Integrative Seminar + Studio: Whitney Museum Research




It’s a black and white video named “semiotics of the kitchen” by Martha Rosler. In the begging, she held a white board with the title on it and then started her performance. She held various kind of kitchen tools, speak out loud their names, then show audience how to use them. She looks very angry when she was presenting them. She just simply presenting those tools in a kitchen, alone, without food, just a bunch of tools.

She almost see those domestic kitchen tools as weapon. She hates to serve food or she hates those tools. Some of those tools seem very useless. She knew all the purpose of those tools or she has to remember all those tools’ purpose.


Video, a short documentary film. Black and white. The video properly documented all the process of her performance. The video sort of created a narrative to audience or makes people think about the narrative when there’s a video base artwork.



I like the video’s setting very much, the messy kitchen look. Not exactly messy but messy in an organized way, which shows the variety of kitchen tools. There are too many of them that almost make audience uncomfortable.

This particular artwork also has connection with other two video artworks and also text works on the wall. The main idea of those works are about feminist, racial problem and also gender problems related to society. Female were discriminated by gender bias and racial bias. For this piece, I think female were discriminated by stereotyping them into just housewife.


The work was presented or produced in 1975 around the time that feminist movement prevailed. Also, there’s a television cooking demonstrations popularized by Julia Child in the 1960s and the artist took the role of that.



Why video recording instead of performance live?

Maybe because the overall setting has to happen in a actual household kitchen and it might be hard to move a kitchen set into the place where performance happened. So for this case, it has to be recorded. For my research topic in studio class about the gesture. There’s a notion of demonstrating as well, so there’s a issue with recording and performance. I might go with demonstrating video since I do not want people just see me doing it but also themselves, the interaction between my work to audience is very important to this specific piece I made.

Why black and white?

If my research is correct, by the time this work was created, the color filming had been invented already. Maybe the artist want to set a bleak or dull tone. She filmed it in black and white on purpose in order to let the audience feel that these kind of stereotype was bleak and dull. This also makes me think about how my “guiding video” should be.

Why there’s no food if she was adapting kitchen demonstration into the piece?

The focus should be about the tools instead of food I think. Then it’s reasonable that there’s no food on the table. Otherwise, the significant of kitchen tools would not be that obvious. Even there’s food, the existence of food, which means help explaining those tools. So deciding what to show and what to discard of related objects is very important in the final. For my case, I had to construct a wire piece related to finger, I chose the simplest way to make them because I want people focus on the function instead of the appearance.


This is the book I found in Strand and it’s not a monograph of Martha Rosler but I found something I wanted about her in this book. So Martha Rosler had been making photomontages since 1966. Rosler interrelated both in images drawn from “everyday life” and the “ideological superstructures and political, economic and social attitudes”. I strongly agree that she got inspired by daily life thing because this piece, she took domesticity as her inspiration.

The book mentioned that she created a work called “Cleaning the Drapes from the series House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home” 1967-1972, She also took the idea of domesticity and built upon that, in order to express more than that. There’s connection between her works. The “Cleaning the Drapes” was created before the piece I chose in Whitney.

In 1981, Martha Rosler created another piece called “Martha Rosler Reads Vogue”. She deconstructs the messages in Vogue and its advertising. In the video, she included the title in hand written from as “semiotics of the kitchen” did. Also, start from a very “daily life” thing, reading magazine.


a) Not a lot of people chose my piece and that’s very interesting to me. Actually, media art work or video base art work in general in this room got not much attention. People’s attention was drawn by two giant print art work on the wall between those video artworks. There were less than four people stopped by during my observation and only one or two people finished the whole video and one of them was from our school but another class. Most people just looked at the video without putting earphone for seconds and then walked away, sometimes this was done while walking. It seems they visit the museum alone and I did not see much discussion among people in general. When they watched the video with the earphone, they really focus or were drawn into the video, they were sort of being isolated with the earphone one, at least I felt isolated too while I was watching. Not much body movement.


Interviewee opinion:

I think it’s about gender without side information, it’s about female gender role in society, and this artist utilized domestic tools violently because her movements were very strong and powerful. Although she did not hurt anyone, but she showed her angry with a emotionless face. I think she was trying to find a right tool to begin something violent since she knew them so well than others.

From the word “semiotics”, it means represent something, symbols. Those tools in the kitchen were no longer just kitchen tools, in her perspective, that’s weapon.

26 letters form language, when she said those six left letters, she might wanted to say that these kitchen tools became housewife’s language. I thought she might think that those tools’ r gonna take over her whole identity and life.


Why few people chose video base art?

“I think video art is relatively new and few people chose them. I believe most of people are comfortable with that.”


Does artwork with picture and text(mainly) draw more attention?

“No. This work must drew many attention that time. Video was composed with many many frames and each frames might not have the most powerful image like print art but video art definitely has its own advantage.”


Do people feel uncomfortable when another person was watching the same video base art at the same time next to them?

“Maybe a little but not that uncomfortable, it’s like movie theatre. People sitting next to you is not a big deal. ”


Do you like this video? Which part and why?

“Yes I like it. I like the moment when she used spoon to put something out of the “air jar”, I like this part because she show anger very well even with a harmless tools other than knifes and forks.”

What would you do if you were creating the same context and contend?

“I really have no idea right now.”



Visiting museum to see the artwork is really different from looking them up through internet. I mean some museum doesn’t share the image online, so it’s good to see artwork in real life. Also, the picture you see from internet often shot in the photo-taker’s perspective, it does not necessary apply to you. For instance, when I was looking at a painting, I am interested in looking closely to a body part or an object to see how they were done. Regular picture you can found online could not show that much detail. With many other concerns that online pictures have such as low resolution, poor quality, limited angle etc. I also like to see the texture of the painting if the artist apply heavy paint on that and that requires you to look from the side. With saying that, there are more than visual benefits while looking artwork in real life, it also brings you environmental factors. The relationship between artworks and the management between different sections. It helped me to understand what’s the main idea or general idea of the art work about.

In this particular filed trip, we went for a exhibition in Whitney called “An Incomplete History of Protest”, from the title I captured two key words: History and Protest. So I guessed that it would be something related human right and history of that. Then from different sections under that, it clarified to more specific topics, each one had a title and general description underneath. So after all those “guiding”, it’s easier for me to understand from the overall concept to more detailed intention of each sections.

People surrounded by you also contributed to the environmental factors. I can follow their eyes to located what’s they were looking at, how their facial emotion changed while they were looking at pieces. Also, you can hear other people whispering about the art work. The side conversation from other people may provide more informations and different perspectives.

Asking other people for questions or opinions might be a little challenged in the field trip. I guess they just wanted to be left alone and look at the art work by themselves. Or they might not share as much interests as you. Also I heard other classmates talked about that the person they asked gave very vague feedback on the art work and they did not get much information they wanted to know. So it’s hard to see someone who really interested in the piece I chose because people rarely stoped by.

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