Mika Rottenberg / Jon Kessler: Seven

Mika Rottenberg/Jon Kessler:SEVEN – A Performa Commission for Performa 11

A chakra sauna channeling chromatic body fluids from New York to Cradle of Humankind in Africa.”

And now for something completely different – run, don’t walk, over to the Nicole Klagsbrun Project Space in Chelsea where SEVEN, the remarkable and totally unique collaborative performance/installation by Mika Rottenberg and Jon Kessler will be showing seven times a day until Nov. 19th. One can only hope that this very smart and provocative piece will be shown again soon because there is really no way to capture it other than to be present. This is a new kind of art that seamlessly synthesizes elements of commercial filmmaking, video and installation art, sculpture and theater. Employing live performance, sculptural installation and video to manipulate time and space according to the editing format of commercial movies the artists create a sense of reality we immediately accept – being here now while at the same time there, all at once.

The value of sweat, technology, pop culture and ultimately also of art in different cultural and economic contexts – these ideas would constitute a starting place for a discussion of the themes at work in this expansive piece.

Let’s start with the here and the now of the piece – -the illusion of reality. In this case, the here, is the physical reality of the room, the actors and the set as it could be called, automatically create the ultimate 3-D experience for us – reality itself, of which we are a part. The there happens in the continuously playing video which uses action and sound effects to either include us or let our attention return to the reality that surrounds us. The timing is magnificent; we feel we are simply reacting to the events in our proximity and to the video sequences in a naturalistic way, when in fact our attention is being supremely manipulated.

So where exactly are we? Physically we are invisible onlookers standing around inside a crazy retro futuristic chemistry lab. Meanwhile, omnipresent video screens are running what feels like (but isn’t) real time, moment by moment, simultaneous activities taking place in a very specific yet an unspecified remote region of Africa. The cycle of events plays out repeatedly with minor variations (just like life), until we anticipate what will happen next and feel familiar with the characters in both the mad chemistry lab where we are standing, and the drought-swept African plain.


And what are they doing? In our physical reality, one bathrobe clad individual is pumping away on an exer-cycle that drives some sort of machinery in a glass chamber where a second individual is rotating, mostly naked, before a device which emits an unknown vapor, ultimately a fluid we assume is sweat, is delivered through a long length of clear tubing across the room to the lab, where a technician performs various procedures that result in a distillation.

Meanwhile, in Africa an individual walks across a stunning natural scene, arriving at a barren, scorched landscape where he or she performs the difficult job of excavating a cylinder of earth or whatever substance constitutes the core of that blistered landscape, (precious oil, metal, mineral?) which is then taken to a corrugated tin shack and placed in a cylindrical vessel and deposited in a glass-domed machine as a series of alarms, colored lights and dials react madly, and then, boom! — the thing arrives in the lab where the technician will process it further with the crazy mad-scientist machinery and tools. Repeat.

Eventually the substance is distilled down into a series of distinctly colored fluids in test tubes and delivered back to Africa and poured back into the holes in the ground in an almost religious ceremony, resulting in the final scene of the video, a kind of pop culture reward that has no nutritional value whatsoever, for the mind, body or soul.

It’s difficult to describe or explain this experience precisely because it is so unprecedented. It is not difficult however, to say that Mika Rottenberg and Jon Kessler are among the most forward-looking, innovative and talented artists working today.


Mika Rottenberg & Jon Kessler at Nicole Klagsburn

Mika Rottneberg & Jon Kessler in Performa 11


Portia Iversen is a Los Angeles eclecticist whose interests include the visual arts and writing, as well as neuroscience. Besides winning an Emmy Award for art direction, she worked as a TV writer, and founded a nonprofit foundation for autism research. Iversen also published a book in 2007, (Strange Son, Riverhead Press). Her latest interest is writing about art.

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