For almost fifteen years, I have been fascinated by a giant pink bunny. Resting atop a hill in the Italian alps since 2005, Rabbit, in its original state, at least, exuded the innocence of a child’s favorite worn plushy, with its wayward limbs, and its one-eyed, wide-eyed stare. Nearly the entirety of the 200-feet long, 20-feet tall, hay-filled sculpture was covered in cotton-candy pink wool. This bunny had a dark side, however. A closer look revealed its entrails were pouring from its side and, appearing to have been dropped from the sky onto the hillside, you realized Rabbit was a study of death and decay, as much as it was of adorableness.
“It’s rotting away and the intestines are running out of its side, but it’s really sweet,” Ali Janka, one of Rabbit’s artists, told The New York Times in 2005. “It has a warmth and a gravity. It’s nice to lie on it.”
Meant to last 20 years, today, Rabbit still resides on the Italian hillside near Artesina, but it is now a shadow of itself, appearing in its GPS image to be a diminished mound of hay, perhaps wool, and assuredly grass, plants, and wildlife that the years past have incorporated into the sculpture. It’s an interesting thought, that long after Rabbit cedes its materials to nature — the wool and hay may provide a fertilizer for soil and flora over time — that nature itself will become the living embodiment of the sculpture.
For me, the giant pink bunny, created by the Viennese art collective Gelitin, is a fascinating study of creativity. Not just the idea of the sculpture itself, but the much more complicated process of making that vision a reality. How does one go from what was perhaps an initially fleeting idea to a 200-foot behemoth that can be hiked to, climbed upon, and even dreamt upon, inspiring visitors to come up with their own whimsical ideas? How does one find the courage to not just create art, which takes courage enough, but to create such a large-scale artwork that community participation is relied upon? Does it stand to reason that the bigger the scale of the artwork, and the bigger the impact on the community, the greater the risk that is undertaken by the artist, if their work is not deemed a success?
In the case of Rabbit, the community interaction with the finished sculpture, not to mention their help creating the sculpture, is part if its magic. Reportedly, anywhere from fifty women to “hundreds of grannies” knit the bunny’s pink exterior over the course of five years, and after the sculpture was complete, one could apparently see the occasional villager carrying a small knitting kit to repair the wool of the ill-fated bunny. Despite Rabbit’s inevitable demise, there is a lightheartedness and an immediacy to the piece born on its interplay with the senses — its inviting plushiness, its scenic view, its climbable terrain, its intertwining with plants and animal burrows.
However, that lightheartedness and immediacy bely the years of work and planning that went into the artwork. It took months for the team to find an ideal location, and of course years to complete the sculpture. Henri Matisse famously said, “The artist begins with a vision — a creative operation requiring effort. Creativity takes courage.” So, how does one find courage? How does one amplify the low whisperings of an idea and invite the world to listen? That is what I hope to explore on Susurrus: The roots of creativity and the process of making visions a shared reality.
For the art collective Gelitin, I imagine their courage is drawn from different sources, including their numbers. Gelitin began as a collective of four friends who met in summer camp in 1978; they’ve worked together for years. Validation and support from one’s colleagues, peers, or tribe breed confidence. So, too, does experience. Gelitin’s work is routinely provocative, pushing the boundaries of public discourse. Their 2009 exhibit Klunk Garden featured naked bums and limbs — rocks — protruding above a sweep of smooth pebbles in a Japanese Zen Ryōan-ji garden. Per the exhibit catalog: “After watching the garden for a long time, one could see rocks disappearing and being replaced by slightly different rocks and rocks of slightly different gender. The rocks could feel the glances of the audience, depending on which part of it was exposed to the visitors sight.” Clearly not lacking in courage, I suspect the Gelitin collective would be puzzled by my wonder of it.
In journalist Sarah Thornton’s book 33 Artists in 3 Acts, which I first read about on the inimitable site Brain Pickings, the photographer Laurie Simmons says, “When you are younger, you think about eradicating self-doubt… But, as you age, you understand that it is part of the rhythm of being an artist. As I get older, I have developed my ability to examine self-doubt in private, to play around with it, rather than push it away.”
Perhaps courage isn’t as salient a question as is understanding one’s rhythm as an artist. How does one move through the familiar touchstones of creativity, beginning with the thrill of an idea, on to exploration, self-doubt, analysis, and ultimately doing the work to discover what may, or may not, be a revelation for the artist, a path worth taking?
Gelitin, whether self aware of its own courage or not, does the work. The collective navigates its way through projects that might exist, as one reviewer conjectures, “just because.” In their artistic process for Rabbit, whimsy, fun, and the very question of its existence are not divorced from the work, they seem to form the cog around which creation turns. And that inspires me to be a bit more brave.