2012 Film Challenge #41 - #48 - Mika Rottenberg

I went to the Nottingham Contemporary. It's a contemporary art gallery in Nottingham.

I'd never been before, but I was always struck by their wonderful Americanesque sign and their intriguing window displays when passing by tram.

When I finally got a chance to visit, I wasn't sure what I'd see and didn't care.

Ultimately, I was enthralled and repulsed.

But seeing as the artist certainly set out to repulse, success.

Mika Rottenberg's her name. She's a film-maker from Argentina who makes films. Horrible, horrible films which made the stomach squirm, the toes curl, the mind boggle and the skin crawl.

Her films are broadcast on seemingly eternal loops in what she describes as “viewing machines” - giant installations which serve to add depth to the viewing experience.

Films! Brilliant. Eight new entries for my 2012 film challenge in one edifying, horrifying afternoon!

Entering the Contemporary you're confronted with Time and a Half. I'm quite squeamish when it comes to fingernails, so immediately my teeth were set on edge. This one featured a woman rhythmically tapping her long fingers on the counter of a Chinese takeaway – bored witless, as we cut periodically to a tropical landscape complete with a soothing cooling breeze. It's just a picture, though – the breeze is produced by a fan. Escape is impossible; already I felt stifled, and I hadn't even left the lobby.

Gallery 1 was dominated by a giant wooden structure apparently built from driftwood.  Entering, you're allowed to watch a second film – Cheese – broadcast simultaneously on multiple surrounding screens. This one detailed seven extraordinarily long-haired women as they milked their goats to produce cheese.

It was in Gallery 2 that I began to feel really uncomfortable. First was a film called Sneeze which featured three men – barefoot with painted toenails – all cursed with grotesquely swollen noses. They were each in the midst of a sneezing fit, and each sneeze would produce, variously, a live rabbit, a lightbulb and a slab of uncooked steak. Every time the steak was produced we cut to a different man – thus creating the impression that this was perhaps but three separate incarnations of the same individual, who grew noticeably older – and his nose noticeably more ravaged – with each appearance.

Seven was a collaboration with John Kessler which was set within a frame constructed of colourful laboratory equipment. This one detailed a lengthy process in which bodily fluids were extracted and channelled into a psychedelic spectacle on the other side of the world.

Seven and Sneeze, watched sequentially, induced an almost unbearable feeling of bilious claustrophobia. The worst, though, was yet to come.

Or the best, depending on how you look at it. Judging by the posters displayed outside the Contemporary, Squeeze (pictured) seems to be considered Rottenberg's masterpiece. It demonstrated an intricate and bizarre production line which included a rotating obese woman; a line of buttocks periodically sprayed and a trio of ladies who gave manicures to Mexican lettuce pickers in California.

All this was seemingly controlled by a woman in a tacky sort of grotty office. She'd switch between applying an electric heater to her face and soaking her feet in a tub of ice water. She was also in charge of humidifying a leering tongue which protruded obscenely from the wall.

Exactly how was never made clear, but this production line was responsible for producing compacted cubes of lettuce, rubber and blusher: Utterly useless objects which might only be of any value in the art world. However, an invoice posted outside the exhibit hinted that this object may never even be exhibited. Hmn.

The remaining three films were being looped in a variety of packaging crates in Gallery 2. Entitled Mary's Cherries, Tropical Breeze and Dough, they each dealt once more with various interactions between human bodies and implausible, inexplicable machines. Concerning once again acrylic nails (which were somehow transformed into edible cherries) and featuring lots of close ups of perspiration intercut with rising dough – not to mention an apparent obsession with lemon-scented tissues – it almost became too much. I felt like I needed a long shower. Or, at the very least, to clean my teeth.

Mika Rottenberg's films are being shown on perpetual loops at the Nottingham Contemporary until 1 July 2012. Though I found them nauseating and repulsive, they were also intriguing, amusing and utterly absorbing.

To anybody even vaguely interested in that which can interest and edify, I couldn't recommend the exhibition enough. It will make you feel deeply, deeply repulsed by most aspects of your own body, but it will certainly make you think and might even make you laugh.

And to anybody who insists that video installations shouldn't count as part of my film challenge – well. Start your own blog and your own challenge, you unholy mutant.

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