Exhibition Review: Martha Rosler - Irrespective
By: Betsabe Morales
Featured at the Jewish Museum, Brooklyn Based artist Martha Roslers: Irrespective compiles years of her work as a longstanding advocate for pushing the boundaries of societal norms. She began her career during the 1960s, an era of reformation as the civil rights, anti war, and women’s movements were more rampant than ever. Her use of photo montages, video installations, and texts cleverly communicates her political inquiry; themes of beauty standards, domesticity, war and nationalism are mercilessly interrogated throughout her exhibit.
Roslers photo-montage collection House Beautiful: Bringing The War Home highlights the juxtaposition of life at the home front against war bases in other countries. The photomontages feature a reoccurring theme of luxury domestic interiors found in home decor magazines. As the first televised war, The Vietnam War was used to explore these striking differences in the affects of war. As the U.S. lives through a prosperous economic time, the tragedy experienced at war bases are rarely given much attention. It’s easy to overlook the fact that war is a stimulus for the economy. When the U.S. is at war, production and workforce increases and inflation decreases. The country battling the U.S. often faces destruction, genocide, and policing.
Photomontage “Beauty Rest” features a couple laying in bed with their child enjoying a relaxing evening playing with a toy airplane. The backdrop of this endearing moment are the remnants of a house that was bombed, crumbling down surrounded by a burning fire. In addition to the lives of ordinary civilians, Rosler studies the life of luxury for the elite and wealthy living in blissful ignorance. “First lady” pokes fun first lady Pat Nixon posing gracefully in front of a portrait with a childs mangled body. These conceptual arrangements celebrate Roslers genius in manipulating images to decipher her anti-militarist agenda. The lack of guilt and repercussions the U.S. experiences during the Vietnam War are evident as the American Dream is from disrupted in these images.
Trumps presidency serves as a modern example for Roslers analysis on the validity of nationalism as an agent used to lobby for an us vs. them mentality. She uncovers Trumps attempt to use nationalism to distract citizens from the root of the problems the country is facing. Through this analysis, philosophies that study power structures are contrasted with the presidents rhetoric. Specifically, political theorist Hannah Arendt who wrote extensively on totalitarianism, censorship, and fear mongering post World War II. This comparison alludes to Nazi Germanys and Stalinism as similar tactics of nationalism were enabled to ensure loyalty from their citizens. Ardents texts are printed on vinyl panels hung from the ceiling; her philosophies claim the importance of a strict totalitarian government in order to secure a level of hierarchy without resistance.
The 1970s brought an influx of new technologies, specifically video equipment for the every day person. This easy access paved the way for Rosler and other artists at the time to pioneer videos use for artistic mediums. Commercial ads, television programming, and original footage are all featured to illustrate her long standing history of women in mass culture. Rosler confronts societal expectations women have faced for years. In “Vital Statistics of a Citizen, Simply Obtained, 1977”, a 2 hour video installation of a woman being measured over every inch of her body to “perfect” women exposes the intense scrutiny women faced as the standards for beauty were raised with new developments in the cosmetic world. Ad campaigns for corsets and make up products became more of a requirement than a fun accessory or luxury.
Through multiple facets, Martha Rosler asks us to challenge what is expected of us as a society. Fearlessly questioning power structures, the power of voice is emphasized in her work. Martha continues to play a vital role in uncovering deeper truths working at large in our everyday life.