Rottenberg was intrigued by the unexpected intercultural mix, the product of immigration and assimilation. “I was interested in this cultural migration, and at times the deterioration of things that could have had more meaning—these laundering of different things as they travel across the world. Sometimes just the shell remains.”
This history inspired a narrative in which men, dressed like tacos, crawl through tunnels, and a woman methodically smashes a mountain of colored light bulbs. One of Rottenberg’s lead actresses pushes an enigmatic food cart around town, and is seemingly able to materialize and dematerialize at will, border be damned. Cosmic Generator becomes a literalization of contemporary hopes and fears about immigration and the eroding of national identities, and also a celebration of the beauty of those erosions.
Also on view is the 2015 Venice Biennale stand-out NoNoseKnows, in which Rottenberg connects the dots between other disparate groups. There are pearl farmers, expertly shucking mollusks, as well as a curiously connected network of Chinese store owners, and a woman in a sad office building who uses a fan to blow flower pollen into her own nose—which elongates, red and raw, Pinocchio-style—before sneezing out Chinese food and plates of pasta.
For over a decade, the artist has followed wherever her curiosity leads—from the lettuce farmers of Squeeze to Harlem bingo halls, the setting for Bowls Balls Souls Holes (2014). Given her fascination with eccentric forms of labor, I was curious what jobs Rottenberg herself had in the past. As a child, on a kibbutz in Israel, she had the chance to observe workers at both a shoe factory and a milking station. “In my twenties I worked in the food service industry, and a pastry shop,” she tells me. “Looking at people looking at cakes, and making dough, had some influence.”