Bunny Rogers’ solo Shades of berny at the Appendix Space in Portland, Oregon is about the overlap in sexualization and exploitation of children and animals. It’s the story of Beauty and the Beast, Snow White and the Little Red Riding Hood, but not the story you’d like to be thinking about.
She does. She thinks about death, sex and innocence without fetishizing it herself. Instead, she zeroes in on poignant specifics and creates digital repositories and physical objects that communicate their problematic cores. A few months ago, working with Filip Olszewski, Bunny Rogers’ installation of blankets and speakers at the 319 Scholes gallery in Brooklyn was likely the most effective commentary about children as things for adults on the internet, but it wasn’t sinister. “If I Die Young” was pure and focused. Shades of berny is complex, unfolding like a fairy tale.
“That’s a $300 stock photo I bought a couple years ago,” Bunny says. “The frame is mahogany. The roses are dyed purple.” The roses are real. They will wilt.
Like its title, every object is alchemic, laden and tied to the other.
Berny – mutation of Bunny (artist’s name, animal name), Barney (anthropomorphized dinosaur), burgundy (which references wine, blood/spilled blood, corruption, colors prevalent and heavily symbolic in fairytales… Red is [the presence of] vulgarity, the adult.
Next to the portrait is a red cloak. “The colonial pocket is a metaphor for the woodsman’s heart chest in Snow White.” It’s filled with casette tapes. “The cassettes are of me reading the YA book Wringer. It’s a boys coming of age story. The title refers to the act of wringing pigeon necks… I’ve always enjoyed brutalistic fairy tales. Little Red Riding Hood gets eaten, etc.”
“There is darkness in materials produced by adults for children,” Bunny says. The baby rose embroidery design on the colonial pocket is the same as on the Cherish ru quilt. It is in an edition of 6, each pocket with a different rose color. Each tiny rose on the quilt was taken from a Princess Beanie Baby Bear. The quilt’s “ЯU” logo is the esoteric, technical Recognized Component Mark for labeling separate components of a whole. The Underwriters Laboratories use these when inspecting products for safety, products like much of the 20th century’s new technology. “RU” … for “you?” For “Russia?”
“Are you Russian?”
People have been asking Bunny Rogers this all her life. She isn’t, at all, but her performance persona could peg her between obscure anime and Russian schoolgirl and there is a Russian accent in her work’s inspirations — teen model imports, rhythmic gymnastics, anthropomorphic folklore. Sometimes, she seems to source a part of the internet where html tables cage tender archives and ethical gradients slide off into pitch darkness. Sometimes, those places have an RU in their domain. So does her artist website.
“I am very, very American,” Bunny says. “It’s the aesthetic. Child models. Costuming. Language. The Russian Bell. Gymnastics. Ballet. Contortion. My dream was to be a contortionist as a kid… Have you seen my rose Russian flag?” Navsegda is Bunny’s Russian flag sculpted in dyed roses — roses that served their young purpose and, surely, wilted by now. “Navsegda” means “forever” in Russian. “The training for all aforementioned sports is highly fetishistic though. You have to exploit children at a young age to achieve that level of mastery. I like that.”
That’s the story behind the fairy tales. We don’t like that, but it’s true.
(Images courtesy Appendix Gallery)