This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001

ARTHOUSE THEATER DAY: PUTNEY SWOPE

Putney Swope

Putney Swope is back in a fiftieth anniversary 4K restoration screening at Alamo Drafthouse

PUTNEY SWOPE (Robert Downey, 1969)
Alamo Drafthouse Downtown Brooklyn
445 Albee Square West
Wednesday, September 18, 7:00
718-513-2547
drafthouse.com

The past, present, and immediate future of indie cinema are represented in the fourth annual Art House Theater Day, taking place September 18 at several venues in New York as well as around the country. Peter Strickland’s 2018 In Fabric and Brett Story’s 2019 The Hottest August will be screening at IFC; In Fabric will also be shown at Nitehawk’s Prospect Park cinema. But the film to see is the fiftieth anniversary 4K restoration of Robert Downey Sr.’s counterculture cult classic, the low-budget 1969 satire Putney Swope, playing at the Alamo Drafthouse in Downtown Brooklyn and Yonkers. Downey Sr. is still alive, and this presentation includes a prerecorded introduction from the eighty-three-year-old writer-director of such other movies as Chafed Elbows, Sweet Smell of Sex, Greaser’s Palace, and Rittenhouse Square.

Downey skewers race, religion, politics, the corporate world, and Madison Ave. in the absurdist comedy, featuring a crazy cast of characters portrayed by professional actors as well as first-timers Downey found in city bars and cafés and on the street. When ad agency owner Mario Elias Sr. (David Kirk) drops dead during a meeting, the rest of the board, consisting primarily of a bunch of conniving, corrupt white men, accidentally vote the one black man, musical director Putney Swope (Arnold Johnson), to be the next chairman. Instead of stepping aside, Swope decides to take over and make radical changes, renaming the company Truth and Soul, Inc., firing white employees for any reason whatsoever, and hiring a team of Black Power men and women with no advertising experience to produce commercials that go far beyond industry standards, featuring foul language, nudity, and interracial relationships while promoting such products as Dinkleberry Frozen Chicken Pot Pie and Lucky Airlines, where one lucky passenger will win a trip to a back room with nearly naked stewardesses. However, he refuses to make ads for alcohol, toy guns, and tobacco. Putney courts favor with US president Mimeo and the first lady, portrayed by real-life husband-and-wife little people Pepi and Ruth Hermine, whose right-hand man, Mr. Borman Six (Larry Wolf), is a neo-Nazi. But power corrupts, and Swope soon becomes more militant and dictatorial, getting away with his bizarre business plan as the film turns into a fable of rebellion gone astray.

putney swope 2

Putney Swope almost didn’t get distributed. In 1969, at a special advance screening, Native New Yorker Downey, the father of Robert Downey Jr., reluctantly allowed Don Rugoff of Cinema Five in, even though Rugoff was late; afterward, Rugoff told him, “I don’t understand this movie, but I like it,” and shortly released the film to sold-out audiences. Downey and cinematographer Gerald Cotts switch between black-and-white for the main narrative and color for the television commercials, giving extra oomph to the latter, which get stranger and stranger, while Charley Cuva provides the groovy music and New Breed Inc. the chic costumes. The cast and crew had such trouble understanding Johnson’s mangled line readings that Downey dubbed in his dialogue in postproduction himself, using a raspy black voice that is way over the top; Putney Swope might be an equal opportunity offender, but it could never be made today, given the current politically correct environment.

Much of the acting is terrible, but a few familiar faces show up to offer a bit of a respite: Antonio Fargas, best known as Huggy Bear on Starsky and Hutch, plays the ever-angry Arab; Allan Arbus, who was Dr. Sidney Freedman on M*A*S*H (note that the poster to the left is a takeoff of the marketing campaign for Robert Altman’s film version of M*A*S*H) and is the son of photographer Diane Arbus, is Mr. Bad News, filling in Swope on the continuing adventures of serial sex offender Sonny Williams (Perry Gewirtz); Shelley Plimpton (the mother of Martha Plimpton) and singer Ronnie Dyson, who were in Hair together, appear as the interracial couple pushing face cream; and Allen Garfield, a successful character actor in such films as The Conversation and Nashville, is Mario Elias Jr. The tall, awkward Stanley Gottlieb is a hoot as Nathan, who speaks primarily in bad jokes, while poet Donald Lev is a lone anarchist. Added to the US National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 2016, Putney Swope — a major influence on such films as Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights, in which Don Cheadle plays a character named Buck Swope, Cosmo the firecracker boy is inspired by Chinese businessman Wing Soney, and Downey Sr. makes a cameo (in addition, Louis CK hosted a Q&A with Downey in LA five years ago) — holds up better than expected, despite its cutting-edge story and small details that leave no one unblemished. It’s certainly no Mad Men, but it’s still a far-out document of a critical time in American history.

EYESLICER FEST CLOSING NIGHT FILM: KNIVES ON SKIN

Carolyn Harper (Raven Whitley) goes missing in teen noir Knives and Skin

Carolyn Harper (Raven Whitley) goes missing in teen noir Knives and Skin

KNIVES AND SKIN (Jennifer Reeder, 2019)
Nitehawk Cinema Williamsburg
136 Metropolitan Ave. between Berry St. & Wythe Ave.
Tuesday, September 17, 7:00
Festival runs September 14-17
718-384-3980
nitehawkcinema.com
www.chicagofilmproject.com

Knives and Skin, Jennifer Reeder’s feature-length debut as a writer-director, is the closing-night selection of Eyeslicer Fest, four days of special events celebrating the second season of The Eyeslicer, the self-described “secret TV show blending the boldest new American filmmaking into mind-expanding, mixtape-style episodes.” Screening September 17 at 7:00 at Nitehawk Cinema in Williamsburg, Knives and Skin is a creepy coming-of-age tale of girlhood, loss, and consent set in small-town America where the disappearance of a teenage girl tilts an already off-balance community even more on edge. Marching band member Carolyn Harper (Raven Whitley) has decided to lose her virginity to jock Andy Kitzmiller (Ty Olwin), but when she suddenly changes her mind, he becomes angry, pushes her to the ground, and leaves her in the woods. When she doesn’t come home, her mother, Lisa (Marika Engelhardt), quickly goes off the deep end, obsessed with her daughter’s clothes and smell. Fellow marching band members Charlotte Kurtich (Ireon Roach), April Martinez (Aurora Real de Asua), and Afra Siddiqui (Haley Bolithon), each of whose identities lie firmly outside old-fashioned mainstream America’s idea of girlhood, are preparing for homecoming, but Carolyn’s situation has cast a damper over everything.

Knives and Skin

Charlotte Kurtich (Ireon Roach) faces a harsh reality in Jennifer Reeder’s Knives and Skin

Reeder focuses on two families over the course of the film, which was inspired by the work of such feminist auteurs as Chantal Akerman and Catherine Breillat in addition to such indie faves as Todd Solondz and Todd Haynes, with the heaviest debt to David Lynch’s Twin Peaks as she uses our generic societal anxiety about female teen sexuality to reveal the hidden underbelly of a typical midwestern town, complete with surreal moments. (There’s also bits of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Mean Girls, and The Breakfast Club embedded in its DNA.) Andy’s mother, Lynn (Audrey Francis), can’t face reality; his father, Dan (Tim Hopper), is an out-of-work clown fooling around with pregnant waitress Renee Darlington (Kate Arrington); his sister, Joanna (Grace Smith), sells underwear to the principal (Tony Fitzpatrick); and he is closest to his unusual grandmother (Marilyn Dodds Frank). Renee is married to Doug (James Vincent Meredith), the local sheriff in charge of the Carolyn Harper case; their son, Jesse Darlington (Robert T. Cunningham), is the school mascot and friends with Joanna; and their daughter, Laurel Darlington (Kayla Carter), is exploring her sexuality with Colleen (Emma Ladji). Racism, misogyny, sexual harassment, bullying, and more lie at the center of a community unable to come to grips with what’s really going on every day.

knives-and-skin-poster

Cinematographer Christopher Rejano bathes the film in richly saturated blues, reds, greens, and pinks, accompanied by a lurking score by Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. There are several scenes that feature hauntingly beautiful a cappella versions of such 1980s hits as Modern English’s “I Melt with You,” New Order’s “Blue Monday,” the Go-Go’s “Our Lips Are Sealed,” Naked Eyes’ “Promises, Promises,” and Icicle Works’ “Birds Fly (Whisper to a Scream),” lending the film a stark poignancy that overrides some of the inconsistent acting and over-the-top absurdities and singlehandedly makes it worth watching. The screening will be followed by a casual party in the Lo-Res Bar; Eyeslicer Fest begins September 14 and also includes the Radical Film Fair at Kickstarter HQ on September 15, the world premiere of season two of The Eyeslicer in Green-Wood Cemetery on September 16, and the theatrical release of Aaron Schimberg’s Chained for Life at IFC through September 19.

CROSSING THE LINE FESTIVAL: OPENING NIGHT

Crossing the Line Festival opens with Isabelle Adjani in Opening Night

FIAF’s Crossing the Line Festival opens with Isabelle Adjani in Opening Night (photo © Simon Gosselin)

French Institute Alliance Française, Florence Gould Hall
55 East 59th St. between Madison & Park Aves.
September 12-14
Festival continues through October 12
212-355-6160
crossingthelinefestival.org/2019

After the audience has settled in at FIAF’s Florence Gould Hall for Cyril Teste’s multimedia adaptation of John Cassavetes’s 1977 film Opening Night, there appears to be confusion on the stage, as a man in headphones converses in French with an unseen tech crew, their words not translated on the supertitles screen. It’s a disorienting moment, especially if you don’t understand French, and a terrific introduction to one of the themes of the play, the pull between fact and fiction, fantasy and reality inherent in theater and cinema. The man in the headphones is the play-within-a-play’s director, Manny (Morgan Lloyd Sicard), who is helming a melodrama featuring famous actress Myrtle Gordon (five-time César winner Isabelle Adjani) and her stoic costar, Maurice (Frédéric Pierrot); in the original film, itself based on a play by John Cromwell, Gena Rowlands was Myrtle, her real-life husband, Cassavetes, was Maurice, and one of their closest friends, Ben Gazzara, was Manny, their personal relationships further blurring the lines of reality.

With opening night a day away, Myrtle is having trouble with her lines and her physical presence, particularly in a scene that involves Maurice slapping her. She’s becoming emotionally unhinged, having a nervous breakdown, spurred by the earlier accidental death of a seventeen-year-old fan seeking an autograph and Myrtle’s inability — or overt unwillingness — to relate to her character, who is all too much like her, as if she is unable to face her own fate. Throughout the play’s eighty-five minutes, there is an additional figure onstage, cameraman Nicolas Doremus, who follows the characters as they move about Ramy Fischler’s elegant living-room set, which features a couch, a table, knickknacks on shelves, a visible backstage area with Agnès b.’s costumes, and, at the very center, a large screen where Doremus’s footage streams live, offering viewers a different angle on what’s happening. At one point, Doremus zooms in close on Manny and Myrtle, who might be about to kiss, the cameraman completing a kind of love triangle between life and artifice; at another, Doremus films other characters behind stage sharing their concerns as Myrtle is alone on the couch, drinking away her pain. Everyone is dressed in dark colors, mostly black, signaling potential doom.

star in

Morgan Lloyd Sicard, Isabelle Adjani, and Frédéric Pierrot star in Cyril Teste’s multimedia adaptation of John Cassavetes’s Opening Night at FIAF

Teste (Patio, Nobody) based his script on Cassavetes’s screenplay more than the final film itself, although he did use the director’s longtime friend and cinematographer, Al Ruban, who shot Opening Night, as a consultant. Teste encourages improvisation and changes stage directions every night, ensuring that each performance is unique in a way a film can never be yet still capturing the essence of the movie. “While Cassavetes’s other great films are models of immediacy — gut-level attempts to devise a cinematic syntax that accounts for and responds to the quantum flux of moment-to-moment experience — the doubly framed and multiply mirrored Opening Night operates at a remove,” Dennis Lim notes in his Criterion essay, which is appropriately titled “The Play’s the Thing.” He continues, “The filmmaker’s habitual insistence on the inseparability of actor and character (and of art and life) reverberates here within the haunted corridors of a backstage melodrama.” Adjani (The Story of Adele H, Queen Margot) is ravishing in her New York theatrical debut, her regal stage demeanor working hand-in-hand with her total command of the screen; we get to see both facets of her immense talent at the same time, which is both a treat and disconcerting; non-French speakers will lose a little as they avert their eyes to the supertitles while also deciding whether to look at the activity onstage, backstage, or onscreen. Sicard is superb as the director, and Pierrot is hardy as the skeptical Maurice, but Doremus stands out by not standing out even as he is right in the middle of the action. Opening Night opens FIAF’s monthlong Crossing the Line Festival and is supplemented by “Magnetic Gaze: Isabelle Adjani on Screen,” consisting of ten of her films shown on Tuesdays through October 29.

TATTOO UPRISING

Tattoo Uprising

Ink legends Stoney St. Clair and Ed Hardy show how it’s done in Columbus, Ohio, in 1980 in Alan Govenar’s Tattoo Uprising (photograph by Alan Govenar / courtesy of Documentary Arts)

TATTOO UPRISING (Alan Govenar, 2019)
Cinema Village
22 East 12th St. between University Pl. & Fifth Ave.
Opens Friday, September 13
212-529-6799
www.tattoouprising.com
www.cinemavillage.com

“Just the way they say you are what you eat, you are what you wear, too,” Calamity Jane Nemhauser says in Tattoo Uprising, Alan Govenar’s forty-years-in-the-making documentary celebrating the art of inking human bodies. Writer-director Govenar has been working on the film since 1980, when he was finishing his 1981 half hour Stoney Knows How, about tattoo legend Stoney St. Clair. Govenar and editor Jason Johnson-Spinos interweave four decades of interviews and archival footage into the film, in which Govenar speaks extensively with St. Clair and fashionista Ed Hardy, who redefined what tattooing could be; documentarian Les Blank and director Werner Herzog, who show off their tats while the former is making Burden of Dreams and the latter Fitzcarraldo; woman tattoo artists Cynthia Witkin, Calamity Jane, Jamie Summers, and Anne de Hey!; sideshow performer and tattoo artist Captain Don, who sings a song about his chosen profession; and prisoners who reveal their tattoos and discuss the impact they have on their feelings of freedom.

Author Govenar also delves into the history of tattooing, from biblical times through the Renaissance, from Captain James Cook’s discoveries to Gus Wagner’s influential flash tattoos, and such art exhibitions as “Flash from the Past: Classic American Tattoo Designs 1890 – 1965” at the Hertzberg Circus Collection and Museum in San Antonio and “Pierced Hearts and True Love: A Century of Drawings for Tattoos” at the Drawing Center in New York. “It’s a hot language. It’s a cellular semiotics of communication that we’re only now beginning to realize exists across the world and throughout history in a way that no other medium functions,” Hardy explains. And there’s plenty of tattooing, the camera getting up close and personal as needles buzz into flesh, creating complicated, daring, and exquisite designs, using the human body as a living canvas.

THE SOUND OF SILENCE

Peter Sarsgaard

Peter Sarsgaard stars as a house tuner with an unusual relationship to sound in Michael Tyburski’s feature debut

THE SOUND OF SILENCE (Michael Tyburski, 2019)
IFC Center
323 Sixth Ave. at West Third St.
Opens Friday, September 13
212-924-7771
www.ifccenter.com

Peter Sarsgaard gives a beautifully gentle performance as a house tuner in Michael Tyburski’s feature debut, The Sound of Silence. Sarsgaard is Peter Lucian, an idiosyncratic New Yorker who is hired by people to investigate how sounds in their homes might be affecting them in negative ways, impacting their sleeping habits, success at work, and overall mood. Walking from room to room with tuning forks and a tape recorder, Peter tracks seemingly impossible-to-hear noise and suggests alterations that will change his clients’ lives, sometimes as simple as replacing a small appliance. He is also mapping the city itself, documenting buildings and street corners by the musical notes they emit. At the urging of his mentor, Robert Feinway (Austin Pendleton), he hires Samuel Diaz (Tony Revolori) to assist him as he prepares to publish his findings, something he prefers to do alone. Meanwhile, CEO Harold Carlyle (Bruce Altman) wants Peter to join his firm and turn his unique skill into a big-time money-making venture, but Peter has no interest in corrupting his unusual profession. When he hits a snag trying to solve the problems of his latest client, Ellen Chasen (Rashida Jones), he becomes obsessed, desperate to find the answer as his calm, even-keeled life suddenly becomes turbulent and disorderly.

Rashida Jones

Ellen Chasen (Rashida Jones) looks for sonic answers to better her life in The Sound of Silence

The Sound of Silence was expanded from rural Vermont native Tyburski and cowriter Ben Nabors’s award-winning 2013 short, Palimpsest. The film is reminiscent of Francis Ford Coppola’s classic 1974 thriller, The Conversation, in which Gene Hackman plays Harry Caul, an audio surveillance expert who becomes overwhelmed with paranoia, as well as Henry Bean’s 2007 drama Noise, in which Tim Robbins stars as a New Yorker on a one-man mission to eliminate the endless racket made by car alarms going off in the middle of the night. Cinematographer Eric Lin’s camera can’t get enough of Peter’s tender, delicate nature and slow, deliberate speech and movement, so sensitively portrayed by Sarsgaard (Shattered Glass, Kinsey), whether he’s laying down in a client’s bed, standing in front of Central Park’s Naumburg Bandshell with his tuning forks, or looking out at the vast city spread out below him, a symphony of strife, supplemented by Will Bates’s classically influenced score, that he believes he can cure. But even as he helps other people, he is unable to make personal connections in his own life, spending much of his time in his dark office, letting his answering machine pick up for him so he doesn’t have to talk to people on the phone, not knowing how to engage with the real world outside. The Sound of Silence, which boasts a strong indie cast that also includes Alex Karpovsky, Tina Benko, Bhavesh Patel, Tracee Chimo Pallero, Kate Lyn Sheil, and Alison Fraser, opens September 13 at IFC, with Tyburski, Nabors, and producer Michael Prall on hand for a Q&A following the 8:10 screening opening night. The film will also run September 20-29 at the Museum of the Moving Image, with Tyburski joined by physicist Janna Levin at the 4:00 show on September 22.

DEPRAVED

Depraved

Henry (David Call) has to keep looking over his shoulder in Larry Fessenden’s Depraved

DEPRAVED (Larry Fessenden, 2019)
IFC Center
323 Sixth Ave. at West Third St.
Opens Friday, September 13
212-924-7771
www.ifccenter.com

Earlier this year, Larry Fessenden’s Depraved made its world premiere at IFC Center as the opening-night selection of What the Fest!?, five days of twisted films and discussions that pushed the boundaries of the horror genre. Depraved, which does just that, is now back at IFC for its inaugural theatrical release. “Humanity does so love destruction. Depraved. That’s what we are. Utterly depraved,” Polidori (Joshua Leonard) explains in the film, a contemporary reimagining of Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein involving the military, Big Pharma, and fatherhood. The smooth-talking Polidori (named for John William Polidori, an acquaintance of Mary Wollstonecraft’s who in 1819 published the first modern vampire story) is overseeing a cutting-edge experiment by Henry (David Call), who is seeking to bring life to the dead through surgery, medication, and therapy. (Dr. Frankenstein was named “Victor” in Mary Shelley’s book but “Henry” in James Whale’s 1931 movie.) Using body parts from multiple corpses, Henry, a former army medic in Iraq, has patched together a living being he names Adam (Alex Breaux). The final, key piece is the warm brain of Alex (Owen Campbell), who is brutally murdered moments after having a fight with his girlfriend, Lucy (Chloë Levine), in Brooklyn. Adam develops sooner than expected, taking a liking to Henry’s girlfriend, Liz (Ana Kayne), while Polidori uses this as an opportunity to speed up the deals he’s working on. It doesn’t go very well.

Depraved

Adam (Alex Breaux) is a modern-day Frankenstein’s monster in Depraved

Written, directed, produced, and edited by Fessenden (The Last Winter, Wendigo) — who made the cult vampire hit Habit in 1997 and is now working on a long-conceived werewolf picture — Depraved takes on several timely issues, most powerfully war and PTSD; Henry, who suffers from PTSD himself, and Polidori are hoping to keep mortally wounded soldiers alive while also helping them deal with post-traumatic stress, but they did not anticipate Adam experiencing memory flashbacks of Alex’s life (which are accompanied by creepy animation). Fessenden also explores the nature of parenting in twenty-first-century America: Alex is murdered shortly after fighting with Lucy about having children; Henry perceives Adam as a kind of son to him, especially early on when he is teaching him elementary school basics and playing catch with him; Polidori, who is married to Georgina (Maria Dizzia), works for his father-in-law (Chris O’Connor) while also serving as Adam’s bad parent; and, as a bonus, Fessenden’s son Jack is the film’s videographer and appears as Eddie. (Larry can be seen in a cameo as the guy at the end of the bar, where Adam meets Shelley [Addison Timlin], named for the author of Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus.)

The strong cast is led by Breaux (Red Speedo, Jack Fessenden’s upcoming Foxhole), who gives a multilayered, sensitive performance as Adam, a lonely man — not a monster — lost in a world he no longer understands, and Call (The Sinner, The Breaks), who humanizes the mad-scientist-as-God role. Inspired by neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor’s My Stroke of Insight, about how she recovered from a severe brain hemorrhage, and the legacy of Oliver Sacks, Fessenden is not merely trying to scare the hell out of us with Depraved, which was made in twenty-four days in Gowanus and includes a scene shot guerrilla-style in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Instead, he has made an intense film that looks at how we are wired and how trauma impacts our relationships with others. And more than fear, the film hits us with an overwhelming sadness. “We always have tomorrow,” Alex says in the beginning. Alas, not always. Fessenden will be at IFC for Q&As following the 9:45 screenings on September 13 and 14.

MIKA ROTTENBERG: EASYPIECES

Mika Rottenberg

A tunnel welcomes visitors to Mika Rottenberg’s Cosmic Generator at the New Museum (photo © Mika Rottenberg / courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth)

New Museum of Contemporary Art
235 Bowery at Prince St.
Through September 15, $12-$18
212-219-1222
www.newmuseum.org

Allegorical depictions of consumerism, the means of production, and the global reach of capitalism are at the center of Mika Rottenberg’s artistic concerns, and they are on full display in her first solo New York museum show, the delightful “Mika Rottenberg: Easypieces,” which continues at the New Museum through September 15. The presentation consists of three major video installations along with playful sculptures and an additional short film that immerse visitors in the Argentina-born, Israel-raised, New York–based Rottenberg’s unique visual and physical world. Her videos have an almost visceral and tactile appeal due to her inventive use of sound and imagery, while the uncanny sculptures that accompany them enhance the overall experience, bringing together humanity, nature, materiality, and technology. The title of the show was inspired by Richard P. Feynman’s Six Easy Pieces: Essentials of Physics Explained by Its Most Brilliant Teacher; Feynman, a theoretical physicist, writes in the introduction, “Each piece, or part, of the whole of nature is always merely an approximation to the complete truth, or the complete truth so far as we know it. In fact, everything we know is only some kind of approximation, because we know that we do not know all the laws as yet. Therefore, things must be learned only to be unlearned again or, more likely, to be corrected.” Feynman might have been speaking to physics students, but it also reads like Rottenberg explaining her work to her audience.

Mika Rottenberg

A hallway of ceiling fans leads to Mika Rottenberg’s new Spaghetti Blockchain video installation (photo © Mika Rottenberg / courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth)

Visitors get a hint of what’s to come as soon as they get off the elevator, where they are greeted by AC and Plant, an air conditioner sticking out of a temporary wall, a slow drip from which waters a potted plant on the floor. The three main videos burst with bright colors, make absurdist connections, and depict the monotony of everyday work. You enter the new Spaghetti Blockchain through a hallway of ceiling fans seen through slits in the walls; the twenty-one-minute video travels from Siberia, where Tuvan throat singer Choduraa Tumat vocalizes in traditional dress in a vast mountain landscape, to a potato farm in Maine shot from above, to the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland. A rotating hexagonal kaleidoscopic structure at the antimatter factory turns to reveal a knife slicing a jelly roll, a man getting his bald spot sprayed, sizzling candy melting, and other odd actions that serve as ASMR cues.

(photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Mika Rottenberg’s Finger might just contain the key to the universe (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

You have to walk through a tunnel to get to 2017’s Cosmic Generator (Tunnel Variant), a twenty-seven-minute video that connects Chinese restaurants in Mexicali to a wholesale market in Yiwu, China, through a network of abandoned underground tunnels, creating seemingly arbitrary relationships that comment on border towns, immigration, and cheap Chinese labor and plastic goods. (Be sure to ride the large elevator to get a cool bonus.) You exit the room through a floor-to-ceiling sparkling rainbow curtain, like the ones on display at the Yiwu market, leading you to the three-minute short Sneeze, in which barefoot men in suits sit at a table, sneezing out rabbits, lightbulbs, and steak, referencing Thomas Edison’s 1894 five-second Fred Ott’s Sneeze. That room and the next contain bags of (fake) pearls and bunnies made of the gems, leading into 2015’s NoNoseKnows (Artist Variant), linking a pearl factory in China, where women first infect oysters so they will produce pearls, then harvest them and separate them, with fetishist Bunny Glamazon, who sniffs flowers in a small room and sneezes out plates of noodles. Meanwhile, a pair of upside-down feet stick out of a bucket of cultured pearls.

Mika Rottenberg

Pearls are at the center of Mika Rottenberg’s NoNoseKnows (Artist Variant) (photo © Mika Rottenberg / courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth)

The videos are supplemented by a room of kinetic sculptures that are directly or indirectly related, physical manifestations of what we have seen and/or experienced onscreen, blurring the lines between fact and fiction: AC and Plant is joined by Frying Pans (duo), a pair of pans on stovetops into which drops of water fall from above and sizzle, emanating smoke and sharp sounds; Finger is a digit sticking out of a wall, slowly turning, the cosmos visible on its long nail; Lips (Study #3) is a pair of sultry red lips on a wall, a miniature video playing inside, with smoke occasionally wafting out; and Ponytail (Orange) is made of real hair, flopping out of a hole in a wall. You’re not going to make sense out of every detail, so don’t try; just enjoy the pure fun of it all, even as it takes on aspects of labor with a Marxist bent. Rottenberg’s (Bowls Balls Souls Holes, Seven with Jon Kessler) work can be extremely funny and surreal, but it also is deceptively smart and clever as it deals with the apparatus of making and using, manufacturing and consuming, that so dominates modern society.