If the exchange of ideas and goods had a sound, what would it be? Maybe it’s an egg sizzling violently on a hot grill. Or a pair of hands applying pigment spots to a bald man’s head with a vintage sprayer. Or thrash a quivering tower of turquoise gelatin with one hand.
At least that’s how it is in the sublime, bizarre video installations by Mika Rottenberg.
Born in Argentina, raised in Israel and now based in New York, the artist has a knack for taking the invisible systems that shape our lives – ideological, economic and cultural – and illustrating them in a way you can practically taste . You don’t look at a video by Mika Rottenberg as much as absorb it with all your senses.
Expect those senses to be stimulated to the max in two shows currently out in Los Angeles. At Hauser & Wirth, Rottenberg has had a solo show for the past two weeks, featuring a series of video and installation pieces featured in the touring exhibition Easypieces, which originated at New York’s New Museum in 2019. This Saturday, the artist hosts the US premiere of her first feature-length film, Remote, made in collaboration with filmmaker Mahyad Tousi at the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles.
Filmed during the COVID-19 pandemic, this eerie image revolves around a woman named Unoaku (played by Okwui Okpokwasili) who comes into contact with a curious clique of peers online. Unoaku is housebound for unknown reasons. All we know is that she dials into work via a futuristic headset and bangs a pot on her window every afternoon, much like people in cities like New York honor healthcare workers at the start of the pandemic hit pots. In the evenings, she settles in to watch her favorite interactive show hosted by a Korean dog groomer – a program that begins to reveal strange things about Unoaku’s place in the world.
“Remote” marries bright, deeply saturated color palettes – moss green carpets, exuberant floral wallpaper, a fuzzy red daybed – with an unsettling sense of different truths lying beneath the cheerful surfaces.
In this way, the film takes up many themes from Rottenberg’s earlier video works.
In the 18-minute 2019 “Spaghetti Blockchain” on view at Hauser & Wirth, she juxtaposes a bewildering array of footage: A Tuvan throat warbler leads to the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, which transitions into industrial spaces crammed with computer servers , giving way to a hand scraping a damp block of clay with a small bristle brush, causing a combine to pull potatoes out of the ground.
If everything seems completely random, it’s not. The piece is tied to its own internal logic. There are synergies of pattern and sound: the furrows in the damp clay allude to the potato field; The vibrational notes of the throat-singer are echoed by the hum of the computer processors.
In key scenes, the viewer is confronted with a strange mechanical structure in the shape of a hexagon that delivers a satisfying click with every rotation – each cell reveals a strange scene inside, like the fried egg and the wobbling jelly. The cells all appear to be resonating with each other and with other video footage that is constantly circling each other.
Everything is related to everything; there is no beginning, no end and no central knot. It’s as if Rottenberg translated the concept of a distributed network into analog form—and filmed it.
And she did, while nodding to social media’s over-the-top aesthetic: There’s colors that pop and sounds that dig their way into your deepest lizard brain. In an interview with art historian Julia Bryan-Wilson for the Easypieces catalogue, Rottenberg described himself as obsessed with the category of videos considered “most satisfying” on YouTube, which often compulsively watch acts of painting, crushing, Painting, spreading, scooping and cutting.
“I really wanted to build my own ASMR factory,” she said.
Another work entitled “Cosmic Generator” from 2017 hits closer to home. Rottenberg takes us between the US and Mexico border towns of Calexico and Mexicali and a famous wholesale market in Yiwu, China in 26 minutes. These are settlements linked by trade but also history: Mexicali is where many of the Chinese immigrants who helped build the California railroads landed at the turn of the 20th century, after being driven out by anti-Asian legislation in the US
Rottenberg addresses this story in a unique way. Images of Mexicali’s Chinese restaurants with their flamboyant architecture and royal names – Imperial Garden, China Royal Salute – give way to scenes in Yiwu. A mechanical Maneki-Neko cat, constantly waving from a restaurant’s cluttered counter, leads to a stall filled with similar cats at the Chinese wholesaler. Dressed businessmen and a guy in a taco suit crawl back and forth through an underground tunnel. Food and capital are pushing to the limit; folks, not so much.
Rottenberg is serious about pursuing globalization, but she’s not serious. “Cosmic Generator” is a tour de weird – one that begins with the viewer entering the Hauser & Wirth gallery through a tunnel designed by the artist.
Ultimately, her pictures are much more than pictures. They are sensations. water gurgling. Lightbulbs are smashed. The viewer is plunged into rabbit holes that mysteriously appear under the dome of a specialty dish at a Chinese restaurant. In an artist talk for the contemporary art museum Magasin III in Stockholm in 2013, Rottenberg said that when she chose or designed the environments she filmed, she wanted to get the viewer to “think about how it would feel to touch them or to lick”.
That’s not far from the base. Although I’d say it’s more like you’ve been licked off work rather than licking the work. And after that, things are never the same.
Where: Hauser & Wirth, 901 E. Third Street, Los Angeles
When: Until October 2nd
The information: hauserandwirth.com
Remote: A film by Mika Rottenberg & Mahyad Tousi
Where: Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, 250 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles
When: Premiere on September 24 at 4 p.m. (registration required); After that, the film will be shown three times a day until October 30, no registration is required
The information: moca.org
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/story/2022-09-23/mika-rottenberg-darkly-weird-videos-at-hauser-and-wirth Mika Rottenberg’s weird, great videos at Hauser & Wirth, MOCA