Martha Rosler: touching on representation in art today (2014).


In the interview with Isabel Capeloa Gil, Rosler touches on many very pertinent points which made me think about my current project and about the book I am reading on BritArt called ‘Artrage!’.  

The interview started with a very convoluted question which fortunately came to a timely end with the word ‘timely’ in it or I would not have deciphered what it was all about.

  1.  The early part of the  response which struck me was:
  2. “The art world, particularly the non-artists in it, prefer art that does not direct their attention to the now …  mostly because people prefer to see art that helps them to move away from concerns of the everyday and many people, particularly those who are engaged in showing or are buying work are interested in something that makes them feel they don’t really have to worry about daily events.”

My first question was how does she know that?  Is there a study on it? Knowing that why does she still make ‘political’ art?  It makes you question the production / creation of art at its most fundamental level and it certainly makes me question why am I doing the work that I am doing.   Views of prisons and prisoners are very much part of our socio-political landscape and very much ‘now’.  So is Rosler saying that  I am engaged in a futile project called One Year  which is to exhibit art of ‘the now’ which the non-artists and the buyers are respectively neither going to enjoy or buy?   Perhaps responses at my July exhibition will tell.

This embodies Ian’s April letter in which he writes about one of his friends who succumbed to the ‘flu epidemic in prison and who, after 4 days could not remember that Ian had been to visit him.  © Anna Goodchild 2018.

2.  Rosler goes on to say

“I believe that art now has the obligation to speak to people about the conditions of every day life, not necessarily to make them feel that it is insuperable but the opposite, to remind them that they are engaged as citizens.”  

Has my art met that obligation?  I embarked on my project because I was presented with 2 different realities: the one presented in the mass media through what has come to be termed “prison photography’, and a reality lived by a friend in prison and presented through his letters to me.  

My images, I believe, present a different ‘prison photography”: one in which there is light (through colour), hope (through images representing nature renewing itself over time), and vitality/ new life (the plants growing at LandWorks, a charity which provides an extension of the therapeutic activities offered in prisons all over Britain).

        3.  “From the perspective that the visual impacts upon and affects our self-understanding I think, speaking particularly as a woman, it would be wonderful if my work plays a rôle in that conversation about the visualisation of identity and personhood and national identification.  “

How I wish I could include my fault line series and my splodges series in my One Year project!!!  As it stands, I have been advised to remove the splodges series as it is one layer too many.  

4.  ” On the other hand I would say that I’m very interested in the non-visual, in the auditory, and the merely conceptual because I think that most people conjure up pictures of what the work evokes based on the richness of our visual culture.”

I have a series of very short videos depicting the passage of time which I will show using my wonderful gift, that digital projector, in the cell adjacent to the quilt cell depicting images from the LandWorks visits.  

5.  “… I think it’s problematic for a visual artist like me to be stuck always in the visual, so yes, I think that art of necessity intervenes in the flow of representations of ourselves and others – this is critical but not necessarily always by visual means.”

What I took away from the video about the interview:

Rosler is very aware of what she wants to do with her art.  She is aware of the changing priorities in the art world: she talks about the differences between the 1970’s and 2014: in the ’70s she didn’t worry about getting her work shown because there were so many ways to exhibit work “without the usual institutional gatekeepers and i didn’t care about market values”  In 2014, artists have to be very aware of market values & “artists are interested in being successful in the world that’s driven by gallerists … and there’s an avid market for artists being successful.”

Suddenly it’s all about the commodification of art – which, I suppose has always been there but in a different guise: gone are the days of patrons employing artists to work on their mausoleums, on their chapel ceilings, on their family portraits.  The 1970’s ushered in a self-gratifying artist and the emergence of a different patron in the mould of Charles Saatchi. 

Do I want to be commodified?  Do I want my work seen?  Yes, I do because it is a different visualisation of prison photography.

What I took away from the video about me:

I need to find out, somehow, how to gauge what non-artists and gallerists want in order to find a place for my work.

In the middle of all my reflections comes this post on my Facebook page:

I’m not sure I would express it quite so forcefully but there is a very valuable point there: people have said there are too many layers in my work.  I like it as it is but value their opinions.  What do I do?


Fullerton,E. 2016.Artrage!: The Story of the BritArt Revolution.Thames and Hudson.

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