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Poetry, Memory, & Mythology: An Interview with Bea Bonafini

Bea Bonafini, Animals of Your Lips, 2022, Installation View at Bosse&Baum. Courtesy of the artist and Bosse&Baum. Photography by Damian Griffiths.

Bea Bonafini: The Animals of Your Lips 

Bosse & Baum, London

Through October 29, 2022

By MARIA OWEN, October 2022

Bea Bonafini has long pushed the boundaries of both medium and message to address multifaceted experiences in equally dynamic fashion. Painting melds seamlessly into sculpture, fibers are woven into larger textiles, and distant concepts and experiences are reconciled. No distance––be it material or conceptual––is too great to cover, challenging the relevance of divided disciplines and illuminating a kind of articulation. 

In conjunction with the opening of the artist’s solo exhibition, The Animals of Your Lips at Bosse & Baum, I spoke with Bonafini about this new body of work, her expanding practice, entanglement theory, myths, and poetry.

The Animals of Your Lips remains on view at Bosse & Baum through October, 29 2022. For more information about Bea Bonafini or the exhibition, please contact info@bosseandbaum.com.

Bea Bonafini, Animals of Your Lips, 2022, caran d'ache on paper and painted frame, 45 x 37 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Bosse&Baum. Photography by Damian Griffiths.

MARIA OWEN: The Animals of Your Lips opened at Bosse & Baum last month. What does this exhibition mark for you? Where does it find its roots?

BEA BONAFINI: For this show, I wanted to step into new dimensions whilst opening up the material possibilities and dialogue between carpet, tapestry, ceramics, and drawing. Tapestries now float in space and visitors are confronted with three large bodies in mid-flight. Textile and ceramic collide here, as ceramic shards pierce their bodies. Free-standing ceramics counteract the tapestries’ downwards movement, rising from the floor as fragile-looking skeletons of organic matter. On the walls, intricate textile entanglements are formed by rotating assemblages of the repeated form of a sickle moon. 

The roots of the show stretch in one direction to the poetry of Ocean Vuong, Anne Sexton and the Arab-Sicilian poet Ibn Hamdis, who tackle personal trauma linked to loss and grief. In another direction, the works are rooted in environmental critical theory around non-human intelligence and entanglement theory, such as James Bridle’s Ways of Being, Donna Haraway’s “Tentacular Thinking,” or Karen Barad’s writing on quantum entanglement. The symbolic fulcrum of the show rests on the vengeful winged figures that appear in a myriad of European legends and myths––Harpies, Furies, Valkyries and Erinyes are some of their names. They are powerful and feared, and navigate through realms. 

Timothy Morton’s Mesh Theory comes to mind…these understandings of interconnectivity are becoming more and more present in art environments and beyond. How do you reconcile this macro-level understanding of things with distinctly individual experiences of loss and grief? 

Perhaps the most revolutionising, spiritually awakening experiences are love and grief. Being deeply transformative, they have the power to shake our understanding of the world as we know it. The things that we love are, like everything else, in perpetual change. We're emotional beings after all, and if anything can teach me about the macro-level of entanglement, it's these very personal experiences of metamorphosis.

This show, The Animals of Your Lips, takes its title from the Anne Sexton poem, “Unknown Girl in a Maternity Ward.” What role does poetry play in your practice?

Many of my titles are informed by the poetry I read alongside the making of my work. I love how poetry manages to succinctly encapsulate the bittersweet juxtaposition of images and feelings. It’s the closest literary form to my work. It opens up many paths without necessarily reaching a singular or clear meaning. They don’t need to tie up all the loose ends, and in this space of ambiguity, magic proliferates.

Bea Bonafini, How Fury Struck (detail), 2022, mixed carpet inlay, porcelain, plastic and iron, 221 x 124 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Bosse&Baum. Photography by Damian Griffiths.

And in this body of work, specifically? 

Works Like a Blade and Summer’s Teeth refer to the cutting, yet tender juxtapositions in Vuong’s poems relating to loss, memory, violence and sex. The show title, also shared by the only drawing in the show, is an introduction to the loss of a loved one and our raw, animal tendencies, as infants or as adults. 

Rather than seeking distillation, you’ve fused multiple mediums, feelings, and beliefs to create a space that can match the tempo of human experience. How we feel and act is so often based on the memories, ego, and beliefs building up to the present moment. Cultural mythologies echo patterns from our own histories; contradictions abound. How does this series echo the season of life you find yourself in? (And perhaps––how does it diverge from that same state?)

This season has been full of surprises and is overflowing - everything is in flux, shapeshifting. I definitely think this show reflects that. The work steps into a more abstract realm, winged humans (the Furies) are upside-down and ceramics sprout from the floor.  The moon sickles in Summer's Teeth spin around, settling on a composition that is at times a flower, a skull, or tangle of claws. Different works guide your twists and turns as you walk through the space, blocking or revealing other works as you move. 

What are you reading at the moment? Are there any particular ideas or lines that are guiding you to your next investigations?

I recently finished reading Kafka on the Shore, by Haruki Murakami. It's a tangle of stories which collide when the passage between this world and the afterlife opens up. I like the idea of the rare encounter with the impossible: the nightly visits by a living spirit (the ghost of someone who is still alive); developing a relationship with a character who simultaneously embodies your son, your deceased lover and a stranger; or talking to cats. WM 

Maria Owen

Maria Owen is the associate director of MARCH, a public benefit corporation and gallery located in New York City. Owen holds a BFA in History of Art from Pratt Institute and a MSC in Psychology of Art, Neuroaesthetics, and Creativity from Goldsmiths University of London. Before joining the MARCH team, she worked with Institute 193, an arts and culture nonprofit based in Lexington, Kentucky and New York, New York.


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