The Beautiful Macabre: The Work of Benedetta Bonichi

Essays in Love La Recherce

Essays in Love La Recherce

If you are in New York City this summer, then make some time to see Head (July 10-Aug 11), an exhibit curated by Robert Curcio and D. Dominick Lombardi for Bosi Contemporary. Featuring  the works of Christophe Avella-Bagur, Benedetta Bonichi, Richard Butler, Lori Field, Rieko Fujinami, Chambliss Giobbi, Ronald L. Hall, Nina Levy, D. Dominick Lombardi, Esther Naor, and Lena Viddo, the exhibit examines issues of identity, power, sexuality, and politics using the aesthetics of the fantastic and grotesque. 


Collana Di Perle

While at the exhibit, I was mesmerized by the work of Benedetta Bonichi in particular, who had a previous show with Bosi Contemporary in 2012 entitled Eros and Thanatos. Her work uses the fantastic to question truth, for we use X‑rays to see “what is really wrong with us,” according to Bonichi. We never use such technology except in times of physical crisis, when we wish to uncover secrets that our mere flesh cannot uncover. In Collana Di Perle,  the pearl necklace and other pieces of jewelry are some of the few things about this creature that we do recognize, that we are familiar with. The fusion of woman and octopus, though, trips us over into the threshold of the grotesque. With one hand she threads her fingers through her pearls as if greeting a dinner guest; the other holds a sea shell – possibly an hors d’oeuvre? Bonichi didn’t attempt to make this woman into a mermaid or any kind of selkie but rather something more predatory, and yet performative. While it mimics the societal behavior of the perfect hostess, are we being invited to dine, or to be eaten?

La Contorsionista

La Contorsionista

La Contorsionista  plays off a similar theme regarding performing gender, for so often we view the erotic woman as some kind of otherworldly creature to be gawked at. There is such strange beauty here even as we wince at the position of the skeleton, the stiletto shoes that look more like blades of the slender dagger the shoes are named after. There is a visual play here, too, for we know that such high heels are detrimental to a woman’s skeletal structure, and the unnatural, beautiful contortion of this woman draws more attention to that fact. Normally, it is a man who drinks champagne from the lady’s shoe as form of adoration, so why does this woman appear to be sipping from her own shoe, and in such a position? Perhaps this questions the cultural rhetoric that a woman adores and loves herself, for the angle of shoe and human seem to make it a physical impossibility that any drinking can actually occur.



Bonichi’s Sposi has a bit of fun at punning off the “until death do us part” segment of the marriage ceremony. Here the X‑ray quality brings the macabre more into the forefront as we view a ghostly couple participating in a toast. The man’s density creates a more demonic semblance and his arm is stretched at a strange angle that crosses into the woman’s space. For a moment, we wonder if that is her hand, but no, her right arm lies by her side, almost invisible. The  bobby pins around her head, keeping what must be a fabulous hairstyle in place, now look like surgical instruments accidentally left in her brain. While the man’s body is mostly obscured, on the woman we observe the faint outline of breasts, a champagne glass situated just above the uterus. Directly above that, a zipper, as if even her skeleton could be unzipped  The hands of the couple are claw-like and not even holding the glass, so that it appears to be levitating. This again plays with our idea of what is real, because X‑rays are grounded within the rhetoric of documentation and evidence.

L'Araba Fenice

L’Araba Fenice

L’Araba Fenice shows a phoenix devoid of its fiery wingspan. Normally a symbol of regeneration, this wondrous monster is part woman – based on the way that Bonichi has emphasized its waist and slim neck – and part bird, thus touching on the Greek myth of the Siren. But the artist has kept this creature truly in the realm of the in-between, neither bird nor human enough for our acceptance, only our uncanny awe. There is recognition, but also, a recoiling from just what it is that might be reborn. In this way, Bonichi returns us to a place of unknowing, where we can momentarily escape the incessant scientific classification that bombards us daily and find ourselves lost in the mythic. In that sense, Bonichi’s X‑ray images really do attempt to uncover the deeper beauty, and psychosis, within our postmodern culture.

All images use courtesy of BOSI Contemporary.

To view more of Bonichi’s work, please visit her website:

To view upcoming exhibitions at Bosi Contemporary, visit

Nancy Hightower’s fiction and poetry has been published in Bourbon Penn, Prick of the the Spindle, Corvus, Neon, Word Riot, Strange Horizons, storySouth, Danse Macabre, and Up the Staircase Quarterly, among others.Her debut fantasy novel, Elementarí Rising, is coming out in September 2013 with Pink Narcissus Press. You can see more of her writing by visiting her website:

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