“Collage has always been about disrupting realities,” said Alexander, “often with an edge of satire or critique.” Scholars consider Dada itself to be the first art movement explicitly devoted to upending societal norms. As
wrote in his 1918 Dada Manifesto, “Every product of disgust capable of becoming a negation of the family is Dada; a protest with the fists of its whole being engaged in destructive action.”
Rosler’s layouts are similarly impactful and unsubtle, aimed at denying broadly accepted American structures and ways of living. Though Rosler doesn’t recall how the public responded to her collages, history has served them well: Over the past 10 years, the J. Paul Getty Museum
, the International Center of Photography, and the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts
have all exhibited them. They’re instantly digestible, making them perfect for our high-speed digital times.
In 2003, Rosler returned to her “House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home” series after the United States initiated the Iraq War. She feared that people would condemn her work as tired, thinking she simply lacked new ideas. “Well, what are we doing that’s different?” she said, defending her choice to revisit old strategies. “This is exactly the same scenario.” She points out that the Iraq conflict has lasted even longer than our engagement in the Vietnam War; there are still American troops in the country.
Between 2003 and 2008, Rosler created new photomontages with a distinctly 21st-century feel. Photo-op (2004), for example, features two identical blonde women, who at first glance resemble Paris Hilton or Ashley Tisdale, screaming at their flip phones. Behind them, apparently hurt and tired children (refugees, maybe) sprawl in two chairs. Outside the windows of the modernist home, fire rages. Narcissism, narrow-mindedness, and wealth contrast with nearby destruction.
Despite the repetition of American folly, Rosler still believes in protest. “Being out in the street is what gets attention from actual governments,” she affirmed, noting that Henry Kissinger—who served as a political consultant during the war, and then Secretary of State—admitted that “we couldn’t keep bombing because the kids were in the streets.”