RUN RABBIT RUN
"Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be late."
The White Rabbit
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
Slightly reminiscent of the Easter bunny, but with incredibly elongated ears by which it hangs, Maurizio Cattelan's Untitled, 1996 is a startling work, an image that takes hold of the imagination. Automatic assumptions such as gentleness, innocence, and youth are called into question as this rabbit is not typical; it cannot run or hop and there is no carrot or Easter egg in sight. Characteristic of Cattelan's approach to art, common associations are turned upside down and the viewer is left to question the artist's stance as well as his or her own on the subject in question.
Animals are an obsession for Cattelan; he fills his world with various creatures in strange incarnations and surreal situations. The artist's interest in animals was initially made visible in 1994 at his first exhibition in New York where a live, smelly and noisy donkey was installed in a gallery space downtown, much to the chagrin of the residents living nearby. Cattelan continued experimenting with animals and in 1996 he created his first animal with elongated limbs, the result being Untitled, 1996. This work plays a seminal role in the artist's oeuvre as it may viewed as a precursor to what is considered to be one of the artist's most important works, Novecento, which was created the following year. Walking into the Castello di Rivoli Collection to consider Novecento, the viewer comes face to face with a horse whose legs have been exaggerated in order to emphasize the sense of gravity's pull and the notion of the animal being caught between two worlds. (The title of the piece was based on the 1976 Bernardo Bertolucci movie with the same name.)
As gravity pulls at Novecento, the viewer gets the sense that the horse actually grew these extended legs so he could reach the ground. The animal is not battling against gravitational pull, he seems to be striving to achieve it. Yet the present work Untitled, 1996 gives the opposite impression; it seems as if the bunny is in the process of a huge leap and somehow got stuck mid-motion. Even though the extended ears lower the bunny towards the earth, the viewer feels a sense of lightness and upward energy. If Novecento represents a problematic transition from one century's concepts and realities into a new century, quite possibly Untitled, 1996 represents the purity, idealism and optimism for the future.
Cattelan's use of an animal to convey a human concept is a typical device in his work and one that he often employs to infuse his art with a certain morbid humor. The artist is playing with the kind of ideas we project onto animals and he is addressing society from an animal's point of view. Here Untitled, 1996 is at once an unlikely, absurd and somewhat disturbing presence, a rabbit hanging from the ceiling, but at the same time it is familiar and comforting, a reminder of more playful times.
Like many of Cattelan's works which deal with animals, there is undoubtedly an element of self-portraiture involved in Untitled, 1996 as the work calls into question the role of the artist and the difficulty of artistic creation. The weight of the rabbit and the impracticality of its position, brings to mind the impossibility of developing new and creative ideas. The artist is constrained and bound by internal and external forces, much like the rabbit. Is Cattelan trying to say that the role of an artist is restricting? Does he feel exposed, hung out to dry so to speak? Is the artist's view of life both tragic and humorous, poignant and absurd? As usual, Cattelan lets the viewer decide. Like the Ever Ready bunny, interpretations of Untitled, 1996 just keep going.