Chelsea star – Mika Rottenberg’s Squeeze at Mary Boone

We always hope to find a surprise in Chelsea–something we didn’t expect and that knocked our socks off.  We don’t always find it.  But this time we found a star — Mika Rottenberg’s video installation Squeeze at Mary Boone. (Thanks to Diane Burko and Lenore Malen for suggesting this was one not to miss).

The buxom blonde, who nurtures a plant, is a goddess of the beauty industry.

The show is a surreal 20-minute video loop that manages to evoke all the excesses of modern life, from industrial farming to exploitation of immigrant labor, to the beauty industry, to wastefulness and waste disposal; to bureaucracy.

In front of a lineup of disembodied butts Asian manicurists rub cream into farm workers’ hands while an unruly head of titian-hair twitches.

The movie is like Harold Pinter’s The Dumbwaiter, with levels of reality that slide up and down in what might be an elevator. The Asian manicurists are definitely a lower level, and the farm workers are above in the sunshine, but reach their hands down into mole holes for their manicures.


A fat black mother earth moves up and down and around, sitting Buddha-like on a lazy Susan turntable. A woman gets her face squeezed; she’s a buxom blonde who seems to be the goddess of cosmetics artifice as well as a victim of global warming. Meanwhile a semi-industrialized food processor slices and dices lettuces to turn them into waste that goes down a privy hole.



What it all means is ambiguous but the sense that these players in a food/services/production chain are imprisoned is clear. And this underworld of shifting panels is infernal and eternal.  Rottenberg has used motifs of shifting planes of existence before, like in her piece, Dough, in which the same plus-sized mother earth figure features.  We have to believe there is a feminist reading here, with most of the trapped worker bees ladies, and with all of the work that makes no sense and becomes trash.  It’s an absurd world of generation and destruction.  Here’s a link to a 4-minute YouTube video where Rottenberg talks about her working process, which involves meeting unusual people, sometimes online, and telling stories.

This piece has come a long way from her piece Cheese at the Whitney Biennial. Here in Squeeze (oh my it rhymes with Cheese) Rottenberg succeeds in painting a cosmic picture about class and labor, futility, power and the quest for beauty without resorting to the silliness that made Cheese, well, cheese.


Mika Rottenberg at Mary Boone to Dec. 18