ocular synthesis

Martha Rosler (1943, New York) works BALLOONS, BOY’S ROOM, HOUSE BEAUTIFUL (GIACOMETTI), and BOWL OF FRUIT, are part of The Stedelijk’s new collection presentation BASE that opened in December.

Rosler’s art focuses on the public realm, exploring issues from everyday life, in particular how they affect women. These titles range from stating the obvious to ignoring the big elephant in the room. The first three on the left are photo-montages from the series “Bringing the War Home.” At the end of the 60’s and beginning of the 70’s, she reacted to the increased intervention by the United States in Vietnam. “Balloons” is a picture of a distressed Vietnamese citizen and his skinny baby, or actually, the viewer can’t be sure if the baby is still alive, is pasted into a not out of the ordinary American home. According to the MoMA, this refers to the “living-room war,” “because the news of ongoing carnage in Southeast Asia filtered into tranquil American homes through television reports.” I interpret it as an encouragement for protest and saying: this war is not at all far removed from “innocent Americans,” speak up! And the title is far from an explicit reference to its activist content because the balloons in the back have no value or whatsoever for the picture.

The same counts for “Boy’s Room,” there just an everyday American family setting, boys quietly playing but then there is this portrait of war on the wall. Melting these seemingly-nothing-to-do-with-each-other photos together creates an uncomfortable feeling and subverts the idea of complicity. I don’t want to repeat myself, so the same counts for “House Beautiful,” but the war photographs are a little more hidden.

The last looks kinda funny, another traditional American home, but there is this leggy blonde in the back, stark naked, posing like a pin-up girl. But it is not funny at all when you think about it. It is a presentation of a traditional gender role; women should work in the kitchen and women as objects of male pleasure.

Go and take a look yourself and you don’t have to rush, the presentation will be there waiting for you for five whole years. 


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