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Rabbits

In conversation with the author Nathalie Rey, curator Ayça Okay and invited artist Vilma Leino


We sat on the wooden benches overlooking the gallery space. Around us – a beautiful arrangement of flowers potted in their dedicated compartments. Ahead of us – the window was giving us a generous peak into the brightly coloured and woven together plush toys that were a part of Nathalie Rey’s exhibition.


A critique to consumerism, a new take on eroticism, and a juxtaposition between the natural and the artificial, Rabbits flirts in an innocent way with such lavish concepts in a multi-layered exhibition curated by Ayça Okay.


I spoke with each of them individually to uncover the layers decoded in the exhibition, along with photographer Vilma Leino who gave an additional brush stroke to the project through her photographic lenses.



A child’s play turned into perversion with consumerism

It was a beautiful sunny day. The first day after the opening of the exhibition on the 1st September and the second of Ortstermin Festival in Moabit, Berlin, which Scope BLN and Rabbits were a part of. That meant that culture-thirsty visitors were making a stop along their journey across the 80 exhibition spaces while holding their maps. Curiosity was embedded in their touring repertoire.


Allured by the vibrant toys that the sun was illuminating, visitors entered through the glass door and were transcended into a portal to the rabbit’s personal universe.


Reminiscing an amusement park scene, the gallery space was occupied by a child-like curiosity and bright, plush toys. But beneath the buoyancy and laughter, beneath the light of day, was piercing a darker story, one of the night. A child’s play, together with its eponymous object of infancy, was turned into an adult’s perversion with our way of life.


Eroticism is not the first concept that comes to mind when seeing the exhibition, but it is the starting point for Nathalie and the theme to hold the space for the rest to unfold.


“I bought one of the rabbits in the exhibition from Amazon a year ago when I was still working on my project “No Soy Un Objeto Sexual” (“I’m not a sexual object”), as part of my residency at SomoS in Berlin. My aim was to talk about sexuality within the framework of consumerism, and toys helped me do that: both sex toys and stuffed animals. It was very hard for me to speak about it, because I’m not a specialist in the topic, and in that way, my work is very transversal. I always use this very innocent point of view, which gives me the opportunity to steer in the direction that I want to go into without being a specialist,” shared Nathalie.


Her work follows a very fine thread and is guided by intuition and her 20-years-long practice. The fine thread that connects all of her works is her fascination with objects, “because they’re very symptomatic of consumerism”. She is particularly intrigued by Baudrillard’s theory in The Consumer Society and believes that this concept is more present and exaggerated today than it was at the time it was developed in the ‘70s.


Traditionally, the rabbit has an erotic iconography, as seen in Playboy magazine. In the exhibition, the rabbit, which is both an object and a protagonist, interacts with sexual objects and environments to elucidate that juxtaposition between innocence and sexuality. In the video, we see her fratenising with the huge and arousing structures installed as part of Eva Fàbregas’ current exhibition Devouring Lovers at Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin.


“Both Nathalie an Eva are from Barcelona and are working on the same concepts. The rabbit wanted to touch these soft and very cute toys but wasn’t allowed to do so. These are alluring and familiar in some way objects, so she naturally wanted to experience them,” commented Ayça Okay.



Down the rabbit hole

That innocence we see in the eyes of the rabbit and his confusion when entering the big world acts as a disguise for the dark side of our society imbued with consumerism, emotional abuse, and the stripping of our values.


However, Nathalie finds yet another way to convey that in a child-like playfulness through storytelling.


“My main subjects are consumerism, but also ecology, holocaust, and nuclear threat. It’s always through little narratives, like kids’ stories, that I explore them. I was telling you about this innocent narrator, because that way I can be a bit politically incorrect. I’m supposed to be innocent, I don’t really understand what I’m seeing, so I can be critical,” explained Nathalie.


Ayça talks about finding the fine line between being critical and at the same time a participator in this culture: “Nathalie is against the consumerism but she is looking into it in a new way. She considers the art world dynamics as a part of the consumerism, and is also producing in that environment. It’s challenging.”


Nathalie has found that using the fable narrative and having a “key”, a certain repetitive motif, helps her distance herself and illustrate her socially, ecologically and politically packed stories better, taking inspiration from other iconic works of art.


“Like in David Lynch’s movies, I need a key. He always uses some repetitive image that gives you the key to enter different worlds. In Inland Empire, there is this group of humanoid rabbits that when they cross the screen, there’s a switch in the plot. That’s when I realised that the rabbit can be one of these keys in this story,” said Nathalie.


“Nathalie loves to use metaphor. She is a big movie junkie. For the Rabbits exhibition, she was inspired by the David Lynch England Empire movie and the Alice in Wonderland novel,” added Ayca. “In Alice in Wonderland, there is this white rabbit character, and whenever he appears in the novel or on the screen, you know that Alice is going to switch roles, and she’s going to another dimension. In this exhibition, the rabbit is the character of the consumerist world, but she is also switching dimensions.”


In the last scene of Nathalie’s video, we see the rabbit returning to the floor sculpture in the gallery space among the other toys, as if to take a rest from the perplexing day in the streets of the real world. The viewers also take a rest; there is a comforting feeling in knowing that the rabbit is safe and amongst “his own kind”. But then, just like in the opening scene of David Lynch’s movie Blue Velvet, the image is overlayed with a scene from the forest. The camera captures closes and closer images of the grass, the soil, the worms, and suddenly the scene turns dark.


“This is so typical of David Lynch. It’s a trick that the rabbit is going back to the natural world. It’s a permanent question of what is real and what is fiction; what is natural and what is artificial. It’s interesting how we’re taking something from the natural world and turning it into a consumerist object, in that case a toy. It is reflecting our current confusion about reality. We live in a virtual world. I think nobody knows what nature is anymore,” explained Nathalie with sadness.


“In the end, you feel like it’s a bad ending. You feel like there is nothing to be done, that there is going to be another day, and that you’re in a cycle. It starts in the morning, and it ends at night. You simply understand that there is going to be another dawn. Everything is going to be the same, because the system, all politics, all narratives of our current world, are based on consumerism,” Ayça shared her take.


Economic and emotional consumerism

When the rabbit first enters the “human world”, she is captivated by the flashy surroundings and the attention from the people she interacts with. Similar to us, she is delusional in an ostentatiously attractive, materialist world.


While the rabbit is an object and a protagonist, she is also very relatable. “The rabbit also depicts our personality, ourselves in this city, in the metropolitan area wherever we are; it’s kind of like an outside ego character,” shared Vilma Leino, whose photographic exhibition added another layer to the project by portraying the rabbit’s positioning in this crude world.


“I think it was very obvious, in a way, for me to work on this exhibition. I think that if something was meant to happen, it was very clear from the beginning how the photos would look like, because I was so familiar with Nathalie’s work, and it was like looking into my own mind in a way. We all have those dreamscapes and colourscapes, and for me, it’s very important how I work with colour and how other people work with colours, and I just love Nathalie’s work,” shared Vilma about her personal experience with working on this project.


“Nathalie loves to collaborate with people, and in this exhibition specifically, Vilma is the invited artist. In her photography, she focused on some cityscapes in the Berlin metropolitan area, and she specifically used some weird architecture, weird colours, and more futuristic buildings. She digitally manipulated those photographs and mixed cityscapes by layering the photographs and creating different views and landscapes. To me, these are mostly threatening; that’s my impression about the photography,” commented Ayça on Vilma’s work.


Within those cityscapes, the rabbit can’t help but feel overwhelmed by the signs of consumerism.


“We’re living the world of things, so it’s impossible for you to stay in a clear mind. The rabbit represents the overwhelmed character of our own society. That’s why the movie portrays the rabbit’s whole range of impressions during daily Barcelona or Berlin life. She is enjoying the performances, visiting museums, galleries, just like a typical consumerist person is doing. She is happy, applauding performances. That’s how you understand that the rabbit is also a human,” said Ayça.


But the rabbit soon starts to realise that she is alone in the metropolitan area. “As you can understand, that’s basically us. Even if you’re in a huge entertainment area like Berlin or even if you’re in Korea, everyone is suffering from the same loneliness,” added Ayça.


As a way to consolidate herself, the rabbit starts looking for familiar objects in her surroundings, and that’s reflected in Vilma’s photographic exhibition. “It’s actually very accidental. We started seeing those traffic cones all over Berlin, and of course, they remind very much of carrots. I thought that if I was lost in a concrete hell, and I was somebody looking for a place to hide, I’d look for objects that are familiar to me. I’d think of my childhood, I’d think of my past, I’d think of the objects that are meaningful to me, and look for them. That’s my personal connection with the rabbit that came up,” shared Vilma.


Ayça refers to that loneliness and longing for familiarity as emotional consumerism, which is a byproduct of the economical consumerism. “We’re not only talking about the consumerism in the economical cycle. There is also this consumerism of the emotions.


We’re consuming every valuable information right now, every emotional interaction between us. Everything happens incredibly fast, and we’re just skipping to the issue that’s ahead of us. The rabbit is underlying the emotional consumerism through the need to be applauded, to be loved, liked or unliked. These are the social themes of today’s world.”





Going back to the natural ways

So how do we remove those layers of consumerist oppression and go back to the natural ways of living? Nathalie has found her way of expression. Through weaving the toys into her amorphic sculpture, she is going back to traditional sewing and production methods, which is the opposite of the consumerist way of production, where toys are made in a line in a warehouse, utilising cheap labour, and potentially made by children. “It’s kind of like a meditative practice for her, sewing those toys together,” said Ayça.


“She is taking a revenge for it. Through creating this amorphic sculpture on the floor, she is taking a revenge for that mass production, machine-heavy and lacking emotion way of producing or creating something.”


Text by Eleonora Hristova

Photos by Nathalie Rey and Vilma Leino


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Eleonora Hristova is a Contributing Writer for Scope BLN. As a freelance writer, she specializes in art, fashion, culture, and music. In her work, she explores the intersections between past, present, and future with the multiple nuances of culture and current contexts.

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