I chose Mika Rottenberg as one of the artists for ny 10x2010 post because she continues an artistic tradition that is beginning to seem slightly anachronistic, though it is more relevant than ever. Her work expresses the concern that the ever-increasing presence of machines in our lives will eventually ensnare humanity in a system beyond our comprehension. As technological intervention in physical processes escalates, questioning our dependence on machines seems useless, but visceral anxiety remains. The inscrutable processes of the machine could envelop our bodies and minds, and by the time we realize what's happening we'll be trapped. Rottenberg's characters sit in spaces that seem to have built around them, pressing in on the body from all sides. The windowless, interconnected rooms are cut off from the outside; they seem as if they could continue indefinitely, like a hive or warren.
The women's limbs stick through trapdoors and holes, reducing body parts to a single repetitive function. These scenarios could easily become boilerplate critiques of labor, mechanization, dehumanization, and the horrors of modern life, given a feminist reading by the predominantly female cast. However, Rottenberg's surrealist aesthetic elevates the work above its familiar message. The women perform their tasks with resigned good humor, their bored demeanors highlighting the strangeness of the work. In one video, women "milk" their extremely long hair to produce cheese; in another, one woman uses an ultraviolet light to grow long red acrylic nails, and another pounds the cut nails into maraschino cherries.
Another video, "Tropical Breeze", shows a truck driver wiping her sweaty face with tissues, as a felxible woman packages the used tissues. Rottenberg mythologizes mundane products. Her bizarre processes follow their own strange logic; the subliminal affinity between artificial cherries and nails makes perfect sense.
Videos like "Dough" call to mind the Charlie Chaplin film Modern Times, in which a hapless factory worker gets trapped in a gigantic machine, menaced by gears, and force fed corn by an "efficient" eating machine.
The theme of machines gone awry runs through cinema and culture, from The Man with the Movie Camera to The Matrix. Unlike Chaplin's character, whose assembly line job drives him insane, Rottenberg's women undermine the expected relationship between the body and the machine. Many of her actresses are wrestlers or contortionists, and their strength and confidence suggests that even as machines affect us, the presence of physical bodies naturalises them. The goopy walls of the sets, organic materials and omnipresent plants also suggest symbiosis. Natural processes and mechanical systems are inseparable in this irrational world.