Critics’ Picks

Mika Rottenberg, 
Mary’s Cherries, 2018, mixed media, dimensions variable.


Mika Rottenberg

Goldsmiths Centre for Contemporary Art
St James’s
September 8–November 4

This venue’s inaugural exhibition, Mika Rottenberg’s show encompasses seven intersecting galleries across three floors. Grotesque, uncanny, and extreme, the artist’s videos often feature real-life people with extraordinary physical attributes and talents who toil in surreal assembly lines to mass-produce objects for consumption. While reminiscent of a factory, the gallery’s network of open, naturally lit spaces—the building is a rehabilitated Victorian bathhouse—clashes suggestively with the oppressive restrictions portrayed by Rottenberg. On the ground floor is Mary’s Cherries, 2004, in which three women in monogrammed pastel uniforms manufacture cocktail cherries out of fingernails in a compact makeshift workshop. They pedal furiously on stationary bikes to power a UV lightbulb, which causes Mary to magically sprout talon-like, red fingernails—these are quickly clipped, mashed, and rolled into sticky balls. Rock Rose pauses to smoke a cigarette and dab sweat from her colossal cleavage, while statuesque Barbara pounds her huge fists and calls out to her coworker impatiently.

Also included are a number of new kinetic sculptural works. In the third room on the first floor, liquid drips from the ceiling to the ground, where several frying pans have been placed on hot plates (Frying Pans, 2018). The moisture hisses and evaporates into dramatically spotlit mist, fabricating another of Rottenberg’s fantastical visual narratives, where the transition of liquid to vapor becomes a factory-made process. Viewers will likely detect a clear socioeconomic metaphor: These precarious cycles teeter on the edge of collapse and play out in small, constrained spaces. In a video work commissioned for the exhibition, Untitled (Ceiling Projection), 2018, a hammer smashes a variety of colored lightbulbs into kaleidoscopic fragments—an empowering act of defiance that disrupts the sense of control pervading throughout.