Rose Nestler’s soft fabric sculptures take on a bizarre life of their own. How she breaks up stereotypes and why Maya Deren’s films changed everything.

Brooklyn-based video artist and sculptor Rose Nestler is the last one of the four artists forming part of the interview series “Surrealism Reloaded” – with Jessica Stoller, Inka Essenhigh, and Julie Curtiss. Their work is equally inspired by Surre­alist motives and themes. Following in the foot­steps of the Fantastic Women these four artists do not only revive Surre­alism but re-inter­pret its topics, such as femi­ninity, from a highly contem­po­rary perspec­tive.

Nestler creates colorful, soft sculptures and wall hangings in the shape of clothing to show how gendered stereotypes play out on the body, instilling an omnipotent feminine power into all her pieces. She is reimagining historically patriarchal institutions like sports or the business world as feminine spaces. In her video work, that is always paired with a sculpture, she activates her pieces to give them a life beyond their static, sculptural existence. 

Rose Nestler in her studio © Maxim Ryazansky
Rose Nestler in her studio © Maxim Ryazansky

Could you pick one of your pieces and talk a little bit about your process: What are the topics you are inter­ested in?

My most recent video, titled “The Weird Sisters”, I made in my Brooklyn apartment during quarantine. It’s the shortest of my video works to date. Like all of my videos it accompanies a sculpture with the same title. Essentially “The Weird Sisters” documents me becoming my sculpture. I built a small set out of foam core covered with a clear vinyl slipcover. My blue taloned hands reach through two circular holes in the set and my wrists are adorned with Elizabethan collars also made out of transparent vinyl.

My blue colored hands dance and throb to the music–an edit of “Love is a Little Thief” from the opera “Cosi fan tutte” by Wolfang Amadeus Mozart that my husband created (he is a DJ)–and  halfway through the video a third character is introduced, crystal clear slime! The clear slime drips from above the set as my blue hands catch it, massage it, twirl it, and throw it. Stuck amidst classification somewhere between liquid and solid, the slime breaks the binary of the two hands, bringing in its popular connotations of being ‘oddly satisfying’, an ASMR trigger [the tingling sensation you get from touching or hearing something] and a sensorial material. Except, in this video you can’t hear it. The satisfaction or arousal brought on by the slime is only experienced by the two hands in their own space. I made this decision as an act of self-care, needed at a time like this.

I use the form of the human hand to talk about intimacy, power, protection, comedy, and anger. We find ourselves in the current moment where the hand means danger, we consider touch more than ever before. We don gloves to protect ourselves. While quarantined your nails grow longer, the gloved hands in this piece represent a feral beauty, I imagine gloves that would also fit one’s overgrown talons.

Very interesting! By reclaiming historically male spaces like sports and the business world in your pieces you challenge, similar to the Surrealists, established power structures and gender stereotypes. What does Surrealism mean for you and what kind of role does it play in your work? 

Though Surrealism as a movement was highly unwelcoming to women and the most famous Surrealists treated women as muses whose bodies were left open for dissection by the male gaze, as a young artist and student I was always drawn to the worlds created by surrealist painters and photographers, especially Max Ernst and Man Ray. Not dissimilar to the ambivalence or rejection of the Surrealist title many of the women, who are now grouped under the overall movement, expressed, I too sometimes question that classification of my own work. What I do like about it is being grouped with contemporary and historic artists who I deeply admire. 

I do think a lot of my work connects to the idea of the body as a canvas for the subconscious mind. Many of my pieces play with dreamlike states where one’s body has changed shape and its parts have unique capabilities. There’s a deep shame in some of the work, connected to the classic dreams I’ve had of showing up somewhere without any clothes on or bleeding through my underwear without realizing it. 

Yes, I know those… If you had to pick one, which artist from the Fantastic Women exhibition feels closest to you?

This is such a difficult question because these are some of my favorite artists of all time! But if I were to choose, I would say Maya Deren and Meret Oppenheim. When I first saw Maya Deren’s film “At Land” I felt as though everything changed for me as an artist, I saw an opening and possibility to create work that explored social rituals and human movement within a cinematic framework. With Oppenheim’s work, I think the objects she made paved the way for an artist like myself to continue exploring items of clothing, accessories, and utilitarian objects recreated in bizarre or unlikely materials. 

I see. Your works often combine the element of clothing with the female body, making it an integral part of your work. Why? 

My work reinterprets garments and tools that people, primarily women, have utilized to protect and adapt their bodies while striving to succeed and compete within a patriarchal, capitalist society. I am most engaged with the tension between my own rejection of and simultaneous attraction to the material and form that these gendered garments and objects have assumed throughout history. The term “the female body” is a bit too broad or exclusive in its inclusivity, but yes, I do speak from my own experience of having a feminine body, but hope that my work can transcend a gendered classification. 

I understand. Female friendships and networks played a vital role for the women artists in the 30s and 40s. You’re active on Instagram, do you think the platform is the new salon for the modern female squad? 

Yes! The friendships and networks I’ve formed with other women who are artists are incredibly important and valuable to me. The majority of the opportunities that I have had are a result of a female colleague recommending me. Many of my artist friends around the world I’ve met on Instagram and we share and support one another’s work, it makes the platform (which has its flaws) feel a little more welcome!  

Agreed. You mentioned the corona crises at the beginning, how has the quarantine situation changed your work? 

When New York was shut down in the middle of March my studio building was also closed temporarily. This meant that I was forced to work from home. It’s definitely been a challenge to switch gears, find inspiration and want to make work, but ultimately I think it’s been a way for me to adapt and locate new creative pathways for my practice. Because a lot of the shows I was in have been canceled or rescheduled, it’s given way to a bit more freedom to explore new ideas and take time for research.


Next Saturday, FANTASTIC WOMEN is open until midnight. Since the tickets for the event have long been sold out and we want to cele­brate with you despite the current condi­tions, there will be a special online program on the SCHIRN chan­nels from 8 PM.

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