episode entitled Snowflake Day, helping the notoriously moody teenage Joan of Arc character regain her holiday spirit. Joan later on describes Mandy as an angel, and in the animated video, she appears precisely as such. A wine bottle to her right, she performs gentle piano versions of songs by Elliott Smith – yet another angelic figure from the early 2000s whose presence is palpable in many of Roger’s works. In Columbine Library, her first show dealing with the school shootings, he inspired a series of 168 plush dolls stored in a life-size replica of one of the school library’s book shelves, and in her first poetry publication “Cunny Poem Vol. 1” he makes an appearance in poems that deal with heartbreak, self-care and despair.
Rogers is not the only artist showcased at Hamburger Bahnhof who uses installation as a way of coping with the collective trauma experienced by an entire generation. A few rooms further down, Wolf Vostell’s “Electronic Dé-coll/age, Happening Room” from 1968 takes on the distress caused by the Vietnam war that, similar to the Columbine shootings, reached the homes of thousands of people through broadcast TV coverage. The Fluxus artist scattered six televisions around a room and attached them to a mixture of household items and war artefacts. As the objects are set into motion by auxiliary electro motors, they begin to move around on the floor covered in shards of glass, creating a steady flow of unsettling noises. Compared to Vostell’s abstract and universal work, the peculiarity of Roger’s installation becomes uncanny: instead of painting a universal picture of Columbine’s effect on the human psyche, she connects the mourning of the massacre with the tragically early death of an indie musician and the characters of a VH1 adult humour animation series. Columbine and Elliot Smith, the pessimistic and misunderstood Joan of Arc and school shooters Dylan and Eric become closely entangled in an uncompromisingly subjective network of associations.
Through building these unexpected links, the installation allows us to wander around the individual mind of a young girl. In order to achieve this sensation, Rogers has fully dedicated her aesthetic to her early teenage years, to Clone High, Elliott Smith, Neopets, Invader Zim and under-the-radar Disney movies. The portfolio of formative influences that she put together for Frieze magazine last year perfectly showcases her earnest preoccupation with these subjects. Considering that Rogers is currently 26 years old and has thus long ceased to be a teenager, this strikes some as odd. “I feel pressured sometimes to ‘get over’ my childhood, make peace with memories and move on.”, she admits. ” But those memories are endlessly intricate, and only complicate further as I move away from them.”
Addressing the disquietingly interwoven entanglement of childhood and early teenage memories, Rogers certainly has a point. Around the age of thirteen, we begin to build our identity around the music we love, the TV characters we feel connected to, and the furry avatar replicas of ourselves through which we get in touch with other teens on the internet. Ridden by insecurities connected to the transition from children to grown-ups, young adults identify with pop culture in unsurpassed ways. During this time of sincere obsession, the passing of a beloved celebrity is an emotional rampage and the idolisation of an emotionally distressed cartoon Joan of Arc works in similar ways as the identification with two teenage school shooters. Dylan and Eric were also young, outcast and misunderstood, and boy did they look gorgeous in their sunglasses and long black trench coats. This is the dark undertone of Columbine Cafeteria: the banality and narcissistic brutality of youth, awful grimaces carved into every teacher’s favourite gift.
Through Columbine Cafeteria, Bunny Rogers deconstructs the highly idealised stereotype of the age of innocence and the purity of youth, replacing it with a more realistic and complex insight into the mind of a young girl. Similar to net artist Ann Hirsch, whose performances perfectly embody female sexuality post internet, she provides a profound anthropological reflection on the teenage girl of the 2000s. Those who have been there will find an inexplicable condolence in the Sexy Dumpster Teen’s piano tunes, and those who haven’t will leave with snow stuck to their feet and uneasy questions on their minds.
“moving is in every direction.” is on display at Hamburger Bahnhof until 17 September 2017
“Bunny Rogers” is on display at the Whitney from 7 July until 9 October 2017