Vital Statistics of a Citizen, Simply Obtained, 1977

Martha Rosler did this performance at the University of California, San Diego, in 1974. Instructed by medical examiners, the artist gradually undresses so they can measure the different parts of her body. In 1977, Rosler reformulated the project and turned it into a video piece presented as an opera in three acts.

A white-coated male physician, assisted by three women also wearing white coats, measures the body of a woman in minute detail – right down to the articulations of her fingers and toes – as she undresses. While it is the man who does the measuring, the women accompany him to the sound of some kind of rattles, as if in a Greek chorus. At the end of the measuring, the woman puts on a black dress and leaves the scene. Without any musical elements and simply through these anatomical measurements, Rosler alludes to the standardisation of women in a technological and bureaucratic society. While in the live performance, played before an audience, a man was ordering the woman to undress, in the video several off-screen voices remind the viewers that they must keep a distance from the scene. In the final sequence, we are presented with documentary photographs from the 1930s of women and children being measured by American government officials for scientific and statistical purposes.

In parallel to this, a voice recounts the institutional crimes and aggressions compiled by the Tribunal on Crimes Against Women in 1974. The cold, aseptic tone of the scrutiny created by Rosler hints at the institutionalisation of the ‘science’ of measurement or anthropometry, once used to justify racist theories. Since then, medical measurements have become a tool for sexual and racial discrimination used in contexts such as concentration camps, the army and the police, but also in schools, prisons and beauty contests.

Technical details

Original title:
Vital Statistics of a Citizen, Simply Obtained
Registration number:
Rosler, Martha
Date created:
Date acquired:
MACBA Collection. Barcelona City Council long-term
Object type:
Audiovisual recording
Single-channel video, color, sound, 39 min 20 s
MACBA Collection. Barcelona City Council long-term loan
© Martha Rosler
It has accessibility resources:

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