Mika Rottenberg: the dark side of contemporary culture

Artist Mika Rottenberg is a globetrotter. Born in 1976 in Argentina, she moved to Israel with her family the following year and attended the Hamidrasha school of arts in the suburbs of Tel Aviv, where she studied with video artist Guy Ben-Ner and laid the groundwork for her future career. She then moved to New York to further her education at Columbia University.

Since her debut as an artist in the late nineties, Rottenberg has managed to create an artistic universe of her own: since her seminal work Dough, (2005) she has retained this identity, even if her capacity to create has been opened up.

Her greatly acclaimed 2015 Venice Biennale exhibit, recreated a makeshift Chinese pearl shop, through which visitors accessed NoNoseKnows, the film component of the installation, commenting on the absurdity and the alienation characterizing the world of work — fitting perfectly with “All the World’s Futures”, the theme chosen by Okwui Enwezor, the biennial’s curator. This summer, Rottenberg is at the Palais de Tokyo for a major solo exhibition running until September. Happening met with the artist.


What are your biggest sources of inspiration?


The word inspiration evokes something positive — personally, I am more focused on the dark side of things and life, on the the downsides of contemporary culture. I think of my practice as a visual commentary that has less to do with art and its aesthetic premises and more with what is often forgotten and left behind, such as neglected and abandoned spaces...

Your videos often center on women and on the idea of work, with its absurd and surrealist side.


Yes, I often comment on the notion of work. As for women, they are not necessarily at the forefront of my artistic discourse, but they are often integral part of the performative side of the world of work, something which I play with and investigate. My pieces do not preach about morals and ethics, but my videos do focus on the notion of justice, and women are sidelined in most fields, particularly in the industrial sphere.


Do you write your own scripts? How does this work out?


Yes, I write a lot: pages and pages of notes, and by the end of it I am not even able to re-read through them. My method involves a lot of drawing, picture taking and redacting of notes, which takes a lot of time — a year at least to develop a story. When I try to speed the process up, the outcomes are often badly affected. My Venice piece NoNoseKnows (2015) was created in a relatively short time — a year, including post-production. I also enjoy the editing process and a lot of ideas come up whilst shooting.


Do you think of your installations as something altogether different from your videos? Or do you work on both at the same time?


They are very different — firstly because with installations there are no time constraints; they are cheerful and mischievous at the same time and they always link back to film, to create a balance of sorts.

Whilst conceiving this exhibition with the Palais de Tokyo, I was able to send over 3D plans of the installations, which they adjusted to: there were no issues; with museums that are worthy of their name, artists can easily work remotely.

The current exhibition was conceived almost as an architectural construction: it encourages visitors to roam around the exhibition space and its different rooms — to both surprise and challenge them. Freedom of movement within the exhibition space is fundamental for me: I do not want visitors to feel trapped — an exit is always at hand at my shows.


What would you like to do next ? What are your plans for the future ?


I would love to shoot a feature film, but I know that this will take another few years. I am attracted by cinema’s ability to cater to such a large audience, to captivate and bewitch viewers. It is such a wonderful tool!

Portrait by Anne Maniglier