Semiotics of the Kitchen, 1975

In Semiotics of the Kitchen Martha Rosler begins her demonstration of kitchen utensils in alphabetical order (from “apron" to "tenderizer") in the style of a seemingly straight TV feature. The work then tips over into a performance whose critical edge results not only from the artist's precise analytic and emphatic understanding of the matter but also from the formal structure of her acting. In her subtly anarchic and comical presentation of the tools, Rosler addresses the aggressivity that is inherent in "the Woman in the kitchen" – from outside as well as from inside. She stabs the air with a fork (in the direction of the viewer) and dumps the virtual contents of the ladle into the space beside her. In demonstrating women's instrumentalized position, Rosler; within the logic of her alphabetical order, finally turns into a tool herself. Yet she is not personifying another utensil but the letter itself: U, V, W, X, Y, Z become written by her body, which in turn means that her body becomes written by them.

In her (staged) subjection to the "insistence of the letter" Martha Rosler clearly shows that it is not only a role her "characters" are subject to, an ascribed social role that could and should be changed. She also shows that the structures of power, domination, and submission and their ideological ramifications have to be detected and analyzed not only within the economic, social, and political realms but also within the system of language and signs itself that constitutes the order of the Symbolic.

Hence, Rosler's artistic and theoretical work and the interrelation between her aesthetic strategies and her political critique go far beyond a "socialist" program: Her striking analyses of social and economic conditions and their class specific and gendered effects and consequences always include the text of the unconscious that surfaces in the symptom.

Rosler has, throughout her research on specific topics, her investigations of how the system of a male, white, capitalist-dominated culture permeates everyday life, in her theoretical writing, her textual and visual works, her performances and videotapes, followed one principle as artistic strategy: In order to "bring conscious, concrete knowledge to your work… you had better locate yourself pretty concretely in it.”

Silvia Eiblmayr, 1982

Technical details

Original title:
Semiotics of the Kitchen
Registration number:
Rosler, Martha
Date created:
Date acquired:
MACBA Collection. MACBA Foundation
Object type:
Single-channel video, b/w, sound, 6 min 21 s
MACBA Collection. MACBA Foundation. Work purchased thanks to Rumeu Family
© Martha Rosler
It has accessibility resources:

The MACBA Collection features Catalan, Spanish and international art and, although it includes works from the 1920s onwards, its primary focus is on the period between the 1960s and the present.

For more information on the work or the artist, please consult MACBA's Library. To request a loan of the work, please write to colleccio [at] macba.cat.

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I like to work with what is often called "cultural heritage", but the materials that I use are banal and clichéd, like sugar blocks, doors, couscous, rugs, official documents.
Latifa Echakhch