Gallery visit. Monica Bonvicini, Baltic Mill, Gateshead

I had some time to kill after my Study Visit in Gateshead so I went to The Baltic Mill to see what was on. Monica Bonvicini is an artist I had not come across before although she is a similar age to me.  The exhibition “her hand around the room” is a retrospective of the artist’s work.

I was struck by the clarity of the artist’s vision. Her repetitive use of some materials – leather belts and chains and themes of construction and sex creates a body of work with a theme of control and overtones of sadomasochism.

I enjoyed NeedleKnows (2012), 200 works on paper depicting pliers stitched in red yarn partly because, from a distance, you don’t know what they are – or what they’re made with. Are they going to be nice or nasty? You approach with some trepidation but it’s OK, they’re embroideries not blood – honestly, this exhibition plays with your mind.

In another piece you stare at a video of an open door with a bright light at the other side. Eventually the door slams shut and you are left with an after image of the light on your retina – the artist has drawn on your retina.

I subsequently read this review in the Guardian where reviewer Laura Cumming gives the show two stars and says: “The Baltic wants us to think in polite terms about architecture, gender and power. But this is a body blow of a show and there is nothing polite about Bonvicini’s enterprise.”

I absolutely agree the show was unsettling and physical but why is this a criticism? I love it when art breaks through the intellectual into the physical. One of the best installations I’ve seen was The Coral Reef by Mike Nelson which led you through seedy abandoned rooms putting you in a different and unsettling place for a short time. It’s a place where you have no idea what’s going on and Bonvicini has a similar effect.



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