It is rare to visit an exhibition so consistent that, once you leave, the feeling of having been to a particular place lingers with you. Mika Rottenberg's retrospective at De Appel is such a show. The Argentinian-born artist has turned the former boys' school into something between a grotesque funhouse and a creepy fairytale, from which a radiant constellation of sub-worlds emanates in forms of video installations.
Tropical Breeze, 2004, Single channel video installation, 3:45 minutes, edition 4 of 5, Pasquale Leccese Collection, Milan; Courtesy of Le Case D'Arte.
Rottenberg's universe is populated by a range of physically outstanding female figures. We have the black body-builder Heather Foster, featured in Tropical Breeze (a surreal video recalling both Matthew Barney's Cremaster and the late, Russ Meyer-inspired Quentin Tarantino), and niche Internet celebrities like BBW fetish-professional Queen Raqui, with recurring appearances in Squeeze and W. The common denominator of all of Rottenberg's heroines is their exceptional bodies, stakhanovite, sweat-secreting, nail and hair-growing production machines, often connected to others through absurd wooden machinery in a pataphysical production chain.
Squeeze, 2010, Single channel video installation and digital C-print, 20 minutes, edition 1 of 6; Courtesy of the artist.
The artist's Marx-infused, Deleuze-flavored vision is particularly exemplified by the most complex and political of the works on show, Squeeze. The 20-minute video narrates the repetitive and nonsensical process through which a cube made of symbolical waste – lettuce and face powder – is synthesized, involving women working interdependently from all over the world.
Dough, 2005-2006, Single channel video installation, 7 minutes, different sizes, edition of 5; Courtesy of Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery).
As insightful and mysterious as it may be, video art can be pretty spaceless and make your legs tired. Most of Rottenberg's video installations, though, draw you into mysterious territories, activating your senses in diverse and imaginative ways. Mary's Cherries is screened in a small room with frosted walls that you can touch; Fried Sweat is only viewable through a peephole in a door; Cheese happens all around you, in a wooden installation you can literally smell. As you wander around the show, you become part of a ring of the artist's weird production chain as well.
~Nicola Bozzi, a writer living in Amsterdam.
(top image: Mika Rottenberg, Video still of "Squeeze" , 2010; Courtesy of Mary Boone Gallery in collaboration with Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery)