For ‘Time Out New York’ magazine
Mika Rottenberg’s unsettling videos – eccentric characters manning absurdist assembly lines – have already earned the artist fans, thanks to standout pieces in group shows over the past year. For her first solo show in New York (one large-scale video installation and a selection of drawings), the young artist ups the ante on her signature format, drawing an unnerving analogy between dough and the human body.
The video is set in a claustrophobically small, distinctly low-tech dough-packaging factory, where decorative touches – bunches of flowers, piles of towels, spray bottles – also suggest a beauty salon. As it is massaged by women in tidy uniforms, the dough clearly stands in for flesh. But far from evoking the pampered form of a spa client, the dough assumes the shape of the workers¹ bodies: An obese woman at the head of the line kneads globs of the stuff, as voluminous as her own flesh, into a skinny rope that she then passes into the elongated hands of a tall, thin woman.
Rottenberg renders grotesque both dough and flesh, baking and beautification. But fantastical moments lighten the pervasive sense of disgust. In one scenario, a woman sniffs flowers to which she is allergic, and her falling tears keep the rising mixture moist. But it is the abject subject matter of the artist’s drawings – which echo the video’s references to beauty parlor workstations, but also feature projectile vomiting, vats of yellow liquid and swarms of disembodied, snapping jaws – that laces this auspicious and entertaining solo debut with menace.