Second Order Reality

Carola Bonfili
Carola Bonfili
Second Order Reality

Curated by
Daniela Cotimbo and Ilaria Gianni 

18 January–16 February 2024
Aksioma | Project Space, Ljubljana

In Second Order Reality, Carola Bonfili explores those perceptual states that are inherent in the “magical thinking” of children and characterise, for example, the experience of navigating virtual worlds. 

The ability to enter and exit different kinds of subjectivity and the interest in liminal spaces, time gaps and thresholds are familiar to us during childhood, but later on, we somehow tend to relegate them to the margins of experience. In adulthood, these states persist in the form of small perceptual shifts, inattentions and meditative or dysfunctional moments, in which we find ourselves immersed in a space that we recognise, even though we have never experienced it.

“We live inside our body all day, but we only realise it when something doesn’t feel right,” says Bonfili, and we feel a similar sensation when we are immersed in the worlds of virtual reality, where we still use our senses, but the bodies we inhabit are not ours. This otherness is also embodied in augmented spaces – those desolate places which evoke impersonal memories and follow the gaming logic that requires us to take pre-programmed and satisfaction-oriented actions, but also reveals other possibilities. When we leave this path, we experience the threshold.

Bonfili finds this shift in perception in texts such as Gustave Flaubert’s The Temptation of St. Anthony or H. G. Wells’s The Island of Dr Moreau. In this respect, Flaubert’s text is particularly noteworthy for the description of the repeated hallucinations experienced by the protagonist when he’s inside a hut. Anthony Abbot’s images are incandescent visions driven by desire, but acquire a solid consistency, similar to the effect of a mirage. These transitions from scenarios close to reality, after which the gaze broadens onto a boundless landscape, are what make Flaubert’s work so similar to the logic of video games.

Starting from these impressions, Carola Bonfili develops a narrative that she then deconstructs and varies through different media – a CGI video conceived as a trailer, an immersive VR environment and a series of sculptures – with the aim of bringing a video game to life.

The story’s protagonist is M’ling, a little monkey who suddenly sees that certain parts of her body are turning into stone and embarks on an initiatory journey in search of healing. On this journey, the little monkey encounters a series of mysterious objects to which she dedicates her sensorial attention: she talks to water, meets a robot and is guided by a mysterious melody. By letting go in the flow of surreal events, she finds the path towards her well-being.

In the video The Stone Monkey and VR installation Level 1, Illusions That We Should Have, but Don’t, the narrative develops through a succession of mysterious events that constantly displace the point of adherence to reality. Here, even the sounds play an important role by creating actual “sound objects” and amplifying the unsettling quality of the whole experience.

The deliberately fragmented nature of the project is underlined by sculptures that draw on some of the themes and imagery of the story, translating them into physical elements. If M’ling and Tanky Pear are concrete reproductions of the main characters and recall action figures produced in the field of gaming, The Stone Monkey PBR consists of a series of spherical sculptures that have been created based on PBRs or physical renders, digital objects used in 3D modelling to display texture samples. Finally, The Multicrane adapts the technique used in Walt Disney’s early animations. A tribute to craftsmanship that persists as a method in its approach to the digital.

Every aspect of the story is the result of a careful construction that combines different languages and eras: from 19th-century literature to Brutalist architecture, from contemporary comics to generative artificial intelligence. In this project, the author shows how a single story is potentially infinite and how its specificities depend on the chosen means of expression in a constant and always fragmentary cross-reference that leaves ample room for imagination.


Domen Pal / Aksioma

Carola Bonfili’s work takes inspiration from natural forms and cognitive mechanics and is structured in multi-layered narrations that develop towards mixed source texts. AI principles, CGI, VR AV environments and automatic writing are the main tools of her recent research. A performative matrix is often found in the production processes of her sculptural works and environmental installations, which are immersive and tend towards forms of transmedial narration. After studying contemporary art history at La Sapienza University in Rome, she continued her training at the Chelsea College of Art and Design in London. Her work has been presented in various institutional locations, including the MAXXI, Rome; the Milan Triennial; the Los Angeles Italian Culture Institute; the National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art, Rome; the Ludwig Museum, Budapest; the Centre d’Art Contemporain, Geneva; MAMbo Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna; and the MACRO Museum, Rome. She has received various prizes and awards, including the 2022 Italian Council 11th edition, the 2020 Re:Humanism Prize, the 2011 LUM Prize, the 2008–2009 Rome Prize and the 2009 Strozzina Prize, and also participated in residencies at the American Academy in Rome (2009) and MACRO, Rome (2012). Her works have been included in the Farnesina Collection of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the MAXXI Arte Collection and the MACRO Museum Collection in Rome. Since 2004, she has been working with Nero Editions, with which in 2011 she began publishing Names of Numbers, a series of monographic books on drawing.


Martina Carbone and Luciano Pecoraro

Daniela Cotimbo is an art historian and independent curator based in Rome. Her research is focused on the problematic issues of the present, investigated through different means of expression, in particular new technologies. She has recently founded the Re:Humanism cultural programme focused on the relationship between contemporary art and advanced technologies. Daniela has curated exhibitions in several galleries, museums and festivals, including the MAXXI, Cosmo Venezia, AlbumArte, Colli Independent, Operativa Arte Contemporanea and the Romaeuropa Festival. She writes for numerous contemporary art magazines, such as Inside Art, Flash Art and NERO, and has edited or participated in several panels organised by various institutions for institutions. In 2021, she co-founded Erinni, a curatorial collective that combines transfeminism and media languages. Since 2022, she has been a lecturer on theory and method of mass media at the Rome University of Fine Arts.

Marco Rapaccini / Officine Fotografiche Roma

Ilaria Gianni is an independent curator, art critic and lecturer. She is co-founder of IUNO, a research centre for contemporary art based in Rome, and of the itinerant Magic Lantern Film Festival, a research-based thematic investigation of the interstice between visual art and cinema. She has been guest curator at Villa Medici – Académie de France à Rome since 2023 and and has co-curatorated Radio GAMeC 30 with Lorenzo Giusti in the 2022–2023 period. She has curated exhibitions and independent research projects in museums, institutions, project spaces and fairs, including Palazzo delle Esposizioni; MACRO; MAXXI; National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art, Rome; Matadero, Madrid; MOA, Loop, Seoul; Villa Croce, Genoa; John Hansard Gallery, Southampton; Kadist, Paris; and Radio GAMeC, Bergamo. From 2016 to 2023, she was guest curator at the American Academy in Rome. Between 2009 and 2016 she was co-director and curator at the Nomas Foundation, where she was responsible for artistic programming. She has collaborated with many contemporary art fairs, including ARCOmadrid (for the section “Opening”, 2018–2019) and Artissima (for the section “Present Future”, 2019–2021), and in 2015 co-founded the independent art fair Granpalazzo, which she curated until 2017. She teaches at the John Cabot University, IED (Rome), NABA (Milan) and RUFA (Rome). She is a regular contributor to Flash Art and has wrritten for various catalogues and magazines, such as Artforum, Domus, Mousse, NERO, Cura and Arte e Critica.


Second Order Reality
A project by: Carola Bonfili 
Curated by: Daniela Cotimbo and Ilaria Gianni 

Sound design by: Lorem
Visual identity by: Bahut
Technical partner: HTC Vive Arts

Supported by: The Italian Council (2022), Directorate-General for Contemporary Creativity, Italian Ministry of Culture.

Produced by: Fondazione smART – polo per l’arte, Rome

In partnership with: Aksioma – Institute for Contemporary Art, Ljubljana

Associated partners: MNAD Museo Nazionale dell’Arte Digitale, Milan; Centre d’Art Contemporain Genève, Geneva; SODA – School of Digital Arts (c/o Manchester Metropolitan University), Manchester; Hypermaremma, Maremma; The Green Parrot, Barcelona; La Capella, Barcelona

Work to be acquired by: MAXXI Museum, Rome
Catalogue: Nero Editions


Production of the exhibition:
Aksioma – Institute for Contemporary Art, Ljubljana, 2024

Supported by:
The Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Slovenia and the Municipality of Ljubljana

Italian Cultural Institute of Ljubljana

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