The artist Bunny Rogers, 26, grew up with the Internet, and it remains, like a childhood friend, both her refuge and catalyst. Her first forays into artmaking came through her experiments on Neopets.com, a website that allowed her to create and care for her own virtual pets. As with many children of her era, she was an outlier in high school, but found herself online, and in whichever guise she assumed.
“It allowed me to build up confidence in a real world setting,” she said the other day while visiting New York from Stockholm, where she’s a grad student at the Royal Institute of Art. “I would go to school and my brain would be completely shut off and I would come alive again when I was able to sit in from of my computer. Whether that was healthy or unhealthy, it was a welcome escape. The participation in an online world made me aware of a bigger community and gave me hope that what I was doing wouldn’t always go unnoticed.” She needn’t fear: With two buzzy shows opening this weekend, the young artist is drawing plenty of attention. Tonight she makes her New York solo debut at Greenspon Gallery; on Sunday, she joins the artist Cosima von Bonin in the new exhibition “We Are All Traitors” at Bard College Center for Curatorial Studies, in Annandale-on-Hudson.
Roleplaying and storytelling have always been central to Rogers’s work, which taken together, can be seen as collages of her real and virtual selves filtered through her supercharged imagination. Whether it takes the form of poetry, websites, installation, or sculpture, Rogers’s output is united by its preoccupation with pre-teen angst, friendship, and memory. Some of it relies on digital processes (animation, 3D modeling, video) and exists only online; other works reference her online life but exist as handmade objects in galleries. Sometimes all of it converges in one place.
A case in point is "Columbine Cafeteria," the new show opening tonight, which reflects on the collective trauma of the 1999 school shooting in Littleton, Colorado. (An earlier Rogers work was entitled Columbine Library and it, like the sequel, were first shown at Société gallery in Berlin.) Rogers was a nine-year-old kid in Texas when the tragedy occurred, but as an art student at the Parsons School of Design in 2008, she became obsessed with the psychology of school shooters and delved into online forums, police records, and crime scene photographs dedicated to Columbine.
The world she has created at Greenspon, though it includes a set of chairs identical to the ones in the lunchroom found at the scene, is meant as a reverie about memorial. “I’m interested in the way that furniture becomes these vessels for extreme events and extremes of emotion,” said Rogers, whose recent group exhibitions include the 89 Plus section of the show “Co-Workers” at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris and “UnOrthodox” at the Jewish Museum in New York. “They experience things too and wear down and become distressed. When I look at old pieces of furniture, I kind of see a silent scream.”
In one room of the gallery, a video of a Rogers cartoon avatar (Mandy from the animated TV series Clone High) flickers on a screen while fake snow falls on a darkened room filled with votive candles. Onscreen, Mandy plays the piano, knocking out songs by the tormented Elliott Smith, who died a violent death. Rogers has something of an obsession with the singer: “There’s no comparable music I’ve ever encountered that feels as relevant to me,” she said. “The project is also a memorial to him.”
Elsewhere, handmade mops, their fibers soaked in fabric dye, their handles long and lean like Rogers herself, stand in a corner. The mops, too, are a form of self-portraiture. “Part of the appeal of the mop is that it’s an overlooked object—it cleans up dirt,” she added. “But in making mops I’ve had this growing desire to make them more and more beautiful. Because they’re not supposed to be. I think of them as tears or excess. They have a certain capacity and then they overflow. I think that’s a poetic idea—that we have only so much ability to hold things in and then eventually it all comes out.”