Martha Rosler

Martha Rosier’s clinical photographs of airline terminals, which she has been documenting since 1983, form a pictorial Baedaker of international transit centers. She confronts us with the bare bones of commercial facilities by putting their anonymity in sharp focus.

Though airports are packed with people, except for those bleary nighttime hours when only custodians and security shuffle about, Rosier almost always exempts passengers and employees from her static vistas of check-in counters, entrance ramps, departure gates, and baggage claims. In these large Cibachromes (the most recent are billboard size), we see where we have been after the traces of our presence have been erased, which forces us to reflect on the starkness of these labyrinthine structures.

Rosier’s installation is captioned with wall texts in blocky black letters, complemented by a monotone voiceover that seems to bounce off the fuzzy contours of invisible targets. The strategy here is one of blind turns: we are forced to run her disjunctive course in order to experience the dislocations glossed over in everyday life. Within this maze of seemingly identical walls we’re to look for the hidden infrastructure. Rosier’s litany of premonitions and her tape-recorded meanderings through the realms of the stock market and the birth canal would not work as well alongside photographs of scrambling travelers as they do with deadpan shots of cavernous collection points and endless passageways.

Rosier asks us to travel with her on this side of the lens. The combination of her pronunciations and this neon barrenness creates a sense of watching the familiar become strange. Far from embracing an age-of-progress aerodynamics, her technological landscape lays bare a bottom-line-driven economic system that makes puppets of a public circulating through what have become contemporary colosseums. Though oppositional, her work also subtly mimics the game mastered by corporate planners: she too casts a veil over her manipulation of the viewer by constantly deflecting our attention from one seductive element of her installation to another—the voiceover, the wall texts, the lush images of deserted airports.

Joan Seeman Robinson