Shotgun Review

New Work: Mika Rottenberg

By Genevieve Quick September 15, 2010

In Mika Rottenberg’s video Squeeze (2010), she uses sharp editing skills and humor to address mechanization; gender and ethnic/racial divisions within the labor market; and the absurdity within commodity production.   

Much of Rottenberg’s video is located in her Rube Goldberg-like “factory” set with its crude sliding and rotating mechanisms, rolling rooms, dumb waiters, and cubbies. Rottenberg compliments her absurd set with a cast that includes workers in an Arizona lettuce farm and an Indian rubber plant; Asian masseuses in a subterranean cramped rolling room; a woman who produces fairy-dust-like blush; a mildly aggrieved and disinterested white woman who seems to oversee production; and a large African American woman who mystically seems to control the larger workings of her “factory.” Rottenberg’s cast of idiosyncratic characters in absurd situations mindfully walks the edge between hard-edged critique and humor. While we never see the factory’s final product in the video, at the entrance to Rottenberg’s installation is a slightly ironic photograph of mega-gallerist Mary Boone presenting a cube of squished lettuce, rubber, and blush. 

While the wall text indicates that Rottenberg intended for her installation to mimic the constrained labyrinth of her “factory,” I found the installation’s demands of walking down a corridor and around a corner failed to produce this effect. Despite this, Rottenberg’s video sharply probes globalization and commerce while revisiting earlier feminist critique.

In addition, Rottenberg’s video is full of odd visual puns that reference the abject body: a tongue that projects from a vertical slit in the wall, which at times becomes a set of lips and an eye; a stream of orange juice that falls from the ceiling which coincides with the squeezed woman; and a set of well-proportioned butts that protrude from, or hang on, the wall behind the masseuses. Rottenberg references the early feminist task of alienating body parts as a critique of the female objectified body, but does so with humor and play.

Mika Rottenberg, Video still from Squeeze; 2010, single channel video installation, 20 min. Courtesy of Mary Boone Gallery/Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery, New York. Photo: Henry Prince


New Work: Mika Rottenberg is on view at SFMOMA through October 3, 2010.

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