George and Matilda Fowler Lecture
"In the Place of the Public: Where Art Resides in Contemporary Society"
Thursday, January 21, 2015
Cleaning the Drapes, from the series “House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home" (1967–72).
Photo: via MoMA. Martha Rosler
Martha Rosler is an artist, theorist, and educator as well as a leading contemporary critical voice within feminist and art discourses. Rosler’s work encompasses photography, video, installation, photomontage, and performance as well as commentaries on art—especially on documentary photography— and culture. She was born in Brooklyn, New York, USA, where she lives and works.
Rosler’s work has been shown internationally for many years and in 1999-2001 was the subject of a retrospective, “Positions in the Life World,” at five European and two American museums; a more recent survey show was held at the Galleria d’Arte Moderna in Torino. Her collection of over seven thousand books toured internationally as the Martha Rosler Library. Rosler has been the recipient of a number of national and international awards, most recently The New Foundation Seattle’s inaugural lifetime achievement award.
Rosler has also published over fifteen books of her works and essays exploring the role of photography and art, public space, and transportation, as well as public housing and homelessness. Her essays have been collected as Decoys and Disruptions: Selected Writings, 1975-2001. Her most recent book is Culture Class, published in 2013 by e-flux and Sternberg Press (Berlin), which includes an extended essay on the role of artists in processes of gentrification.
Her widely seen video work Semiotics of the Kitchen (1975), reflecting her longstanding interest in the position of the female subject within patriarchy, uses humor in this parody of cooking shows to address the implications of traditional female roles. Other videos cover the geopolitics of food, mass-media imagery and language, war and torture, and domestic life.
Her groundbreaking work The Bowery in two inadequate descriptive systems (1974/75), in which photographs of storefronts are paired with metaphors for drunks and drunkenness, questions the social meaning of documentary essays centered on poor and destitute people.
Rosler is well known for her photomontages combining news photography with depictions of ideal homes and perfect bodies, producing a single frame as a way of highlighting the false disconnection between two public discourses. In the series “Body Beautiful, or Beauty Knows No Pain,” made between 1965 and 1972, Rosler deconstructs commercial representations of women and families in mass circulation magazines – for example, by augmenting images of lingerie models with snippets of pornographic imagery, whether from soft-core or hard-core sources. In “House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home (1967–72)”, a series of works produced at the peak of the Vietnam War, Rosler combined images of Vietnamese civilians and U.S. soldiers with those of pristine dwellings. These works remained outside the art context for many years, as Rosler distributed them as photocopies among the anti-war community as well as publishing them in “underground” periodicals. She reopened this series in 2004 and 2008, pointedly using the same form to draw a parallel between the Iraq and Afghanistan military adventures, begun by President Bush and his allies, and the dismal catastrophe of Vietnam begun four decades earlier.
Some of her best-known works deal with the geopolitical dilemmas of dispossession and entitlement. Interested in places of passage, she has produced photographic series on roads and shop windows, and large-scale installations about airports. “If You Lived Here” is her highly influential cycle of three shows and four public forums on housing, homelessness, and the built environment, held in New York in 1989 and reprised many times in various forms over the years. The accompanying book, in print since 1990, is in wide use as a textbook for architecture students.
Her current exhibitions include Greenpoint New Fronts in Berlin. In January her show at the New Foundation Seattle, Housing Is a Human Right, opens a year-long series of exhibitions and events on that theme.
This lecture is made possible by the George and Matilda Fowler Endowment Fund.
Watch lecture video here