Left: Mika Rottenberg, Mary Boone with Cube, 2010, digital C-print, 64 x 36". Right: Mika Rottenberg, Squeeze, 2010, still from single-channel color video, 20 minutes. Courtesy Mary Boone Gallery and Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery.


New York–based video artist Mika Rottenberg is known for her large-scale installations and interest in labor as well as process. Her latest work, Squeeze, a twenty-minute video installation, combines documentary and fictional footage. The work is on view at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art until October 3 and will be exhibited at Mary Boone Gallery in conjunction with Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery from October 30 to December 18. In February 2011, it will be on view at De Appel in Amsterdam and Bonniers Konsthall in Stockholm.

SQUEEZE IS ABOUT CAPTURING energy and the way things are made. So much basic activity is just expansion and contraction, the logic of the body and planetary movement. In this work, I portrayed Trixxter Bombshell, the big woman, meditating, and Bunny Glamazon, the strong woman, getting hot and cold. These actions are connected to a tongue flickering. This three-point energy moves the whole room. Both a very explicit production line and an immaterial process cause the architectural structure to move. The expansion and contraction of the structure is a way of expressing an internal state in cinematic language. Pornography also tries to do that. Like in the money shot: the moment where inner feelings become a material.

I began the work by visiting a rubber plant in India and an iceberg lettuce farm in Arizona. Then I designed a telekinetic machine. We built a set in my Harlem studio and used “movie magic” to create visual slippage between the three locations. In Squeeze, there are portals to the rubber plant and the lettuce farm, which allow workers to collaborate on the production of “an object.” The telekinetic machine produces a compressed cube from globally sourced rubber, lettuce, and makeup. I wanted this piece to be self-referential and since it will be shown at Mary Boone Gallery, I wanted to somehow bring in the fascinating way in which the art market assigns value to objects.

Bonnie is cast as the manager, but in real life she is also very powerful and managerial. She is a fetish fantasy worker. She has sessions with clients that are not explicitly sexual; it is still a mystery to me what exactly goes on. Once a year, she attends a convention for amazon women, which is where I met her. Her work is not dissimilar from that of an artist or an actress. When you’re making creative work, you in some ways commodify your soul and your emotions. Raqui, the star of Dough, is beautiful. She has so much pride in the way she carries herself and it is very inspiring to me. She is a size-acceptance activist, and she wrote about my 2006 video Dough on her website. People accuse me of basically hiring women’s bodies, but I don’t. These women own their own means of production.

Actually, before Bonnie was in the video, she told me that we could make money together because I was the perfect size. She is 6’ 4“ and I am 5’ 2”. She knows a guy who gets a kick out of big women and very small women together. It’s nothing sexual. I’d meet them at a hotel. She told me I would slide on her shoulder, she would lift me up and throw me gently. I mean, four hundred dollars an hour—I could use that. I chickened out in the end. I was way too busy, but I wouldn’t be opposed to actually being her employee. It would be an interesting shift for us. She could sell my videos on her website and I could sell hers on mine.

— As told to John Arthur Peetz