Going into The New Museum, I was uncertain of what to expect, knowing really only of the museum’s reputation of being obscure and experimental. Upon leaving, I still had many questions, and was left feeling confused, captivated, and frankly exhausted from overstimulation of various sensory overload.
Mika Rottenberg’s Easypieces was an experience that is difficult to forget. The best word I could think to describe this exhibition, overall, was hypnotizing. I am also glad that we were prompted to read Martha Schwendener’s New York Times article beforehand because if I were to have walked into this exhibition without any context, I would have had difficulty trying to decipher what the artist was trying to convey. From the onset, the ponytail that was extended out of the wall (“Ponytail (Orange),”2016) startled me, but also made me laugh at how blunt and in-your-face the exhibition was, even from the beginning. These feelings I had continued throughout my experience.
Walking into a faux sculptural tunnel to then watch the lengthy video (“Cosmic Generator”) of a man climbing through a tunnel seemed surreal, which was clearly part of the experience. I also felt claustrophobic at times, especially because although we were watching a video, Rottenberg made it feel like the experience was interactive. The closeness of the camera angles and the movement of the people in the videos made me feel like I was watching my reflection in the mirror- and what a strange reflection that would be!
In an interview, (https://channel.louisiana.dk/video/mika-rottenberg-what-connection#toggler_2141) Rottenberg talks about her interest in distance, and how it can become more pronounced. She also examines space and distance, which is something I did not consider so much at the New Museum, but then made me reevaluate my visit after. I found myself considering the role of the viewer and the distance between myself and the video screen, not just the distance that the artist creates through camera angles. I also wondered the distance Rottenberg had when creating the video, where she stood directing the videos. I wondered if she had help in creating these videos and if so, what the other people involved must have felt in helping to produce these works.
These videos were challenging to watch at points because they were so garish, not to mention the auditory quality. For example, I found myself shuddering every time the person in the video crushed the light bulbs. It felt very aggressive and uncomfortable, which was clearly intentional. In this sense, I believe that Rottenberg was successful in her approach of utilizing ASMR. These videos were supposed to be strange, and confusing, but I felt slightly excluded as a viewer. Perhaps, as Rottenberg talks about, the distance. was occurring that I felt disconnected from. It was not welcoming, yet I could not stop watching, despite how much I wanted to.
I liked how Rottenberg included real, tactile objects in her exhibition because it rooted me back in reality. The pearls in bags and on the table, and the garlands that we walked through to then watch the peculiar video of “Sneeze” (2012) made me aware that I was just observing the exhibition, and not a character in one of the videos.
One thing I enjoyed were the colors and textures that Rottenberg played with. There was plenty of juxtapositions between the person in the video and the background. One image that stood out to me was the woman in a store surrounded by inflatable toys. She seemed to get lost in a maze that referenced the ideas of consumerism and excess, which is an important topic that we must consider, especially in our society. This made me think of Jeff Koons’ work, which also utilizes intense saturation of colors, and a certain sense of absurdity, particularly in the large scale Celebration series. He also works with how we perceive objects and how they can be transformed into a recognizable, yet altered state, much as Rottenberg does.
Rottenberg’s work also made me think of environmental concerns and how wasteful we are. It was a strange way to do so, but I think it was effective. I felt so unease by the artificial colors and sounds that I questioned my own sense of reality.
The last video in the exhibition was relaxing and I found myself zoning out during it. I looked around the room, and after discussing with my classmates, a lot of us felt the same way too. The last video was a nice break from the intensity of the other videos. Still it was strange and uncomfortable but there was less hostility that seemed to overload the other videos.
I would have liked to see the exhibition a second time, because I don’t think that one walkthrough was enough to take everything in. At the same time, I’m not sure that a million visits would even have been enough. There was something so otherworldly about the show that I’m not sure I would ever completely understand what was happening, and yet again, I believe this is the goal of the artist.