Just over 17 years ago, the massacre at Columbine High School shocked the American collective consciousness. Through frenetic media reportage and public outrage, the cultural impact of the event endures, and now manifests itself in artist Bunny Rogers' latest exhibition at Greenspon Gallery.
Centered around one of the deadliest school shootings in the United States, Columbine Cafeteria is the second exhibition Rogers has made relating to the incident: the first was Columbine Library, shown at Berlin’s Société in 2014. Although a replica of a Columbine High School cafeteria table and chairs are included, Rogers does not aim to relive the tragic events. Instead, she uses the collectively shared tragedy, coupled with references from her own past, as a lens into cultural issues including internalized misogyny and alcohol abuse.
The mediums and modes chosen by Rogers are as disparate as they are intriguing. One of the first pieces encountered in the space is Lisa Bright and Dark (for Andrea), a stained glass tryptich depicting Mandy Moore and Joan (of Arc), from early 2000’s cartoon Clone High, in solemn prayer. As they stand face to face in the center panel, halos floating above their heads, heavy, dark smoke floats out of a chimney and a graveyard on either side, perhaps allusions to social decay, to the Columbine victims, or even to the teenage girls who became emotionally and sexually obsessed with the shooters, a subcultural phenomenon Rogers discovered while creating the exhibitions.
In the same room lies Cafeteria Wardrobe, an elaborate wooden closet (or perhaps a vitrine?) behind bulletproof glass, displaying ballet shoes and carnivalesque costume. It feels like a showroom for the loss of innocence, like a Hirst sculpture, but for youth itself. Beside the wardrobe is Cafeteria Set, the recreated Columbine High School cafeteria table and chairs. Some chairs are pristine and flawless, while others are scattered, deformed, and melted. Devoid of the human figure, the tableau evokes feelings of inclusion and exclusion and their high school associations.
Mandy Memorial and Mandy Mop comes next, an arrangement of Halloween candles and industrial trashcans and trash bags filled with wine bottles, all covered in paper snow, blocked off by a dividing line of spilt wine and a mop that both soaks and spreads the alcohol. If this is a memorial, as the title suggests, it’s a grim one: comprised of trashed remnants of consumption, encircled by alcoholic residue.
Perhaps the altar is a prelude to the video work, Mandy’s Piano Solo in Columbine Cafeteria. The 13-minute piece shows an animated Clone High Mandy Moore in a heavily depressed state. With melancholic and sunken body language, Moore drinks wine and plays a grand piano inside an animated, snowing version of the Columbine cafeteria. The video plays in in a room covered in paper snow, with a piano bench just like the one in the video. The piano and its player's absences suggest a tragedy unfolding. Mandy's only trace lies inside of the bench: two long pairs of Mandy Socks, relics of a former presence.