New York based artist Bunny Rogers brings something a little different with her gaming inspired sculptures on Dublin’s cobbled streets, writes Ciarán Howley.
When you think of the kinds of statues and sculptures dotted around the streets of Dublin, a few names tend to come to mind. From folkloric figures like Molly Malone on Suffolk Street, the heroine of the famous song ‘Cockles and Muscles,’ to astute literary figures like Oscar Wilde’s colourful and dandy effigy in Merrion Square. While a battle wages between street artists and Dublin City Council, street art is here to stay - though its contemporary sensibilities have yet to make their way into the sculptures on Dublin’s streets.
That is until an unusual unveiling in Kildare Street last month. Dublin City Council announced its endorsement of a newly installed Neopets exhibition by visual artist Bunny Rogers. Hailing from the U.S, the artist took inspiration from her childhood spent in the virtual world of Neopets, an earlier sibling of Club Penguin or Moshi Monsters. Rogers found herself “coming alive again” every evening when she returned home from school and on display are statues of characters Techo, Shoyru, and Chia sculpted from bronze.
“My Neopets were real to me. I wished that I could visit Neotopia and I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t.”
Born in 1990 in Heuston, Rogers’ practice is now based in New York. Exhibited internationally, Rogers’ work embraces the freakish elements of online culture. Much of her work often feels like it was pulled straight from DeviantArt, a quality she’s very aware of. As she told Elephant Magazine, “I think that a lot of the time art doesn’t fit in with the world… I was told in art school that I wouldn’t make it, that I was a pervert, that I needed institutional help.”
Institutions however can no longer deny artists that have grown up and formative creative experiences in the digital age. Games like Minecraft and Fortnite offer a relatively accessible and communal way to build and be creative, however much they might make some of us cringe.
She’s pushing boundaries too in terms of what belongs in the halls of prestigious galleries which would be quick to deride fanart as entirely crass. Institutions however can no longer deny artists that have had formative creative experiences in the digital age. Games like Minecraft and Fortnite offer a relatively accessible and communal way to build and be creative, however much they might make some of us cringe. The sense of connection she missed out on in her school years was to be found online. You can agree or disagree with the idea but it is the reality for many growing up with unprecedented access to the internet.
That being said, there is something a little otherworldly about seeing these unusual statues in the flesh. It feels like something pulled from the streets of London or Amsterdam, cities that have embraced the strange and idiosyncratic on their city streets. The bold, graphic murals of Shoreditch and psychedelic collages found on the side of buildings within the Dutch capital are worlds away from Dublin’s drab and continuously draining aversion to colour on its streets.
Perhaps it’s an attempt to show the public the council cares about art on the streets despite recently entering a lawsuit in pursuit of street art collective Subset. The group broke planning laws with their public murals in Dublin, where artists are required to seek permission from public planning authorities. Subset brought colour and political statements to the streets during the 2016 marriage referendum, Repeal the 8th, and the Covid-19 pandemic. The lawsuit leaves a particularly bitter taste in the mouth; there should be flexibility for street artists. Dublin City Council forgets that culture and art rarely come from the top down. Initiatives like the Neopets exhibition, while interesting, leave little room for counter-culture and suggest that those seeking to bring art and culture to the streets must come knocking on the diocese first.