press release

Nottingham Contemporary presents the first solo exhibition in the UK by Mika Rottenberg, the leading performance-based video-installation artist who lives in New York and Barcelona. Initiated by De Appel, in partnership with M – Museum Leuven, the exhibition at Nottingham Contemporary brings this survey of her major works up to date through the inclusion of a sculptural version of Seven, commissioned by Performa last year. Several of Rottenberg's installations occupy three of our four galleries. In the fourth we present some 40 hand-painted etchings from the late 18th and early 19th centuries by the great English caricaturist James Gillray on loan from Victoria and Albert Museum.

The unusual pairing continues Nottingham Contemporary's series of joint solo exhibitions chosen to suggest particular artistic genealogies. Both artists make "seriously political art that is preposterously funny"—as has been said of Mika Rottenberg's work. 200 years apart, Gillray's etchings and Rottenberg's videos delight in stylistic, symbolic, and corporeal excess as means of making serious political points.

Rottenberg's weird and dreamlike production lines, operated by remarkable female performers, conflate Marx's and Freud's commodity and sexual fetishes in delirious ways. Literal by-products of their repetitive exertions—hair oil, sweat and fingernails, for example—become peculiar and unpleasant commodities; to what ends and for whom is unclear. As installations they relate to the legacies of post-Minimalist performance and sculpture while also parodying the aesthetics of TV shopping channels, home-improvement shows, and beauty parlours. Recent works consider women's labour from globalised perspectives: Squeeze cuts to scenes of migrant Mexican workers in Arizona and Seven to the savannahs of southern Africa.

Gillray's etchings reached a far larger market than the oil paintings of fine artists. His merciless satires of the great and not-so-good in Georgian England had immediate effect in the public sphere. Those that couldn't afford them gathered to see his prints displayed in the shop windows of his publisher Hannah Humphrey in London's West End. He made mock-epics of the political and sexual scandals of the week by parodying archetypes borrowed from Milton, Shakespeare, the Old Testament, Baroque painting and the fashionable Romantic art of his day. The threat of France is ever present in many of his images: sans culottes and the bloody guillotine early on followed by Napoleon on the rampage in Europe. He was a master of the surreal visual pun. The visionary quality and compositional ingenuity of Gillray's graphic art remains unsurpassed to this day.

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Mika Rottenberg & James Gillray