Martha Rosler

(b. 1943, Brooklyn, New York, lives and works in New York)

Growing up in New York, Martha Rosler was involved in avant-garde poetry and the New Left, participating in civil rights and anti-war protests, which also informed her practice. When Rosler moved to California in 1968, the Women’s Movement was in full force and became hugely influential for her. The series of thirty photomontages Body Beautiful, or Beauty Knows No Pain (1966-1972) interrogated the representation of women in art and advertising. In her powerful series protesting the Vietnam War, Bringing the War Home (1967-1972), documentary images of war commingle with magazine clips of American suburban idyll. Rosler’s first performance and installation work, Monumental Garage Sale (1973), commented on consumption and domestic life in California. With The Bowery in Two Inadequate Descriptive Systems (1974-1975), an installation of photographs and corresponding non-narrative texts, Rosler devised a highly influential breakthrough in conceptualism and photography. In several videos that confront the viewer with a barrage of spliced scenes, Rosler critiqued the coercive and dishonest effects of the relationship between media, politics, and the private sphere.

“I was concerned with something like the notion of ‘language speaking the subject,’ and with the transformation of the woman herself into a sign in a system of signs that represent a system of food production, a system of harnessed subjectivity.” Martha Rosler (1981)

A milestone of feminist art, Semiotics of the Kitchen (1975) reveals the suburban kitchen where, Rosler states, “an anti-Julia Child replaces the domesticated ‘meaning’ of tools with a lexicon of rage and frustration.” A static camera is focused on a woman in a kitchen. Letter by letter, Rosler navigates a culinary lexicon, using different kitchen utensils for each step along the way. She challenges the given meaning of each letter/kitchen tool by introducing absurd gestures allowing different meanings to come through. The work was intended to be shown on a television monitor, which explains some of Rosler’s gestures of tossing or throwing imaginary content outside the TV “box.”