I have visited San Francisco three times since moving to Los Angeles; the first two trips were lost time in terms of museum-hopping, but last weekend I spent one day absolutely alone in a semi-familiar city. Â Naturally, I sought out the most interesting San Francisco museum I could find on the internet: The Museum of Vibrators. Â When I arrived at the address I hastily researched online, I found the museum had been replaced by a Buffalo Exchange. Â Disappointed beyond words, I took a train downtown to my consolation museum, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Bypassing an exhibit called “Calder to Warhol,”Â I found my way to a video installation called “Squeeze”Â by Mika Rottenberg. Â The piece is only twenty minutes long, but I spent thirty-five minutes in the crowded (but not uncomfortably so) dark room that housed the video, after making my way through a twisted passage constructed in the gallery by the artist — as the pamphlet about the exhibit informed me: “[Rottenberg] constructs the sculptural environment in which the video will be installed.”
As I sat on a raised ledge, the seating area of the “sculptural environment,”Â I watched documentary footage of female workers on in a rubber plant in India and a lettuce farm in Arizona mixed with scenes of female workers in a fictional factory, a mechanized moving set Rottenberg built in her studio. Â The video follows a fictional narrative of a factory powered by the psychic abilities of a mystic; the product created by the factory is a cube made of rubber, decaying lettuce, and blush, chopped and squished into shape to create an “art object.”Â
The work comments on feminism, race, and the relationship between art and commerce — all topics which I don’t have the time or the appropriate context to discuss fully — while affecting a tone that reminded me of a surrealist sci-fi film. Â The installation also reminded me of the Food Network television show Unwrapped.
Unwrapped shows the back-stage of how certain mass-produced food items are made. Â I haven’t seen every episode in the series’ 22 season run but my favorite episodes involve some kind of large mechanized factory system, making hundred of units of my different kinds of candy, like Sour Warheads or Dum Dum lollypops. Â As I watched Rottenberg’s film for a second time, I started thinking of “Squeeze”Â as a sort of high-art version of Unwrapped. Â I mentally lifted Unwrapped‘s metered narration, squished it around in my head until it sounded like a retro-futurist robot reading a surrealist text, and placed it over Rottenberg’s visuals.
I don’t think my association between the reality television show and the video art installation is an unfair one; Rottenberg is appropriating the same kind of visuals that Unwrapped uses to make the viewer think about the implication of those visuals. Â My association with the glorification of mass-production was her point, even if she didn’t predict the association would be filtered through a reality television show. Â I don’t think Rottenberg started filming “Squeeze”Â with the intention of providing a political commentary to Unwrapped, but that’s what she’s done.
Catie Disabato lives 381 miles from the San Fransisco Museum of Contemporary Art. Â She has written essays and conducted interviews for The Millions and The Rumpus and writes about music for Venus Zine.