Installation view, Rottenbar, Photo: Sarah Muehlbauer © Mika Rottenberg. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

Mika Rottenberg: Rottenbar

  • 9 November 2023

On 9 November, Hauser & Wirth unveiled the Rottenbar, a permanent installation created by Argentina-born, New York-based artist Mika Rottenberg on the second floor of the gallery’s building on West 22nd Street. Made from carved bittersweet vines and reclaimed plastic that Rottenberg molds, extrudes and presses into sculptural forms, the Rottenbar—from conception to production—suggests the artist’s studio can be an incubator for a regenerative circle of creation and consumption.

In this new body of work Rottenberg uses invasive bittersweet vines that flourish and choke forests in Upstate New York. The vines are carved by artist Max Bard, who takes into consideration the unique shapes of this odd squiggly wood, thus adding value to an otherwise ‘worthless’ timber. The carved vines are then pegged together using reclaimed plastic sticks and blobs made in-house; this process results in a playful, regenerative system of production that can be extended and combined ‘indefinitely’ without the use of screws or adhesives. In the alchemy of her studio, Rottenberg combines these otherwise disregarded toxic and invasive materials to create ‘luxury’ designs in a style that she jokingly refers to as ‘eco rococo,’ saying, ‘I have been developing a circular production line in my studio in an attempt to create a little system that is regenerative rather than destructive.’

The plastic has been collected from local dumpsters near the artist’s studio, mined and extracted as natural resources, while the forces of the extruder and gravity transform the plastic into urban ‘gemstones.’ Recently Rottenberg has partnered with Inner City Green Team (ICGT), which seeks to ‘protect the environment and help transform the lives of residents living in New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) developments through recycling outreach/education, job training, and paid work.’ With the help of Gary Dusek, founder of Precious Plastic NYC, the plastic Rottenberg purchases is transformed into different forms using machines devised by Precious Plastic, a community-based, open-source project that instructs designers—essentially anyone, anywhere—on how to grind, melt and inject recycled plastic in order to create entirely new products.

In her exploration of humanity’s paradoxical attraction to toxicity, Rottenberg questions the distinctions we use to categorize the natural from the artificial. As Heather Davis wrote in the book ‘Plastic Matter’ (Duke University Press, 2022), ‘We cannot return to a pristine world before plastic, but plastic offers us this lesson of intractability to imagine worlds differently, queerly, through toxicity. They said plastic was disposable. Turns out, plastic will not let go.’

Alongside the Rottenbar, the artist will also present a new series of functional sculptures—unique lamps she has dubbed ‘Lampshares.’ Employing the mediums and techniques used to create the Rottenbar, her lamps possess the same seductive but unsettling combination of lyricism and wit that characterizes her oeuvre. By naming them ‘Lampshares,’ Rottenberg points to the lamps’ prospective owners as active participants in a new system of regenerative production that she has established. The ‘Lampshares’ themselves, meanwhile, point to further possibilities within this new system of production.

Although Rottenberg’s practice has for decades addressed our relationship with capitalist systems of production and, in particular, women’s place within those systems, she has previously animated these ideas primarily through metaphorical and conceptual works. Notable among those are her celebrated film and installation ‘Cosmic Generator’ (2017) and first feature film ‘REMOTE’ (2022). The Rottenbar at Hauser & Wirth is the first instance in which the artist promulgates a literal reframing of and counterproposal to the systems of mass production that govern our lives and endanger our planet.

The Rottenbar brings to fruition an element of the original vision of this location by providing an artist-designed space for visitors to gather and socialize—and to enjoy refreshments when the work is activated as a functioning coffee bar. The name ‘Rottenbar’ plays on the names of both the artist and the Roth Bar, the much-loved installation artwork and liquor bar originated by Dieter Roth in the 1980s and recreated sequentially over subsequent years by his artist son Björn Roth and grandson Oddur Roth in different Hauser & Wirth locales. The latest iteration of the Roth Bar opened this past September at 443 West 18th Street.

Circular production system and plastic fabrication developed with designer Gary Dusek. Production and design were supported by Garlan Miles and additional plastic was sourced by Cora Quinlan. The plastics collection team at IGCT consists of NYC Housing Authority residents and is led by Brigitte Charlton-Vicenty, Founder of Inner City Green Team Economic and Environmental Development.

Mika Rottenberg, Lampshare (Detail), 2023, Photo: Ken Adlard © Mika Rottenberg. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

Mika Rottenberg, Lampshare, 2023 Photo: Ken Adlard © Mika Rottenberg. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

About the artist

Argentina-born, New York-based artist Mika Rottenberg is devoted to a rigorous practice that combines film, architectural installation, and sculpture to explore ideas of labor and the production of value in our contemporary hyper-capitalist world.

Using traditions of both cinema and sculpture, she seeks out locations around the world where specific systems of production and commerce are in place, such as a pearl factory in China, and a Calexico border town. Through the editing process, and with footage from sets built in her studio, Rottenberg connects seemingly disparate places and things to create elaborate and subversive visual narratives. By weaving fact and fiction together, she highlights the inherent beauty and absurdity of our contemporary existence.

Each of Rottenberg’s video works is situated within a theatrical installation, made up of objects from the lush and bizarre parallel worlds in her videos. Sacks of pearls, deflated pool toys, plastic flowers and sizzling frying pans seem to open a portal into the realm of the work. Her multidimensional film projects are often accompanied by standalone sculptural works, connected by allegory.

Rottenberg’s latest feature length film, ‘REMOTE’ (2022), co-created with Mahyad Tousi, was commissioned by Artangel, United Kingdom; the Louisiana Museum, Humlebaek; and Moderna Museet, Stockholm; and premiered at Tate modern and the New York Film Festival in 2022.

Born in Buenos Aires in 1976, Rottenberg spent her formative years in Israel then moved to the US where she earned her BA from the School of Visual Arts in New York and followed this with an MFA at Columbia in 2004.

Rottenberg was the recipient of the 2019 Kurt Schwitters Prize, which recognizes artists who have made a significant contribution to the field of contemporary art. In 2018, she was the winner of the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s James Dicke Contemporary Artist Prize, which recognizes an artist younger than 50 who has produced a significant body of work and consistently demonstrates exceptional creativity.