by: Jens Hoffmann
Much like our ancient ancestors, Venezuelan artist Mariana Bunimov is a hunter-gatherer. Moving about in the somewhat untamed world of objects and images, Bunimov reacts primally, foraging through the wilderness, pulling things into herself, stockpiling what she needs—and more—for the long, cold winter of her consciousness.
Holding tightly onto the detritus of life, Bunimov interrogates memories of her childhood, revisits connections to her family, filters through her immediate experiences, and explores landscapes both real and imaginary. When working in sculpture, video, and installation, Bunimov’s works overflow with things she’s collected or preserved. Materials for her sculptural works include the weary cardboard boxes of prescription and over the counter drugs, transformed into a toy castle; forgotten and discarded instruments, bits of furniture, cookware, books, tools, toys, and plants cobbled together to form a whole out of fragments; and page upon page of yellowing paper, leftover from her days at school, layered together into a fragile bed. Her videos works, likewise, corral a glut of images—borrowed bits animated together into a moving, raucous collage.
Several of Bunimov’s past works existed as both sculptures and performances of a sort and involved edible constructions devoured by their audience. Her three-story Rancho de Chocolate and bi-level Quinta Alpina (both 2008) were constructed out of thin sheets of chocolate and eaten right off of their pedestals. Her 2009 work, Fortaleza de Caviar consisted of a fortress made of gelatin and caviar, presented along with bread, silver knives, glasses of vodka, and extra tins of the decadent spread—all of which were hungrily vanished, right down to the silver.
For Bunimov, the impulse to consume things, to own them, to hold them, or to claim them in some way is as much about connection and understanding as it is about a material need. Looking at her works collectively, one gets the distinct sense that her obsessive compositions are aimed to shift and process through both past and present, to reconcile, somehow, the material world with her memory, the outside with her interior experience. In Bunimov’s recent body of work, she has taken to painting as another way to collect and filter, though this time around her focus is on images rather than objects. In her vibrant paintings, we find kaleidoscopic mountain ranges and skeletal buildings, flying drones and floating islands, blazing fire and rakish human figures. It is, upon first glance, a rather strange collection of images.
But several of her paintings offer clues as to the origins of the lot: in Amtrak (2015-2015) and Crash (2015-2016), Bunimov frames the image with the navigation bars, buttons, and icons of an Internet browser. Bunimov’s images are culled from web searches, images both striking and rather banal. In Crash (2016), which depicts the mangled fragments of a Russian Airbus A321, the web address is even visible, painted in sketchy, waving letters. Some of the titles of these works—like 03089 (2016)—are directly lifted from the web filename, or serve as keyword search terms to quickly retrieve an original image.
Among this group of works, several capture natural landscapes. In 03089 an unrealistically pink rock formation projects before a yellowing green hill. Tracking the image back to the web, we can find a corresponding image on the National Park Service website: an undated painting by Thomas Moran of Yellowstone’s iconic Liberty Cap. Rainbow Mountains 900 (2016) leads, similarly, to a photograph of China’s Danxia Landform Geological Park, where the layered sandstone has created wild, almost psychedelic patterns across its rolling geography. In Bunimov’s painting, the image is given an impressionistic treatment, with thick sections of turquoise, red, brown, ochre, green, and pink flitting across the paper. And though unnamed, Landscape Mountain Skyline (2016) points back to a digital stock image of a jagged rock formation rising against an aquamarine sky.
While many of Bunimov’s landscapes are timeless, tranquil, and unencumbered, in others we see the creep of modernity. In Amtrak, familiar southwestern mesas are the colorful backdrop behind a ghostly passenger train, rendered here through outlines and highlights. And while the frosty mass takes center position in The Iceberg (2016), the landscape is disrupted by an ominous black form—a drone with upturned tentacles—floating in an upper corner of the image. Hashima (2016) depicts the Japanese island, itself a symbol of rapid 20th century industrialization, in watery blacks against a seamless backdrop of sky and sea, the island’s natural form broken by the smoke stakes jutting up from the horizon line. This mounting tension between man and nature is seen, as well in the Casas Caidas (2016) paintings, each of which shows a house somewhat undone—toppled on its side, missing its back half, or altogether collapsed on itself—through some unknown catastrophe. In Syrie (2015-2016), the ruin is perpetrated by man against himself: blocks of black indicate a bombed out building in the war-torn nation, while a billboard still clings to the side of the decimated structure.
In contrast to these images of ruin, Bunimov also captures images of individuals. Some look like they may be pulled from the street style section of some newspaper or magazine. Others are clad, bizarrely, in green screen fabric, their figures made alien. Rodarte (2016) recreates an image from a runway show for the eponymous design duo, the image pulled from the website of Vogue. The woman wearing Rodarte, as well as the man in Black (2016), and the women in Green Lady (2016), and Lady (2016) are all wearing animal printed garments. In these portraits, the edges of her subjects often blur, melting into the wash of the background. The print of their clothes, and their postures—rounded shoulders, disaffected stares—become the focus. In Santas (2016) and Balloon Man (2016), Bunimov’s brings a comical touch. In the first, dozens of Santa figurines stand in front of a grey house, their red and white outfits contrasting against a blank (snowy?) page. In the other, a cluster of colorful orbs obscure their bearer almost entirely. Repetition and accumulation emerges in these images, too, harkening back to the artist’s own obsessions.
Bunimov herself has likened her gathering to hoarding. Objects and images filter into her life as they do to everyone else’s, but they don’t pass through as quickly, and when they do, they are utterly transformed. There is a base sort of hunger apparent in Bunimov’s artworks, a need that drives forward towards more and more: accumulation, comprehension, conservation, and transformation. This appetite is both psychological and physical, and in both cases driven by a desire both eternal and immediate.