Candice Jacobs introduces the debut feature-length film by Mika Rottenberg and Mahyad Tousi

Posted on 12th October 2022

Written by Candice Jacobs

Candice Jacobs was invited by Nottingham Contemporary & Near Now to introduce this Artangel commission & screening at Broadway Cinema on 11 October 2022.

Acting as an introduction to the screening of REMOTE, the very first feature-length film from Mika Rottenberg and Mahyad Tousi, commissioned by Artangel, screening at Broadway Cinema in Nottingham; this text attempts to connect their new work to references that I've been exploring within my own research & practice, some of which will probably make more sense once my new project OTOKA launches with a takeover of the Broadway Gallery (November 2022–March 2023).

Much like REMOTE, OTOKA transcends site & place, to fluidly transition from exhibition, residency, research & studio space both on & offline, to accommodate & support the precariousness of communication & our sense of connection since the Pandemic, and to respond to the responsibilities that have been thrown my way since recently becoming a mother.

REMOTE is a film that grew from a collaboration & conversations that developed during lockdown between Mika Rottenberg and Mahyad Tousi about geographic locations and the strange experience of traveling through the internet.

Mahyad Tousi suggests that this could be seen as a love letter to the idea of human touch when COVID took this right away and suddenly forced us all to be grateful of whatever connection we could muster with others, through video calls, remote birthday celebrations, dancing alone in your bedroom with hundreds of people watching (or not), and having meetings online, all revealing the intimate nature of our home life and whatever and whoever were in them. It was important, but not easy, to stay out of depression and not to get angry when we were being asked to work remotely in an Orwellian future that appeared to disregard the biological situation (and lack of it) of lockdown.

Interestingly, ‘On Touching' is an essay written by the American feminist theorist Karen Barad which asserts that it is in the nature of touch to imply an “infinite finitude". As an infinite finitude, to touch and to be touched discovers something about the embodied nature of who we are and who we are in the process of becoming (as human beings, scholars, philosophers, artists, mothers etc). Touch has to do with limits, boundaries, and their dynamic nature. She argues that “life, whether organic or inorganic, animate or inanimate, is not an unfolding algorithm" as all beings “stray from all calculable paths", but rather that the radically permeable and unpredictable affair of touching acknowledges the transcendence and otherness of each subject.

During the Pandemic, we were and still are experiencing a new state of precarity with touch, which sits delicately between an intimate caress of our devices and the lack of embrace being allowed of our loved ones.

Isabell Lorey in her book ‘State of Insecurity' suggests that:

“If we fail to understand precarity then we understand neither the politics nor the economy of the present…"

Precarity has become an instrument of governing and, at the same time, a basis for capitalist accumulation that serves to control and regulate society. Precaritisation therefore becomes an embrace for the whole of existence via the body and modes of subjectivation.

She states that Neoliberal individualisation means isolation, and much like Lockdown & this film perhaps; this kind of separation is primarily a matter of constituting oneself by way of imaginary relationships, contemplating one’s own inner being, and to a lesser extent actually connecting with others. She goes on to say that this interiority and self-reference is not an expression of independence, but rather a crucial element of a pastoral relationship with “obedience”. And didn’t we have to get to grips with that pretty quickly.

The feminist writer Sara Ahmed who works at the intersection of feminist, queer and racial studies is concerned with how bodies and worlds take shape; how power is secured and challenged in everyday life as well as within institutional cultures. In her book ‘Uprootings/Regroundings' she suggests that new forms of transnational mobility and diasporic belonging have become emblematic of a supposed 'global' condition of uprootedness. She considers how homes are formed in relationship to movement to suggest that movement does not only happen when one leaves home, and that homes are not always fixed in a single location. Home and belonging may involve attachment and movement, fixation and loss, and the transgression and enforcement of boundaries.

In the early days of their lockdown, Mika & Mahyad started talking about magical realism, weird fiction, puzzles, and Chantal Ackerman. Their conversations were as much about catharsis and collaboration as making a film at a time when it was hard enough to get out of bed in the mornings.

Much like Mika Rottenberg’s work, Chantal Ackerman’s films create a syntax with which to explore the inner lives of women, largely through meticulous attention to the spaces they inhabited.

I’m also reminded here of the importance of works such as WomanHouse in LA or A Woman’s Place in London, where, in the 1970s, entire houses were taken over by installations that took activities associated with homemaking to “fantasy” proportions. ‘WomanHouse’ became the repository of the daydreams women have as they wash, bake, cook, sew, clean and iron their lives away. ‘A Woman’s Place’, an experiment in alternative ways of living.

‘REMOTE' (film still), 2022. © Mika Rottenberg and Mahyad Tousi. Courtesy the artists and Hauser & Wirth.

‘REMOTE' (film still), 2022. © Mika Rottenberg and Mahyad Tousi. Courtesy the artists and Hauser & Wirth.

As their conversations developed Mika & Mahyad found themselves moving onto New Age magic and technology, something that also resonates with my interests. I worked with Near Now (Broadway’s Art & Technology programme) some years ago now on a project called ‘Sweet Talk’ with artist Erica Scourti where we linked divinatory systems and ritual to the evolution of technology, the commodification of spiritual traditions and collective experience, to propose new systems of self-care that would support our personal and social transformations. Often we would talk about how Magic & spells, when conducted by individuals and collectives, could be seen as ways of affecting and transforming both the identity of the participants and the outcome of cosmic events; and how they are gestures and incantations with agency that have the power to influence and manipulate the world around them; how all kind of apps, software, and new techs similarly promise to change the world, or at least a tiny part of it; and that it's no coincidence that words alluding to magic and sorcery turn up all the time in tech, from set up ‘wizards' to ‘magic wands'. Meanwhile Silicon Valley solutionism casts the fresh-faced men of tech as healers (saviours?!) of the world's social and ecological issues with the magical mantra that “there's an app for that".

But I guess, you can’t really talk about tech-bros with magic and witchcraft without discussing the representation of women within the context of hysteria and the body. So perhaps we can return full circle back to the work of Mika Rottenberg, whose careful consideration of bodies (often extreme versions of female bodies) has always set the tone of her work; whether it’s a bored cashier tapping her fingernails on the counter, a contortionist bending over backwards and then exploding; or a bodybuilder grunting and dripping sweat onto a hotplate, or other works that feature dancers, professional exotic wrestlers, or a group of women with fantastically long hair put to work in a Fordist production line; in these worlds of work, women are also often enshrined, serviced and exploited.

Using traditions of both cinema and sculpture, Mika Rottenberg seeks out locations around the world where specific systems of production and commerce are in place, such as a pearl factory in China, and a Calexico border town. And through the editing process, with footage from sets built in her studio, her large-scale video installations construct new worlds that connect through holes in the floor, sliding doors and revolving platforms, so I was excited to see how the women in this film discover that they’re connected through mysterious portals hidden in their homes whilst watching a South Korean dog grooming show.

I was also intrigued to learn that Mahyad Tousi worked across network television and the modern art world. He’s written sitcoms for CBS and is developing a sci-fi adaptation of “One Thousand and One Nights”, a vast collection of treasured Middle Eastern folk stories, that includes characters such as Aladdin and his genie, told by a Persian queen across different time periods and new dimensions.

Sitcoms and their structure are also things I’ve looked at within my work before, becoming fascinated by their repetitive nature, their patterns, situation shots, canned laughter, aspirational living, family homes and 2.4 children; worlds and realities that you could also see in being represented within the landscape of ‘Remote’.

‘Remote’ reveals the ever-evolving importance of physical contact & touch between bodies as we move into the future, shaping worlds we never thought possible… unless perhaps you're Mika Rottenberg & Mahyad Tousi.

‘Remote’ features a cast of multinational actors and performers, including MacArthur Fellow and Kravis Studio artist-in-residence at MoMA Okwui Okpokwasili and South Korean actress and model Joony Kim. It was commissioned by Artangel; the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek, Denmark; and Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden; in association with Hauser & Wirth.

The film was completed with support by MOCA’s Environmental Council, Los Angeles; Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, Canada; X Museum, Beijing, China; and the Busan Biennale, Korea.

Find out more at Artangel.


Candice Jacobs