Thursday, May 1, 2008

Semiotics of the Kitchen, Martha Rosler

Semiotics of the Kitchen 1975, 7 minutes

A milestone of feminist art, this short black-and-white video reveals the suburban kitchen to be a war zone where routine food preparation masks the violent frustrations felt by women at being confined by the home. A static camera is focused on a mid-shot of a woman in a kitchen. On a counter before her are a variety of utensils, each of which she picks up, names and proceeds to demonstrate, but with gestures that depart from the normal uses of the tool. In an ironic grammatology of sound and gesture, the woman and her implements enter and transgress the familiar system of everyday kitchen meanings.

Martha Rosler is an artist. She was born in Brooklyn, New York, where she now lives. She graduated from Brooklyn College (1965) and the University of California, San Diego (1974). Rosler works in video, photo-text, installation, and performance, as well as writing about art and culture. Her work and writing have been widely influential. She has lectured extensively nationally and internationally and teaches art at Rutgers University and the Städelschule in Frankfurt.

Among her most widely known works are the pioneering videotapes "Semiotics of the Kitchen" (1974/75), "Vital Statistics of a Citizen, Simply Obtained" (1977), "Losing: A Conversation with the Parents" (1977), and, with Paper Tiger Television, "Born to Be Sold: Martha Rosler Reads the Strange Case of Baby S/M" (1988). Her photo/text work "The Bowery in two inadequate descriptive systems" (1974/75) is considered a seminal work in conceptual and postmodern photographic practice. Also widely noted are her series of photomontages, "Body Beautiful, or Beauty Knows No Pain" (1966-72), addressing the photographic representation of women and domesticity and "Bringing the War Home: House Beautiful," addressing the imagery of the Vietnam War (1967-72; reprised in relation to the War in Iraq in 2004).

Many of these works are concerned with the geopolitics of entitlements and dispossession. Her writing and photographic series on roads, the system of air transport, and urban undergrounds (subways or metros) join her other works addressing urban planning and architecture, from housing to homelessness. In 1989, in lieu of a solo exhibition at the Dia Art Foundation in New York City, Rosler organized the project "If You Lived Here...", in which over 50 artists, film- and video producers, photographers, architects, planners, homeless people, squatters, activist groups, and schoolchildren addressed contested living situations, architecture, planning and utopian visions.

At the Utopia Station show at the Venice Biennale of 2003, she worked with about 30 of her students from Stockholm and Copenhagen, as well as a small, far-flung internet group, 'the Fleas', to produce banners and a mini-pavilion exploring utopian schemes and communities and their political and social ramifications. She has done two tours of historical sites, one in Hamburg (1993) and one in Liverpool (2004), in conjunction with curated art projects. At the Frieze Art Fair (London) of 2005, she conducted a tour of this temporary site from its siting and construction to all aspects of its customer service, maintenance, and security.

About eight thousand books from her personal library have been circulating as Martha Rosler Library in the United States and Europe under the auspices of e-flux, a small organization that has organized a handful of traveling projects that often reside outside the common institutional frames of the art world. This project, a reading room rather than a library, settles down in various cities (including New York, Frankfurt, Berlin, Antwerp, and Paris) for various periods, in venues in and around art institutions, schools, and libraries. Visitors can sit and read or make free photocopies. Other projects, such as reading groups, have often been organized locally in conjunction with this project.

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