December 9, 2006

Martha Rosler: Art and Social Life; The Case of Video Art


unitednationsplaza is pleased to present a seminar and a series of public screenings organized by Martha Rosler: Art & Social Life; The Case of Video Art. The program will begin with a public lecture by Marta Rosler on Sunday, December 10th at 6 pm.


Platz der Vereinten Nationen 14a

Berlin 10249 Germany

T. 49 (0)30 700 89 0 90

F. 49 (0)30 700 89 0 85

image: Martha Rosler, Semiotics of the Kitchen, 1975, video still

unitednationsplaza is pleased to present a seminar and a series of public screenings organized by Martha Rosler: Art & Social Life; The Case of Video Art. The program will begin with a public lecture by Marta Rosler on Sunday, December 10th at 6 pm.

The screenings program will present a selection of early video works, dating from 1968 to present, from the personal archive of Martha Rosler, including numerous works rarely seen and largely excluded from the canonical history of video art, and others that form the backbone of early video histories as now written.

The screenings are free and open to the public at the screening room of the unitednationsplaza, starting Monday, December 11th through Sunday, December 17th. The schedule is available at

The seminar, comprised of four evening sessions scheduled to take place from 7- 9PM, will start on Monday and continue through Thursday evening. The seminar is open to the public, however due to space limitations please register in advance with [email protected]

Martha Rosler: Art & Social Life; The Case of Video Art

December 10 – 15, 2006

The early history of autonomous video art is a pivot point in the internal culture wars of the art world. Starting in the late 1960s through the early 1970s, artists with quite diverse practices experimented with the new (but not yet widely available) portable video apparatuses.

Film had by mid-century superseded both architecture and music as the queen of the arts. But by the 1950s the broadcast television industry and its structures of celebrity were challenging the social status of high art. Television was a problem… and then the Portapak was invented. Video suggested varieties of freedom to artists restive about or dismissive of traditional studio practices. Video promised a sort of gesamtkunstwerk on the ruins of a high modernism that had demanded a strict separation between forms. Video offered not just the experience of time married to the illusion of space accompanied by sound; because of poor image quality, video also offered relative freedom even from the concerns of cinema/ art film/movies. It provided the opportunity to sketch or to perform, to record a gesture or a narrative, to sing in the shower or dance in the studio, abetted by simple in-camera edits. Artists could, without commitment, break free of the studio if they chose, and, in the political ferment and upheavals of the era, while look around, report, raise a voice, show a face, register anger, offer an opinion, analyze social structures and events, tell a joke, join with friends, and yell back at the mind-melting products of broadcast television while nevertheless making use of its capacity for instantaneous, unrecorded transmission and endless flow or using a recorded format that was easily reproducible and could be widely disseminated. The international potentials of this form were immediately obvious to artists and even museum administrators, to judge by the range of international ‚video opens’ of the mimd-1970s-

The wide-open field of early video may arguably be the typical condition of a medium at birth (compare the internet, on its way from being a utopian arena of activity to a gated compound locked down by corporate toll takers, if the latter get their way). Despite the competition of sites like Youtube, video as an art form has become, by definition, an expensive captive of the gallery and museum, the black box inside the white box. But the transformative impulses that drove utopian hopes in the earliest days have not completely evaporated. It is absolutely vital to revisit early video works and their context (including the texts of the era), to provide a deep slice into the moment of origin and see what may be refurbished and adapted for the present —beyond the stylish appropriations of the 70s “look.” In the face of the Society of the Spectacle, taking back/talking back to the media was a watchword of the era, offering the hope of social transformation through art, activism, and community interventions. This hope animates many today, in whatever form and medium it may be furthered.


Martha Rosler was born in Brooklyn, New York, where she now lives, after spending the 1970s in California. She works in video, photo-text, installation, sculpture, and performance, and writes on aspects of culture. She is a renowned teacher and has lectured widely, nationally and internationally. Rosler’s work is centered on everyday life and the public sphere, often with an eye to women’s experience. Recurrent concerns are the media and war as well as architecture and the built environment, from housing and homelessness to systems of transport. Her work has been seen in the Venice Biennale of 2003; the Liverpool Biennial and the Taipei Biennial (both 2004); as well as many major international survey shows, including Open Systems at the Tate Modern (2005). Her work has been included in the Documenta exhibition in Kassel, Germany, and several Whitney biennials, and she has had numerous solo exhibitions. She has been invited to participate in Skulptur Projekte 07 in Münster as well as in documenta xii. A retrospective of her work, ‚Positions in the Life World,’ toured Western Europe and was shown at two New York museums from 1998 to 2000. Rosler has published fourteen books of photography, art, and writing. Among them are Decoys and Disruptions: Selected Essays 1975–2001 (MIT Press, 2004, An October Book, in conjunction with the International Center of Photography), the photo books Passionate Signals (Cantz, 2005), In the Place of the Public: Airport Series (Cantz, 1997), and Rights of Passage (NYFA, 1995). Sur/Sous le Pave (Rennes, 2006), like the much earlier If You Lived Here (Free Press, 1991) addresses the urban landscape and focuses on housing, homelessness, and urban life. Rosler has been awarded the Spectrum International Prize in Photography for 2005, the Oskar-Kokoschka Prize (Austria’s highest fine arts award) in 2006, and an Anonymous Was a Woman Award for 2007. Her solo exhibition, London Garage Sale, was held at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London in 2005. Her installation Kriegeschaüplatze (Theaters of War) was shown in Berlin (Christian Nagel) in 2006, and a selected retrospective of her work was shown at the University of Rennes.

unitednationsplaza is exhibition as school. Structured as a seminar/residency program in the city of Berlin, it involves collaboration with approximately 60 artists, writers, theorists and a wide range of audiences for a period of one year. In the tradition of Free Universities, most of its events are open to all those interested to take part. unitednationsplaza is organized by Anton Vidokle in collaboration with Liam Gillick, Boris Groys, Martha Rosler, Walid Raad, Jalal Toufic, Nikolaus Hirsch, Natascha Sadr Haghighian and Tirdad Zolghadr.

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