Monica Bonvicini’s work All Day Night Smoke is deliberately out of place: the advertising aesthetics of the towering two-sided billboard recalls more the suburbs than the city center, while the images of houses, destroyed by hurricanes and forest fires in the USA, doesn’t match the Graben’s Gründerzeit architecture either. This incongruity of the enlarged black and white visuals of devastated American living spaces and the sumptuousness of the Viennese architecture delivers the supposedly distant scenes nearby. What reaches us through the news and media screens clearly concerns our own reality in today’s globalized world.
For almost ten years, Bonvicini has been working on drawings and paintings of destroyed urban landscapes, ruins reduced to brushstrokes. Some of these paintings are based on photographs she took in New Orleans shortly after Hurricane Katrina had struck and caused one of the most cataclysmic natural disasters in the history of the USA. Some works in the series include images from various news and archival sources. Bonvicini portrays destructed habitats, fragmented houses, skeletonized buildings and ruins of former architecture to refer to a broader political context. The US subprime mortgage crisis and credit-financed acquisitions of private real estate objects was one of the triggers of the worldwide banking crash. Many local families were living in cheaply built homes that were some sort of a last resort from income and wealth inequality. However, these 'safe' havens are very susceptible to get destroyed by storms and forest fires, natural phenomena spurred by the global warming that our carbon dioxide emissions contribute to. Insufficiently implemented or unilaterally terminated agreements bear witness to political ignorance and resignation to the interests of global corporations.
Monica Bonvicini is known for researching architecture as a mirror of society, a symbol of social injustice in a concrete form and a scene of politics and power. Spanning across mediums of sculpture, installation, drawing, photography and video, her comprehensive oeuvre examines space, surveillance and control, gender issues and sexuality, as well as the interrelations between physical and social space. Her works always consider the political and economic implications of built structures and building itself.
With All Day Night Smoke, the artist uses the public realm and its promises of attention to highlight micro- and macroeconomic concatenations of local disasters and global challenges. Drawings of an extensive fire (Wildfire Kern 2010, 2016) and of a house destroyed by a hurricane (Ivan 2004, 2016) have been mounted on the two sides of a seven-meter-high pylon as large-format prints. The calculated disruptive element stands out from the visual axis, drawn between the Café Meinl and the Plague Column. The dystopian views displayed on the four-and-a-half-meter-wide billboard show the literal destruction of the “American Dream,” which also manifests itself in the widening gap between the social classes. It is no longer only the architecture that is fragile but the social cohesion as well. Following the tradition of conceptual and political works appropriating the poster for public space—from Barbara Kruger’s billboards to Daniel Buren’s interventions of placarded posters in the urban realm—Bonvicini’s work eventually turns out to be an appeal: a plea to embrace the challenge of the global warming and its political implications, confronting our civil worldwide.
All Day Night Smoke is Monica Bonvicini’s first work presented in Vienna since 2003, where she has held a professorship for Performative Art and Sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna from 2003 to 2018.
Text: Vanessa Joan Müller
Kunstplatz Graben, in front of Graben 21, 1010 Vienna
Monica Bonvicini lives and works in Berlin (DE).