Martha Rosler

Semiotics of the Kitchen, USA, 1975

Video, black & white, 6:09 min.

This work , of Martha Rosler (1975), marks a milestone in the course of feminist art. In this short black-and-white movie, we encounter a suburban kitchen in a war zone, where routine food preparation masks the violent frustrations a woman experiences as she is restricted to the confines of her home. A static camera focuses on a woman in her kitchen. On the counter before her lies an assortment of kitchen utensils; she picks up each one, specifying it by name and goes on with the performance, but with movements inappropriate to the utensil’s normal uses. In ironical expressions of sounds and movements, the woman and the utensils constitute a departure from the familiar connotations of the day-to-day kitchen lexicon.

Unpaid domestic chores are not picked out for being the worst, rather, because they are perceived as something other than employment. This profession is frequently unrecognized as employment because it is practiced in the private home. Unlike factories and offices, the home serves as the location of family and leisure activities naturally considered as the opposite of work. Furthermore, the tasks home workers perform – cleaning, cooking, caring for children – are associated with the ‘natural’ expressions of women’s love for their families … Typically, cleaning the home achieves visibility only when it is left undone. The work of women and mothers is not perceived as real work. When she gets paid, she gets even less value and respect