Saturday, 6 December 2008

'Meet the video, in person' By Chris Regn

Translated by Chris Regn and Theron Schmidt

Since the end of the 1960s, the artist Martha Rosler has worked with the themes of mass media, power, the myth of daily live, and urbanity – those which are current and relevant to society. She works with video, photography, text, and performance, often in installation environments. She makes specific choices about which media to use depending on the theme of the work. She is interested in art which makes visible our experience of everyday reality, as well as the underlying causes of experience.

The Video
With Semiotics of the Kitchen, a seven minute video performance for a television monitor from 1974/1975, she enacts a cookshow-like demonstration of kitchen implements displayed in alphabetical order. As each tool is announced, the artist demonstrates its aggressive potential to the camera.

Working within the limited space of the monitor and using her movements to refer to the outside space, she calls attention to that which makes the kitchen space a characteristically inside space.
For me, this follows her photo-montage series Bringing the War Home, House Beautiful (1967 – 72) where she combined glossy pictures of domesticity with war photos from Vietnam. With other video work, she is interested in situations at home and in front of the TV monitor, as well as representations of women in the media in which they are used as symbols for sexuality and for consumption and for qualities such as domesticity and emotional sensitivity.

Performance and Generation Gap
Rosler likes to see history as a living process, and this interest coincides with that of the Performance Saga project and its preceding project, Generation Gap. These projects sought out significant performers to record interviews, but also to create new performance events. Andrea Saemann, Chris Regn, and Christoph Oertli met Rosler at her home in New York. At this meeting, Rosler told them that she had been invited by Whitechapel Art Gallery in London to make a live version of Semiotics of the Kitchen. She described the situation as a little unclear and her uncertainty about whether she wanted to do it, because the original piece was designed for the monitor. But she was interested in the proposal from one of the curators to explore the concept using a large number of live performers.

The re-enactment, Semiotics of the Kitchen: An Audience was performed on 20 November 2004 in the context of A Short History of Performance: Part 2 at the Whitehapel Art Gallery in London. Twenty-seven young women, including Andrea Saemann, Chris Regn and Victorine Müller, performed the alphabet with kitchen tools three times in a row, following instructions given by Rosler some hours before. The audience was first shown the source video of the 1974/5 piece on TV monitors. Then three groups performed in three installed kitchen situations in the gallery, using tools that were slightly different from the original tools. The performers waited in a queue, taking turns to demonstrate two or three tools each.

After three turns through the alphabet, all the performers stood together to present the last three letters as signs in the air: X, Y, Z. The performers individually announced their names, laid down their tools, and left.

Experiment and Product
Four years later, Martha Rosler received the video recordings from the cameras that had been in front of the installations and used them to make a draft of the video documentary.
As she couldn’t be here herself to perform, she sent a raw version of the video to be screened at Performance Saga festival BONE 11 on 5 December 2008: Semiotics of the Kitchen: An Audition. In the video, we see an attempt to combine the original video from the event at Whitechapel and sections of video taken before the performances. Recurring gestures of the extremely different performers were multiplied. The role of the main participants, here projected onto the screen, is not certain. Questions about inside and outside become unclear in this documentation’s use of different filmic layers: the gallery situation and the montage of different performers enacting the same situation. Embarrassments and gestures become oversized. If we go back, the gallery would be the kitchen of the performers, and the room outside still undefined. The performers did not work with a consciousness of this space. Martha Rosler herself is part of the audience and the experiment. Martha Rosler herself is part of the audience and the experiment.

Rosler gave two reasons why she didn’t want to re-perform the original work: the work was planned from the beginning as a video piece, and she does not really believe in reproducing a work from 1974 – at least not alone.

‘Maybe I will meet you some day in person,’ she promises at the end of the video message.

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