Mika Rottenberg at Mary Boone Gallery

A scene from Mika Rottenberg’s Squeeze; courtesy Mary Boone Gallery

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The problem with Squeeze, a video by Mika Rottenberg at the West 24th Street outpost of Mary Boone Gallery, is that it’s better than it has any right to be. Or maybe it’s that the film’s crafting surpasses its narrative and symbolic trajectory. Perhaps it’s that Rottenberg has yet to outgrow the icky fascinations typical of an adolescent mindset. Whatever: Squeeze is arresting and nettlesome entertainment.

Rottenberg possesses genuine cinematic flair. It’s the rare video artist who acknowledges the role played by the camera. No numbing, point-and-shoot documentation for Rottenberg: Squeeze evinces a knowing eye for movement, texture, composition, color, set design and especially sound. Not that she allows much leeway to appreciate them in terms of form: The film is too caught up in wildly contrived grotesqueries to encourage aesthetic distance.

Food, sex and the assembly line are Rottenberg’s motifs. The chief setting is a factory that is equal parts M.C. Escher, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and blue-collar cliché. Clownish, rash-riddled figures are literally squeezed for their juices. A pathetic, wiggling tongue is trapped within a wall; the same goes for an array of condensation-soaked buttocks. Claustrophobia is the rule, as is nightmarish camp. The body and its products are indistinguishable from nourishment. It’s as if Eraserhead were cast with the misfits from Pink Flamingos and then choregraphed by Matthew Barney.

So, what’s it all about? The press release goes on about “the mechanisms by which value is generated… the logistics of global outsourcing and the alchemy of art.” A kind of alchemy, anyway: The end result of Rottenberg’s factory is a compressed cube of putrefact—at the entrance to Squeeze, there’s a photo of the thing being held by, yes, Mary Boone. But would that Rottenberg’s fascinations bedeviled rather than preoccupied her. Then, maybe the film would embody the visionary rather than indulge in artifice. Squeeze is enough of a near-miss to make you wonder if Rottenberg knows the difference.

© 2010 Mario Naves

Originally published in the November 23, 2010 edition of City Arts.


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