L.A. Expanded: Notes from the West Coast
A weekly column by Catherine Wagley
Mika Rottenberg’s balmy, bizarre video, Mary’s Cherries, moves at such a comfortable pace that it almost convinces you of its normalcy. The three immensely able-bodied women in the video, dressed in Easter colors and stuck in homely cubicles, are completely unruffled as they transform manicured pink fingernails into equally manicured red maraschino cherries.
Rottenberg’s film, with its slightly off-color title and cast of female fantasy wrestlers, has been in circulation since 2003 and has shown at The Tate and MoMA, but I didn’t see it in full until 7:00 a.m. on Thursday morning, in the lobby of Hollywood’s The Standard Hotel. What brought me to The Standard was the cozy idea of video art over breakfast (I also briefly considered video art near midnight, but that seemed too flashy, and required staying awake). I made a pot of coffee and grabbed a bagel before leaving my mid-city apartment, imagining that my Rottenberg viewing would be something like Holly Golightly’s mornings in front of Tiffany’s. The fact that I didn’t have a flawless French twist, black gloves and Audrey Hepburn sunglasses, added to the fact that I left my coffee in the car, dampened the glamour, however.
In the five blocks between my parking spot and The Standard’s front door, I saw four transients, two parking attendants, and three joggers. But within a minute of entering The Standard, I’d seen twice that many people—people waiting for the shuttle, people ordering from the bar of the 24/7 café, two receptionist behind the big desk who were spaced exactly as they are in the image on the hotel’s website.
Upon entering the lobby, visitors will see Mika Rottenberg’s film directly to their right, at the end of the corridor that joins the faux-70s décor to the first hallway of rooms. The walls are pastel purple, and the projection fits snuggly between an exit with a neon green sign and heavy door that says “Fire Sprinkler Riser Inside.” Currently, those who check in to the hotel can, instead of viewing new releases, or pay-per-view porn, view curated in-room video art courtesy of Creative Time. The StandArt series includes work by Bruce High Quality Foundation, Lee Walton, Martha Colburn, Marco Brambilla, and Marilyn Minter, all relatively new but “known” artists.
The videos The Standard chooses to show always seems uncannily appropriate to its milieu, often calling attention to the prepackaged, visibly expensive and slightly absurd nature of privilege. Minter’s Green Pink Caviar screened at The Standard’s four locations before Rottenberg began; I saw Green Pink Caviar on the mezzanine of the downtown Standard, completely alone except for a few people getting on and off the elevator nearby. I was essentially alone on Thursday too. Rottenberg, like a painting on the wall, is part of the decor, which is by no means bad. I imagine a Joan Didion transplanted from 1968, pulling up, having her yellow Corvette valeted, walking through The Standard’s doors after visiting some political miscreant at the state penitentiary, looking at the Rottenberg and quoting herself with snarky precision: “Most of us live less theatrically but remain the survivors of a peculiar and inward time.”
In Mary’s Cherries, the full-bodied main players wear nonsensically demure house-maid dresses and work in bright but cramped cubicles that have been stacked on top of each other; they communicate through holes sawed into the floor. Mary, the woman on top, grows her finger nails under a purple UV bulb powered by stationary, fugitively constructed bicycles that the women ride. The nails grow pre-painted and perfect, ready to be snipped off one at a time and sent down to Barbara, who works them into a pulp before sending them down to Rose, who shapes each nail pulp into a maraschino cherry and drops it into a clear container. Projected at the end of a purple hallway next to a “Fire Sprinkler Riser,” the absurdity of Rottenberg’s work feels unquestionably natural. It’s the manifestation of a particular sort of manufactured privilege that doesn’t really make sense but still feels weirdly necessary, like it comes from a deep cultural need to perform “being human.”