Vital Statistics of a Citizen, Simply Obtained (1977)

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Martha Rosler began making video art in the late 1970s. Her work from this period focuses on the clash between the private and public, between the individual's self-definition and as they are defined by society. The opening Sartre quote of Vital Statistics explicitly positions it as a critique of this process, especially in a capitalist society, "All evil needs the concrete to become abstract." In the video, a team of doctors and a Greek chorus of interns measure and evaluate Rosler's body in a stark, minimalist clinical setting. One doctor records her measurements, graphically, on a back wall, highlighting the subtle violence of this gesture. As the lead doctor reads off the measurements, announcing them into the collectively held public space, he concludes each with an appraisal, either normal, above, or below "standard." The only interruption to this processes is a series of interspersed voice overs which catalog abuses against women or underline, through narrative, how this system of measurement is specifically used against women in their oppression. The entire work is composed of a single long shot, with the camera positioned fifty to sixty feet away from the clinical stage. This distance is very key to the work's effect, as we can see everything that occurs, without becoming personally invested in the woman, her nakedness or the doctor's manipulations. All the action remains at an abstracted level which links up with the Sartre referenced at the film's beginning. A unique work in the history of performance and video art, Rosler's Vital Statistics forces us to question the "meaning in measurement."