Martha Rosler, Semiotics of the Kitchen, 1975 Favorite 



Jan 1 1975


New York

This is a parody of 1970s American daytime television aimed at housewives. In this performance Rosler takes on the role of an apron-clad housewife and parodies the television cooking demonstrations popularized by Julia Child in the 1960s. Standing in a kitchen, surrounded by refrigerator, table, and stove, she moves through the alphabet from A to Z, assigning a letter to the various tools found in this domestic space. Wielding knives, a nutcracker, and a rolling pin, she warms to her task, her gestures sharply punctuating the rage and frustration of oppressive women's roles. Rosler has said of this work, "I was concerned with something like the notion of 'language speaking the subject,' and with the transformation of the woman herself into a sign in a system of signs that represent a system of food production, a system of harnessed subjectivity."

A well-known feminist, Rosler remarked about this work that "when the woman speaks, she names her own oppression." The symbolic terminology of the kitchen, she hypothesized, transforms the woman into a sign of the system of food production and harnessed subjectivity. The video subject is an "anti-Julia Child," Rosler explains; she "replaces the domesticated 'meaning' of tools with a lexicon of rage and frustration."The work was intended, like all early video, to be shown on a television monitor, and thus it is no accident that some of the gestures represent a tossing or throwing of the imaginary contents of certain implements "outside the box" of television programming. It is not the production of food in and of itself that is Rosler's target but the taken-for-granted role of happy housewife and selfless producer that the tape intends to spotlight. Her gestures demonstrate frustration with the language of domesticity, as she uses the domestic space of the kitchen as a backdrop for resistance and change.

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