Columbine Library is Bunny Rogers’s first exhibition at Société.
It takes as a backdrop the Columbine High School massacre, which occurred in Colorado, USA, on April
20, 1999. That school shooting, which left 15 dead and 24 injured, resulted in a media frenzy. Fear spread
across the country, as did doubts about a culture that creates a spectacle out of violence and the use of
firearms, to the point of normalizing them. Many wanted answers about what motivated the perpetrators,
Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. What emerged were portraits of disturbed teenage boys – as well as
sobering insights into the pains of adolescence and the trauma of being in high school.
In the media, Harris was portrayed as deranged, and Klebold as prone to depression. They were
dehumanized, described as monsters. Psychologically, they couldn’t be normal at all; they had to be
aberrations, come untethered from social bonds. Any statement about identifying with them was taboo,
repressed, tantamount to homicidal or suicidal tendencies, impossible to reconcile with the status quo that
so many had put faith in, that was supposed to keep kids safe and alive and in school.
But the culture industry – the media included – thrives on the capacity of spectator-consumers to identify
with the representations that it generates and regenerates. And there’s a kind of unspoken romance to
tragic cases in particular, an attraction to the pain of others, an idolization of those who die young (actors,
musicians, artists; self-inflicted or not). Difficult though it may be to believe, that’s been the case with
Harris and Klebold, too: Rogers discovered a subculture of teenage girls who obsess over them, using the
Internet as a forum to express their empathy with the shooters as well as a sexual attraction to them. Not
only does this challenge the media’s portraits of Harris and Klebold, it in fact forces us to face an
inconvenient truth – that a death drive, rage, vulnerability, difficulties expressing oneself and integrating
socially, and even a capacity for atrocities are categorically human traits.
Several cultural icons crop up in Columbine Library, setting up a chain of identification always in relation
to Rogers herself – the artist, the tie that binds. Perhaps more than we’d like to admit, there’s something
that unites the perpetrators of a horrific school shooting, the victims, adolescent girls (so often typecast as
innocent, pure, and non-violent), a cartoon of an angst-filled teenage girl, one of a rage-filled girl, a
captive killer whale turned violent, a pacifist bull from a children’s book, and a musician who succumbed
to addiction and depression. As Rogers, a kind of medium for the subjectivity of the young girl, threads
together uncanny representations of these cultural icons, she reveals something intimate about herself. At
the same time, she exposes societal norms and cultural memory for what they are: collective and