Mika Rottenberg, Cheese, 2007.
I have been meaning to write about Mika Rottenberg’s video installation Cheese at the Whitney Biennial, which just closed. Based on the relation between the body and labor and on the generative ability of the female body, it intertwines grotesque and carnivalesque elements in an absurd makeshift farm setting.
This particular video-installation was shot in Central Florida on the property of one of several women starring in the video—all of whom sport incredibly long hair. (The performers belong to a “long-hair club.”) The piece is based on the story of the Southerland Sisters, 19th century sisters who displayed their extremely long hair in a Barnum and Bailey performance and marketed hair fertilizers: a hair growth formula allegedly made from their own hair, mixed with water from the Niagara falls.
Presented in precarious architectural structures, the footage was shown across a series of different monitors and portrayed the women wearing chemise dresses and engaging in what appear to be absurd and pointless repetitive tasks—many of which involved manipulating their long hair, on a makeshift wood structure, surrounded by farm animals.
In an interview in Flash Artwith Merrily Kerr, the artist points out how “there are parallels between the incredible amount of labor that goes into farming and the routine the women adopt to care for their hair, such as brushing it daily for two hours.” She adds: “My videos employ clichés about femininity, and this one involves associations between women, fertility and the earth. […] But the fun really starts when I dissect the clichés turning them inside out and showing them as they really are—creepy and uncanny.”
For more information, see Merrily Kerr’s interview with the artist in the July-September 2007 issue of Flash Art, and/or a video interview with Rottenberg on Coolhunting.