Mika Rottenberg’s Critique of Contemporary Object Culture



SAN FRANCISCO — One of many placing issues about spending time in China, and just about anyplace on the earth, is seeing how “Made in China” performs out in our materials realities. All of the little issues we purchase that look easy, whether or not a toy fish, an inflatable palm tree, or a plastic flower, come from someplace because of a sequence of interlocking, advanced chains and sequences that allow manufacturing, meeting, packaging, distribution, and gross sales. 

One such place is Yiwu Market, China’s largest wholesale market and, by extension, one of many world’s largest. Observe that market’s merchandise across the globe and also you may land in Calexico, California, and Mexicali, Mexico, two border cities the place these exact same items from China are offered.

These objects are the jumping-off level for “Cosmic Generator,” a video work by Mika Rottenberg that leaps forwards and backwards between Yiwu, Mexicali, and Calexico. In a single surreal second, a girl at a Chinese language restaurant in Mexicali opens up a platter to seek out three younger White males in tacos wiggling round. One other platter holds 4 older White males in fits on a mattress of cilantro. The video cuts to one in all them crawling alongside the tunnel that connects the border cities. It’s laborious to know what’s extra surreal — the boys in taco fits or the truth that low-cost plastic objects can transfer seamlessly throughout borders and oceans, whereas folks can’t.

The video is a part of Mika Rottenberg: Spaghetti Blockchain on the Up to date Jewish Museum (CJM), the primary US museum survey of the artist’s work on the West Coast. The themes of interconnection, shock, and objects we would dismiss as low cost junk are essential to understanding her sculptural works on this present, which take the type of Rube Goldberg-like machines, with biting commentary on modern object tradition. Because the exhibition textual content notes, “Rottenberg usually makes use of the time period ‘social surrealism’ to explain her visionary strategy to artwork making, implying that her mode of making and embracing the weird serves to disclose simply how disorienting facets of up to date actuality usually are.”

Artist M Eifler interacts with Mika Rottenberg’s “#33 With Bamboo and Bicycle” (2020)

The entranceway to the principle exhibition includes almost empty racks of merchandise one may discover at a finances retailer, and viewers should cross curtains of tinsel, after which Rottenberg’s funhouse-like world takes over. A few of the extra pleasant objects embrace mini Rube Goldberg-type machines. Sit down with “#33 With Bamboo and Bicycle” and begin turning the pedals, and its odd association of a ponytail, a plastic cup with lid and straw, and bamboo begin dancing and wiggling in flip. Crank the deal with for “#11 With Cabbage and Ponytail” and the eponymous objects soar and reply.

These seemingly absurd objects come to life in “NoNoseKnows,” a video piece the place Chinese language ladies in Zhejiang work in freshwater pearl manufacturing chains. One younger individual begins turning a crank that feeds the expansion of flowers far above her, which a tall White lady enjoys as her nostril grows and grows. When she sneezes, a brand new plate of pasta emerges.

It’s a disservice to Rottenberg’s conceptual frameworks to instantly determine these mechanical sculptures with Rube Goldberg Machines, which carry out easy actions in difficult, charismatic methods, highlighting the brilliance of the machine itself and the poetry of the duty. I desire to consider these as Mika Rottenberg Machines — simply as humorous and unusual. In building, they’re comparatively easy and easy to grasp, however they spotlight the complexity of the story of globalization and inequality. Therein lies poetry as properly.

Mika Rottenberg, “Cosmic Generator (Loaded #3)” (2017), single-channel video set up, 26:36 min.
Mika Rottenberg, “#11 With Cabbage and Ponytail” (2020)
Mika Rottenberg, “NoNoseKnows” (2015), single-channel video set up, 21:58 min.
Mika Rottenberg, “Lips (Research #3)” (2016/19), single-channel video set up (looping), 1:28 min.

Mika Rottenberg: Spaghetti Blockchain continues on the Up to date Jewish Museum (736 Mission Road, San Francisco, California) by way of October 22. The exhibition was curated by CJM Senior Curator Heidi Rabben.


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