It was the first Saturday of openings in the Marais after everyone had closed for August and it seemed like there was a vernissage at every twenty meters. I don't know how many galleries are collected in what is less than a square mile. A lot. Fifty plus to make a wild guess. In these circumstances I was very happy that I made it out to the western edge of the area to Galerie Laurent Godin, who have a history of showing clean, clever, interesting work. In this instance they stayed true to form.
Having looked at so much I asked myself what it is about this show that made it stand out – it got me thinking about a certain quality to Rottenberg's work that's quite rare. It's difficult to describe: best expressed as a unity within the disparate pieces that give it the sense of coming from one particular place.
Mika Rottenberg, Sneeze, 2012, Video still; Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Laurent Godin.
Three different things were on display, most of which were new: Sneeze is a slightly Svankmajer-esque video showing sequences of three gentleman in suits with phallic alcoholic-style red noses, and ugly feet with painted toenails, sneezing either steak, or bunny rabbits, or light bulbs onto a table in front of them; Seven is a collaboration with Jon Kessler, a three-channel video installation that grew from a performance at last year's Performa 11, in which we see a somewhat mysterious scientific process taking place between a laboratory, an African plane, and a lot of sweaty people sitting having their 'chakras juiced'; and finally we have a collection of Rottenberg's drawings, which look a little like the product of a talented ten-year-old, armed with a set of coloured pencils, who's obsessed with bodily functions and the later work of Arshile Gorky (I mean this in a good way).
Individually each of these is great. The Sneeze video is a simple absurdist wonder; you kind of know what's going to happen and yet you're still captivated, caught somewhere between the bemused expression of the protagonists, the appealing sound when the objects hit the tables and the not knowing exactly which object will appear this time. It's grotesque, it's funny. Seven is somewhat different, it has more of a narrative; we sit there struggling to follow this process we see taking place, getting a feeling that meanings and statements are being pointed at but always confounded until finally our expectations are pretty roundly turned upside down. I won't spoil it but it is worth watching to the end. We can sense the collaboration; the videos are more Rottenberg, the installation more Kessler, but once again it fits together as a whole. Then we have the drawings that are full of strange bodies, vomit, piss, butterflies, fruit, palm trees, mouths, curly hair and other things all tied together in these dynamic vortices and a colour scheme that reminded me of Italian ice-cream.
Mika Rottenburg, Jon Kessler, Seven, 2011, A Performa Commission at Nicole Klagsbrun Project.
Each alone points towards Rottenberg's main areas of interest; the body, expulsion, the grotesque, absurdity, production. These are the elements that we see tied together and iterated in various combinations and different ways, and, if we look back, we see it in her previous work. It's not so simple as an artist who does or is interested in just one thing; and yet she isn't someone who flits from one thing to the next seemingly without purpose. Within the work, there is the feeling of something complete, some strange alchemy behind it all, even if we can't pin it down exactly. But it's this sense that makes the work not only visually pleasing and intellectually stimulating but seductive in a particular way; it allows for an ongoing engagement and a conversation, it makes it fun and alive – a show worth seeing.
(Image on top: Mika Rottenberg, 2012, Graphite, acrylique et crayon de couleur sur papier; Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Laurent Godin.)