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Ellen Rothenberg

Ellen Rothenberg

ISO 6346: ineluctable immigrant

Thursday, February 1, 2018 to Sunday, April 22, 2018


Opening on February 1, 2018, Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership presents a new, commissioned, site-specific installation by Chicago-based artist Ellen Rothenberg. 

Rothenberg prompts visitors to consider connections between past and contemporary issues of migration. The project is inspired by objects and documents Rothenberg uncovered in the Spertus collection — as well as research she pursued in Berlin at Germany’s largest refugee camp, housed in the monumental Tempelhof Airport, a disused site that was designed and built by the Nazis.

Tempelhof’s building is a legally protected historic monument with strict regulations that dictate the physical forms of the interior camp spaces. No alterations can be made that will permanently affect the building, leaving the entire camp to exist in a state that Rothenberg describes as “permanently ephemeral.” Rothenberg critically approaches the temporality of this site in reference to global issues of migration.

Rothenberg’s installations and public projects often employ the iconography of social movements, using archival documents to examine the mechanisms underlying contemporary political engagement. Her work — architecturally scaled installations, public projects, performance, collaborations, and writing––uncovers histories embedded in the present, adding layers of meaning beyond the conventions of historical objects.

Ellen Rothenberg’s work has been concerned with the politics of everyday life and the formation of communities through collaborative practices. Influenced by the social and political actions of the 1960s — including the civil rights, anti-war, and feminist movements — she immerses herself in research, particularly feminist histories of labor and social action. With an emphasis on communities and collaborative practices, she often partners with historians, forensic scientists, research librarians, archivists, and material fabricators.

Rothenberg’s work has been presented in North America and Europe at institutions including the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston; the Museum of London, Ontario; The Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco; the Neues Museum Weserburg, Bremen; Royal Festival Hall, London; and the Brukenthal National Museum, Sibiu, Romania. Her awards include fellowships from the Bunting Institute Fellowship of Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies at Harvard University, Illinois Arts Council, Massachusetts Artist Foundation, and NEA as well as grants from CEC Artslink, the Charles Engelhard Foundation, LEF Foundation, and NEA Artists Projects. She has worked in collaboration with the Chicago Torture Justice Memorial Project, Future Force Geo Speculators, and Chelen Amenca, Romania. Rothenberg teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she was recently appointed an inaugural Faculty Research Fellow of the Institute for Curatorial Research and Practice.


This exhibition is organized by Ionit Behar, Spertus Institute's Curator of Collections and Exhibitions. 


Spertus is pleased to partner with:
Goethe Institut
      Poetry Foundation


All images by Ellen Rothenberg. Top image: Photo of archival document from Spertus Institute Collection. Lower image: At Tempelhof, Berlin.

Related Events

Thursday, February 1, 2018 | 5:30 - 8 pm
Opening Reception
Spertus Institute

Thursday, March 1, 2018 | 7 - 8 pm
An Evening of Readings and Performances
Featuring artist Ellen Rothenberg, writer and translator Nathanaël, artist and translator Jennifer Scappettone, and writer and code artist Judd Morrissey
Poetry Foundation

Sunday, March 4, 2018 | 3 - 4 pm
Gallery Talk
Artist Ellen Rothenberg and Curator Ionit Behar
Spertus Institute

Wednesday, April 4, 2018 | 6 - 8 pm
Performance on Migration and Movement
Featuring Chilean artist, writer, and activist Cecilia Vicuña
Spertus Institute

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