In this episode of Forms of Life, host Nato Thompson speaks with Martha Rosler about the political concerns that have galvanized her artistic practice since she first made innovative artworks engaging the subjects of war, gender, consumerism and poverty. Her early photo-collages, performances and videos, including House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home (1967–72), Semiotics of the Kitchen (1974–75) and The Bowery in Two Inadequate Descriptive Systems (1974–75), stand as seminal examples of politically engaged art. Speaking with Thompson, Rosler reflects on her motivations during a period in which she was deeply involved with feminist and anti-Vietnam War activism on the one hand, and conceptual art on the other, noting, “I was more interested in changing the world than changing the art world.”
It’s a prodigious aspiration, one she relentlessly pursues to this day. When the United States invaded Iraq and Afghanistan, Rosler adapted her Vietnam War-era series “Bringing the War Home” to address the divide between the brutality of war and the luxury of American consumerism in the present. Last year, as a keynote speaker at the Creative Time Summit, she confronted issues of class through the lens of the American garage sale, previewing the “Meta-Monumental Garage Sale” she mounted at New York’s Museum of Modern Art last fall.
In this Forms of Life conversation, Rosler reviews the significant cultural changes she has witnessed throughout her career as an artist, activist and educator, and looks ahead to her next show. But first, the artist dispels a pervasive rumor about her past: born and raised in Crown Heights, not Canada, she proudly avows, “I am so Brooklyn.” By the end of this conversation, you won’t doubt it.
Forms of Life is a monthly podcast hosted by Creative Time’s Chief Curator, Nato Thompson. Guests are culture makers whose work posits new ways of looking at political realities. By addressing a wide range of issues such as alternative economies, calcified political structures, new forms of collective living, or simply being a thorn in the side of normality, Forms of Life interviews provide an opportunity to think counterintuitively about social conditions people face around the world.
Special thanks to The Clocktower Gallery and ARTonAIR.org for their support.