Martha Rosler

Description

Martha Rosler is an American artist. She works in photography and photo text, video, installation, sculpture, and performance, as well as writing about art and culture. Rosler’s work is centered on everyday life and the public sphere, often with an eye to women’s experience. Wikipedia

Website: http://www.martharosler.net

Rosler’s work is quite diverse, but can be seen as underwriiten by four main themes around the question ‘What is subjectivity in the context of late capitalism?’

  • Biopolitical: the way that power orchestrates the body, particularly for women. Draws on de Beauvoir, Lefevre and later Foucault.
  • Everyday/ordinary/banale and commodification
  • Vernacular projects referencing Pop Art, snapshot photography and citizen journalism
  • Urbanism an political economy of place

Her work is directly linked to her activism: feminist, anti-power, anti-militarist and in support of human subjectivity. She draws on the theory and practice of ‘estrangement’ of Brecht and Godard where the work invites the viewer to recognise/misrecognise and then deny the content of what they are seeing – leading to critical thinking – leading to taking a position that things should be different.

She has used image and text in different ways. Some of her work is very effective in exploiting gaps and contradictions between the two ‘descriptive systems’.

The Bowery in Two Inadequate Descriptive Systems

This work is a large gallery frieze of a series of photographs of buildings and store fronts with bottles in various positions as traces of events, as a dyptych with ‘poems to alcohol’ – lists of words and phrases referring to drunkenness. They were produced as a counter to what Rosler sees as the voyeuristic and parasitic photography of homeless people and people with alcohol issues with quotations from them that are often taken by students, journalists or NGOs.

I find the unusual juxtaposition of two ‘ descriptive systems’ of image and text that are ‘inadequate’ in themselves to communicate collisions of power very poignant.

Semiotics of the Kitchen

Short video intended for easy showing and distribution shot in single frontal framing. Contrasts single spoken words for everyday kitchen objects with video of possible ways in which they can be used, generally with explicit or implicit violence and a dark feminist humour.

House beautiful: bringing the war home

House Beautiful: Bringing the War Back Home is an activist series of collage images that integrate comforting domestic images of American life (mostly from Life Magazine) life with images of the Vietnam war that were shown on TV each evening. She is concerned with the ways in which viewer distancing from identification with people in the photographs is achieved as a means of raising their political awareness. Some of these images are very striking in their juxtaposition and captioning eg ‘Cleaning the Drapes’. These images were photocopied and handed out to protesters on marches, and reprinted later as part of protest against other US comflicts eg Middle East.

Other works are much more direct and – I think to a modern audience used to very polished and well-constructed video on what are nowadays common themes – rather cliche. Though the same issues remain.

This 1977 video uses archive footage from US government eugenic experiments and links this with the explicit racism and violence underlying it (data on black and Southern Europeans was destroyed as ‘abnormal’, and the internalisation of ideal body types linked to anorexia and suicide. By modern standards the work is rather over-long, repetitive and direct.
Martha Rosler reads Vogue 1982 is a much more explicit critique of the fashion industry in terms of manipulation of women’s self-image and exploitation of workers. Although the narrative often contradicts the images, this is rather too obvious and (for a modern viewer) cliche. It is over long and unnecessarily repetitive in conveying what is actually a simple message. If the repetition itself is the point, then that needs to be made clear somehow.
Rather rambling unfortunately.
  • Look up
  • secrets from the Street
  • Middle East photomontages
  • Garage
  • Passionate Signals
  • rites of passage
  • airports