(Fragment) Mika Rottenberg “Still from Cheese”. 2007. Copyright: Mika Rottenberg

Brutal Reality 0

Alida Ivanov from Stockholm

Mika Rottenberg “Sneeze to Squeeze”
Magasin 3, Stockholm
February 8 – June 2, 2013

Magasin 3 begins their spring season with the solo show Sneeze to Squeeze by video-installation artist Mika Rottenberg. She creates imaginary worlds consisting of claustrophobic factories, farms, office, and working spaces. Mostly obese, tall, muscular women with extremely long nails and hair inhabit these settings. The characters seem to live off their strange physical appearances and add to the claustrophobic feel of the work.

Mika Rottenberg was born in 1976 in Buenos Aires, Argentina but grew up in Israel, where she also received her degree in fine arts. Now, and for the last ten years, she resides in New York. This exhibition consists of artworks from the early 2000’s and includes video-installations, sculptures and photography. The title Sneeze to Squeeze is what it actually is: the work Sneeze (2008), via Cheese (2008), Tropical Breeze (2004) and many other works right up to Squeeze (2010).

In Sneeze a man is sitting at a table. He has an enlarged and red nose, and alternates between sneezing and scratching his colored toenails on the floor. He sneezes out different objects, for example, light bulbs, and bunnies, but then changes his appearance (or maybe it’s a different man with the same ailment) throughout the video.

Installation view from the exhibition at Magasin 3
Mika Rottenberg Texture 1–6. 2013. Polyurethane resin, acylic paint. Dimensions variable
Courtesy Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery, New York; Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York
Photo: Christian Saltas

The different works are accompanied by equally disturbing installations and sculptures. Walls plastered in the form of scales (Texture 1-6 from 2013), boxes stacked on top of each other (a part of the work Tropical Breeze), a lonely AC dripping water into a warm frying pan (Tsss from 2013), a wooden farm construction, in which you have to walk in to can see the video piece Cheese.  Hitting your head into something is a given and a way of directly interacting with the art. This is a physical exhibition in many ways: in the videos you see hands that work, scratch, feet that step, sweat dripping, tears. The sound of these activates are amped up so you feel every single one of them.

In the video-installation Cheese we enter a farm, which has been populated by longhaired women; a story based on the seven Sutherland Sisters who lived close to the Niagara Falls and were famous for their long hair. In Rottenberg’s world there are six women in a pastoral, a utopic fantasy, where the women are combing and washing each other’s hair, interacting with the farm animals. The women wear white gowns and milk their goats with utter care, to make cheese. You enter their world, you see where they sleep, where they live. The women become the epitome of feminine mystery; they are caretakers, beautiful and virginal, and for Rottenberg they become an investigation of femininity.

Installation view from the exhibition at Magasin 3
Mika Rottenberg Cheese. 2008. Multi-channel video installation. Dimensions variable
Courtesy Julia Stoschek Foundation e.v., Düsseldorf
Photo: Christian Saltas

The physicality of the works also opens up a question of labor. The characters can be seen as bearers of production. This is apparent in the works Squeeze and Time and a Half (2003). In the latter we see a woman behind the desk at a restaurant. The film is shot in slow-motion, a woman stands in front of a blowing fan, her long hair is a mess and she gets hit in the face with paper plates. She is smiling and tapping her long, manicured, tropical colored nails against the stone bar, while she’s working over-time at her Mc-Job.

In Squeeze this theme becomes a bit more complex. In the film we see that the language has been taken from documentary films. It is shot in three locations: one on a farm in Arizona, USA, one from a rubber plantation in Kerala, India, and one in a factory-like milieu. Rottenberg then connects these places through a mind twisting and mysterious hole in the ground. A large woman makes the story evolve: another woman gets pressed into pink makeup, lettuce and rubber gets pressed into a strange cube, and so on. The work is based on expansion and contraction. It’s a movement that can be associated to our own bodies. The contracted cube returns in the photo of the New York gallerist Mary Boone: Mary Boone with Cube (2010). The whole piece tries to capture the spirit and the energy of how things are made and then valued.

Mika Rottenberg Felicia from Tropical Breeze. 2004. C-print. 50.8 x 61 cm
Courtesy Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery New York; Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York.
Copyright: Mika Rottenberg.

There is a common narrative in Rottenberg’s body of work and it is based on acts that are condensed by many levels of illogical activity, but with a perfectly logical undertone. You need to accept this reality to understand it. The film’s cinematic language is rather brutal and, in some ways, it is reminiscent of pornography: in the way the sound is amplified to the different movements of the people, and in the closeness of the camera. But, it’s the brutality that helps you accept this reality. 

In Tropical Breeze a woman is chewing on a gum in the back of a truck. She wraps the gum in a tissue, which she picks up from a pile of tissues with her toes. Then she sends it down the clothing line to a sweating driver, who pats the tissue with sweat. The driver then sends the infused tissue back for packaging and markets it as a “moist tissue wipe.” The video was screened inside a crate like box; it becomes like a physical version of the video itself.

It’s this play between the films’ language and the objects’ physicality, and visa versa, that makes the exhibition dynamic and invites curiosity. Many of the works create a feeling that is similar to a rollercoaster ride; you may feel nauseated and a bit scared, but you defiantly want to go again.