Every Tuesday Timo Feldhaus writes about the most important thing in the world: other people.
I once met the artist Bunny Rogers under the Brandenburger Tor. It was the middle of summer. It went like this:
She is tottering between the columns on her long, thin legs, and wearing a “cry baby” children’s terry dress. She is with a friend, who has a guitar slung over his shoulder, messy hair and a notebook stuffed into the pocket of his American shirt. From a distance I notice that Bunny keeps falling onto him. He says goodbye and leaves. Bunny and I wander into the Tiergarten and sit down on a bench. I get out two pouches of Capri Sun. Cherry and Safari; she picks Cherry. At the store, Capri Sun had seemed to fit to Columbine; she’d been making work about the Columbine High School massacre. She says she loves Capri Sun, and she pronounces it like this: caiiprie ssuhn.
This meeting took place during her first solo show at Société Berlin, which was titled “Columbine Library”. Hand-sewn backpacks sagged over chairs that looked as if they were pictures in a comic lying open in a child’s bedroom. There were two videos in which an animated character recites poetry. And a big shelf with sad plush animals. It was somehow raining in this exhibition. And it was about innocence.
You should know that Bunny speaks in the most monotone American accent in the whole world. Her school therapist once asked her if she was depressed, and she said: of course. She talks and talks, veeeery slowly, as if through cotton wool, and from time to time she nods off. At some point I just start nodding off, too. Swanning past us are men on a beer-bike carousel, women celebrating a flamenco hen party, and once more it’s impossible to tell whether it’s them or us who are crazy. The lion has to decide. But the lion is looking the other way. Bunny is sure he will look out for us. Later, as she runs in front of the cars on Pariser Platz, crossing the street on red, she says, There’s always someone looking out for me. She used to want to kill herself, to die early. Not any more. Or rather, she still would, actually, but her parents need her. Bunny seems perfect. She’s good at knitting and building websites. She has a lot of friends on the Internet. She looks like a Ukrainian model and is an expert in hair ribbons; she never reads, and she writes the saddest of sad poems. And she keeps making really amazing chairs. “Furniture,” she says, “still functions as a vessel of history. The chairs, tables, and bookshelves in Columbine experienced the events that happened and held onto them.”
Of course I felt very stupid next to her at the time. I knew intuitively that she was wiser than me. Maybe not in words, but still. Or for that very reason. Even furniture was seemingly wiser than me. Not to mention the trees. They stood still, shimmering in the brightest sunlight, and they knew the secret, but I had no idea. Their leaves were rustling; they were whispering things I couldn’t understand. Bunny lit up another Marlboro Menthol. I threw the Capri Sun Safari into the trash.
People want explanations for what happened at Sandy Hook, Dunblane, or Columbine, for the senseless murders perpetrated by Eric Harris (18) and Dylan Klebold (17), who killed twelve students aged between 14 and 18 as well as one teacher in the school cafeteria and library. Obviously Bunny doesn’t provide one. Her second show at Société this past April was titled “Columbine Cafeteria.” She is a medium for the subjectivity of a young girl, but also for the loneliness and confusion of adolescents, whose collective, constructed emotional world she doesn’t untangle but weaves further and further through and around itself, into something iconic. You can’t see an exhibition by Bunny Rogers without thinking about Gus van Sant’s film Elephant—and hence also without hearing the Moonlight Sonata that’s played again and again in that film.
Back when I was sitting with Bunny in the deeply German environs of the Tiergarten, with Prussia, Goethe, and all the overweight out-of-towners, I knew that this spaced-out girl breathes a kind of teenage angst that in Germany is always just a cold shiver and never a warm melancholy. Forget Lana del Rey, forget Amalia UIman, Bunny is a reincarnation of River Phoenix, the real, true Winona Ryder, in whose face the sadness and the glory of the world can never be held apart. I look into her big green eyes and she sees right through me. I say, Let’s take a picture, and she jumps into action and climbs onto the lion.
Two weeks ago I bumped into Bunny at the ice cream counter and tapped her on the shoulder and said, Hi Bunny, do you remember we met and talked two years ago? and she looked at me blankly and ran off.
The only thing I always understand is the Moonlight Sonata. So, with my gut rather than my brain, I think about that, and about millennials in millenarian times. Millenarianism is the belief that the end of the present world is nigh, sometimes linked to the creation of an earthly paradise, sometimes to the apocalypse. Vis-à-vis the Moonlight Sonata, Franz Liszt famously spoke of “a flower between two abysses.”
Timo Feldhaus is an editor at Spike and lives in Berlin.
Translated by Alexander Scrimgeour