Mary’s Cherries is a video by Mika Rottenberg. It shows a bizarre factory in which a group of women work together to transform fingernails into maraschino cherries. The fictional production process begins with ‘Mary’ stationed at her post, growing her cherry red nails. She manually harvests the nail and sends them through the floor. The next worker molds the fingernails into the final product, a maraschino cherry. Throughout each step in the process, there is a different character dressed in bright pastels with strikingly feminine qualities. The work diligently and in silence, with the soundtrack of the piece being the mechanical noise of the factory. The process is repeated, and the audience is left to reflect on the humor and nonsensical nature of the surreal environment.
Rottenberg’s work conceptually deals with the commodification of the human body viewed through an absurd and feminist lens. The female actors and the labor they are performing are the vehicles for her artistic expression. The assembly line imagery and production of a physical product is a reference to industrial manufacturing, however by highlighting the female characters’ bodies the discussion becomes more about the ‘laboring body’ than the manufactured product, such as a maraschino cherry. By using hyper feminized characters dressed in bright pastels, Rottenberg thinkers the conceptual dialogue. In her scholarly article, Laura Castagnini outlines a conceptual framework for the piece:
“ [the] ‘labouring body’ is costumed and exaggerated so as to be presented as carnivalesque: a parody of the normative body that unfolds to reveal an expansive parody of femininity, fetish, and feminism . . . Mary’s Cherries depicts a cyclical relationship between food, growth, renewal, and excessive female bodies that affords a new feminist articulation of carnivalesque imagery. “ (Castagnin, Laura, “Mika Rottenberg’s Video Installation Mary’s Cherries: A Parafeminist “dissection” of the Carnivalesque” (2015) Mika Rottenberg)
The idea of the ‘Carnivalesque’ leads to questions of how we choose to symbolically represent women in the modern day. The cultural relevance of this piece lies in its outpour of imagination and this critical content. The piece is an absurd fiction, however at its core commentary asks important questions about the commodification of the body and leads to discussions of manufacturing processes as well as the exploitation of human labour.
This piece is heavily related to her other works. The prevailing academic discussion revolving around her work is a synthesis of the labour/manufacturing and human body motifs seen in a majority of her work. This particular piece lacks the strong feminist tone of Mary’s Cherries, and rather focuses on the human body’s rule in labour processes.
As a related work, the design of her sets resembles that of a Rube Goldberg schematic in the way that it incorporates elements of found (or living!) objects, unorthodox power sources, and has a functional purpose.
All of Mika’s work, including images and video of Mary’s Cherries, can be found at http://www.andrearosengallery.com/artists/mika-rottenberg/images
Museum of Modern Art, 2004
Nicole Klagsburn Gallery, 2004
The Irresistible Force Tate Modern London, 2007
Nottingham Contemporary, 2012
FRAC Languedoc— 2012
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