|Cosima von Bonin as Anita Pallenberg|
| Cosima von Bonin,
an artist affiliated with the Galerie Christian Nagel, Köln, Germany,
was cast by Leslie and myself into the title role of Anita Pallenberg
at the inception of the project. Although it took us over six months to
get a 'yes' from her however. And if she hadn't agreed, we would necessarily
have dropped The Anita Pallenberg Story and begun another project
- because the film was conceived from the start with Cosima in mind, and
there is no one who could have replaced her.
I met Miss von Bonin in June of 1995, while researching for the exhibition "Incandescent" I curated as part of the larger exhibition "NowHere" mounted by the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark in 1996. In Europe to seek additional artists for the exhibition (which concentrated on work made by women concurrent and subsequent to the Women's Liberation Movement of the 1970s), I went to Cologne for a few days to look at art.
After seeing some peculiar and evocative black and white photographs of hers at Christian Nagel's and reviewing the documentation of some of her prior projects, I invited Cosima to produce a new work for the "Incandescent" exhibition. She produced "Untitled", 1996, an installation which consisted of a curtain of men's cotton handkerchiefs hung on the wall, a stack of velvet - covered rocks on a rug, and a photocopy of a turntable placed upon a make - shift dolly. (Actually, I am looking at the reproduction of the work in the "NowHere" exhibition catalogue at this very moment and there is something else located on the floor - I think it is a stack of photocopies that have some kind of reference to Marcel Broodthears, but I really don't remember enough and the catalogue image doesn't elucidate, as they so often don't.)
In addition to her participation in my group exhibition, Cosima was also invited to make a project at the Danish Royal Academy of Art in Copenhagen, at the same time. I remember her seated on the floor in the main gallery of the wing of the Louisiana Museum where we were installing "Incandescent," both ears plugged into headphones, hand cutting the paper announcements to her Royal Academy project, audibly mumbling "Shieze". She titled her Royal Academy event "Camp Sister Spirit", after a lesbian social service program in Alabama that was at the time in the national news in the United States, due to the death threats the women were receiving that made it necessary for the U.S. Attorney General to intervene. (I had mentioned the incident to Cosima and since visual artists are always looking for titles, only smiled when I saw "Camp Sister Spirit" hand-scrawled across the top of her hand-made flyers.) Her announcement also included a drawing of headphones and the first-names of many of the artists featured in "Incandescent": Elaine, Elin, Janine, Eva, Senga, Lorraine, Martha, Adrian, Yurie, etc. Or maybe it only featured the names of those who were present for the installation, I don't know for sure - but I do remember she included the name of Sturtevant's dog, Chanel, who was indeed present for the installation.
Some of us - the artists featured in "Incandescent" as well as my assistants and crew from New York - attended Cosima's event at the Royal Academy, held a few nights after the opening of "NowHere". She made a kind of 'rave' event. She had decorated the room with some more of those men's cotton handkerchiefs and was DJ-ing albums on a turn table. When I showed up, with an entourage of over a dozen, the place was otherwise empty and Cosima was in a drunken stupor at the turn table, the ashes from her cigarette cascading onto the spinning vinyl. This scene prompted Leslie Singer, who had been the film and video consultant on "Incandescent", to call the event a 'veer.' In order no doubt to capture and maintain our (lesbian) attention, Cosima put on Diana Ross singing "I'm Coming Out", a move that brought forward indignation and scorn from my young lesbian assistants who had already, over the course of a few months, remarked unfavorably on the 'lesbian posturing' in Cosima's work, in particular her occasional though nonetheless consistent use of images of American lesbian pop icons, like Joan Jett and Melissa Etheridge. Because I accept that the Europeans all live more conservatively than we do in New York, especially in respect to heterosexuality, such cultural appropriations don't bother me so much - I feel sorry for the Europeans. But my younger assistants, neither of whom are (like myself) European-American, would have none of it. They are both from former European colonies and less inclined to romance a European attitude than I am. They were offended by what they perceived as cultural imperialism (of lesbians, not of Americans) and insisted we leave.
Cosima's personal as well as artistic performances during our working relationship on "Incandescent" in 1995-96 suggested her appropriateness for the role of Anita Pallenberg. Like Anita, Cosima is a well-spoken and beautiful German. Like Anita, she has an apparently unlimited capacity for self abuse; although for Anita it was mostly heroin, and for Cosima it is usually alcohol. Indeed, the primary legacy of Martin Kippenberger, the artist who occupied the center of the artistic community in Cologne until his early death in 1997, appears to be alcoholism. Although alcoholism is not and will never be an art form, members of Kippenberg's inner circle, which includes Cosima, her husband the painter Michael Krebber and others, practice ritualized drinking as if it were a cultural production, as if it were something to 'believe in'. From a German perspective, this alignment of creativity with substance abuse has also been personified in the lives and deaths of Nico and Fassbinder. From a New York perspective, this style of excess inebriation echos the pattern of dissolution practiced by Jackson Pollock and his coterie during the '40s and '50s and compliments similar strategies of narcotic bohemianism popular on the Rock and Roll scene of the '60s. But in the 1990's there appears to be a distinct difference between how the Cologne and the New York art scenes perceive and respond to drug and alcohol abuse: that is, in New York, we are finally bored with it.
In the casting for Anita Pallenberg, a many of the chosen actors have direct and extensive experience with narcotics and alcohol. But Cosima is the only one who is still in the fire. In addition to her artistic involvement with music (she has produced a few albums of her own, along with the rave-like exhibitions she has made); her pseudo-lesbian posturing (this appealed to us too; in fact we consider it a taunt); her seductive German voice; and her physical beauty and aristocratic demeanor, her active alcoholism is a very real reason why we chose her for the part.
That being so, we sincerely hope that she - and everyone else currently behaving similarly - would please moderate the alcohol and drug use so that we can have all of you with us for a little while longer. Indeed, now that her filming for The Anita Pallenberg Story is complete, we would like very much to send Cosima to the Betty Ford Clinic, but she doesn't return our phone calls about that.
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