Jovana Reisinger reflects on idleness in Cosima von Bonin’s work – is it a sign of luxury, slovenliness, or ultimately a much more meaningful and enriching activity than we generally credit it to be?

In our capitalist world of achievement and performance, idleness has gained a bad reputation. It is considered a luxury, a sign of slovenliness or of poorly optimized self-abandonment. In this, it is similar to sleep, which is itself entirely pointless if we apply the logic of utilization, as it serves merely for mental and physical regeneration and submits to no further productivity. Yet although sleep cannot take on any other function in the production imperative, at least everything around it can be capitalized on: From pills, masks, aroma diffusers, pillows, comforters, drops, sprays, and apps through to exercises, guides, lamps, etc., there is no shortage of offerings to make sleep better, deeper, sexier, and – ideally – less time-consuming.

Idleness, meanwhile, eludes this principle. In its simultaneity, it is almost tantamount to a gesture of resistance. This is because it presupposes that you are awake and conscious and yet deliberately not pursuing any task, requirement, or productivity – even though you could. So it’s not that you don’t have the energy, strength, knowledge, or time, but rather lack interest, desire, or enjoyment. This intentionality also means you are aware of the consequences (unproductivity = laziness), accept them, or are enduring them in an emergency. What’s more, idleness requires nothing, it cannot be improved, it is simply decided and done. It’s helpful to have a stable base and comfortable furniture on which to place yourself, but you can be idle in all sorts of ways.

The intention behind the idleness

Naturally, right now I’m in bed. I’m lying there on my back, all fours stretched out on sage-matcha green sheets, in a peaceful, surrendering pose, thinking. My eyes are closed, and there’s nothing to listen to save the birdsong. I call this “research”. I’m not currently suffering from any pain (no period cramps or tension), and I have no cravings or any other complaints. I also have a lot I should be doing; a downright endless to-do list and a substantial list of requirements already await me. But nothing doing. Instead of getting up and doing something, I turn over onto my stomach and stretch out my limbs as if I were trying to touch all four corners of the bed. I recall Cosima von Bonin’s “OPEN YOUR SHIRT PLEASE 6”: her pigs lying there, next to oversized handcuffs and starfish, with their little rucksacks on their backs.

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Cosima von Bonin. feelings, installation view, © Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt 2024, Photo: Norbert Miguletz

Admittedly, (for fashion reasons) I would never voluntarily carry a backpack outside of an extreme situation (hiking), but when I saw them lying there in the exhibition at the SCHIRN, I suddenly felt the urge not only to put down my work but also to lay down myself and do exactly the same thing. Just as I am now. Look at me – here lies an artist doing nothing, what a cheek! In both cases (pigs and me), the idleness is directly regarded as artistic expression. On the one hand, it is embodied in Cosima von Bonin’s work, while on the other, I embody it as an artist lying there creating nothing at all. Yet neither of these is a reason to be annoyed, as we have long since agreed that doing nothing is an important aspect of creative activity (and therefore also part of the work process that can be considered valid).

Cosima von Bonin’s exhibition includes many more signs of peaceful idleness – in direct contradiction. What about “MISSY MISDEMEANOUR #2”, the chicken on the rocket? The chicken has evidently vomited and doesn’t exactly seem to be an active and enthusiastic rider. Rather, in my interpretation, it seems to have been placed on board and is not entirely happy about the task imposed on it (that of a rocket flight attendant).

Cosima von Bonin. feelings, installation view, © Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt 2024, Photo: Norbert Miguletz

I, too, have obviously long since internalized the idea of self-actualization and aligned my life accordingly, only I was able to create good loopholes in the process. My favorite? Appropriating the cliché of lazy artists who hang out in coffee houses and bars day in, day out and have to live life in search of inspiration. After all, where else would the ideas come from? So it’s only logical and consistent: Doing nothing is a meaningful and enriching activity – and (one aspect) at the core of the work. So I’ll keep lying here for a little while and declare, in the spirit of the note on one of the Daffy Duck works: “Next week we’ve got to get organized.” But this week we’ll laze around for a bit longer.

The whale on the swing in “MAE DAY VII”, meanwhile, I immediately find to be utterly adorable. With the pretty, elegant scarf tied around its neck, the cute clutch placed next to it, eyes fixed in that (frivolous or exhausted) bedroom gaze, not even swinging or making any other effort to experience anything. And in “MARATHON, QUE LE FUCK VERSION” Miss Piggy, too, in her leopard print hangs around uselessly (on the washing line), just like the oversized bikini in the next room. I’m wearing one myself right now – a bikini, not leopard print, although I’d quite like that too. Before I threw myself on the bed, I was lying for hours on a lawn, which merely proves how seriously I take my “research” and that you can, under certain circumstances, always work, on the one hand, while on the other declaring everything to be work.

Doing nothing as a creative process

In the life of a freelance, independent artist, the boundaries between work and freedom are constantly blurred anyway; they melt away and become vague beyond recognition. It seems to me that the more personal the artistic exploration, the more one draws from one’s own life and thus the more impossible it becomes to separate work from rest. That may be either the greatest luxury or the most absurd, self-exploitative trap.

Cosima von Bonin. feelings, installation view, © Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt 2024, Photo: Norbert Miguletz
Cosima von Bonin. feelings, installation view, © Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt 2024, Photo: Norbert Miguletz
Cosima von Bonin. feelings, installation view, © Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt 2024, Photo: Norbert Miguletz


MARCH 21 – JUNE 9, 2024

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