BY Jörg Heiser in Reviews | 06 JUN 98
Featured in
Issue 41

Monica Bonvicini

BY Jörg Heiser in Reviews | 06 JUN 98

Art that blows your head off ­ what more could you want? Built firmly into the walls of a temporary white cube inserted into the permanent white cube of the gallery, two high-powered ventilators facing each other comprise A violent, tropical, cyclonic piece of art having wind speeds of or in excess of 75 miles per hour (1998). The title is adapted from a Random House Dictionary definition of 'hurricane', but as wind of that speed is actually produced, circulating 40,000 cubic meters of air a minute, Berlin-based Monica Bonvicini's piece truly lives up to its name. Think of a typical privare view under these conditions and you can imagine what happened. No discreet small talk, no idle fondling of wineglasses, no nervously smoked cigarettes. Instead, heavy metal ­ nothing but roaring sound and blowing hair.

Originally it was intended that the two ventilators (Helios brand, borrowed from an ex-GDR film production complex in Babelsberg close to Berlin) would run constantly during gallery hours. But as the neighbours would have probably killed somebody because of the noise, it had to be reduced to five minutes every half hour (which sounds even more like torture to me). It's striking how this simple arrangement produced such a strong reaction of joyful energy or aggressive destruction: when you stepped into it, you felt either encouraged to just stupidly let yourself go or a violently compulsion to resist the pressure.

There seems to be a similar mixture of abandon and resistance in the original function of wind machines on film sets. Movie scenes of people in stormy weather, rain, or autumn leaves in a stiff breeze, are usually meant to represent the turbulence of their soul or body ­ Michael Jackson in the video to 'What About Us', for example, stood between the pillars and faced the hard wind like biblical Samson, screaming away the suffering of the entire world.

While on screen it is 'nature' and deeply romantic characters that are treated to high-power ventilators, in this case it was the white cube and the thinking art viewer. And with the opposite effect too: not making visible inner fears and desires, but violently demolishing the disembodied inter-personal distancing, so typical of gallery situations, that is only seldomly supplanted by an accentuated affection. The question is what will replace that which is blown away? For now, it's just white noise, no therapy.

In the back room of the gallery, Bonvicini showed a video called Hammering Out (1998) that might also give you headaches if you had to watch it all day. Projected onto the bare gallery wall, it depicts the artist hitting a white wall with a sledgehammer, slowly and rhythmically. The wall starts to crumble and plaster trickles down, but it doesn't fall. Cut, and the same procedure is repeated again. While the front room installation seems to be able to blow away any doubts, this treatment of the architecture looks more like a job for Sisyphus. In a way, Hammering Out is like a Pop single-B-side to the hurricane A-side, which easily fulfils the famous demand of Roxette: don't bore us, get to the chorus

Jörg Heiser is director of the Institute for Art in Context at the University of the Arts, Berlin, Germany.