Dora Lisa Rosenbaum Gets Her Clean On

May 21, 2014 by

DSC_2103When Guatemala-born, Albany-raised artist Dora Lisa Rosenbaum moved to the northern coast of California a few years ago, one thing in particular really struck her.

“I smelled this really strong laundry detergent and I was instantly sent back to my patio in Guatemala where the laundry was done,” says Dora, who now lives surrounded by a Hispanic population for the first time outside of her family’s summers in Guatemala. “Suddenly I was smelling this everywhere I went and seeing these imported, traditionally ‘Hispanic’ detergents in grocery stores. I realized that scent is a highly significant form of identification, that ideas about what ‘clean’ should smell like are very much dependent on cultural context.”

DSC_1871DSC_2020So, by the grace of the famously strongly-scented Ariel detergent and Suavitel fabric softener, Dora’s new project was born. Dora is interested in our lives as consumers: what we eat, where and how we shop, and how we interact with products. Her research is carried out in malls, discount stores, and supermarkets but is academically grounded in ethnographic and sociological studies. Focusing on everyday items like foodproduct packagingclothing, and air fresheners, Dora explores how our seemingly thoughtless, individual consumer habits are actually deeply meaningful social practices that reveal how we define ourselves.

Rooted in her initial reactions of moving to California, Dora’s newest project explores how we understand cleanliness and how we choose specific products to clean with. During her four-week Workspace Residency, Dora has created 42 life-size, cut out collagraphs of shirts that could be mistaken for actual laundry. “My work is conceptually based, but it’s not enough for me to show actual everyday objects,” she says. ”I’ve got to transform them somehow, through a process, to comment on them and make them interesting.”DSC_2232

For her collagraphs, Dora creates plates by mounting actual shirts to board, then inking, wiping, and printing the plates just as she would etchings. The contours and texture of ribbed cotton, seams, and lace are approximated in subtle white ink on thin sheets of mulberry paper. It’s a new way of working for Dora: in the past, she’s pressed women’s underwear directly into soft ground to create copper etchings, rendering the delicate garments in detailed lines and luminous texture.

“This collagraph method gives a much rougher reproduction of these objects,” she says. “It’s exactly the mark I wanted for these super basic, everyday shirts.”

Dora retains her soft ground etching technique for fun prints of dish sponges deceptively replicated in all their hairy, scrubby glory. Her favorite sponges are emblazoned with motivational marketing slogans like “Get Your Clean On” and “World Peace and No Grease.” And she’s added glitter.

“These are so silly, why not make them even more so?” asks Dora. “Seriously: who needs designer sponges like these? Yet I would buy them, and I would gain pleasure from having them in my home. I accept these choices and subscribe to them as much as the next person.”


But printing is just the first step for these eye-tricking pieces; Dora uses her prints like objects to build installations. In InsideOut, her soft ground underwear etchings are cut out and hung on racks coming out from the gallery wall, simulating the consumer experience of browsing and shopping.

“Right now, I’m really loving manipulating my prints and installing them in a way that enters the viewers’ space, creating another way for the viewer to engage with the pieces,” says Dora. “To create an installation, I sample from a lot of ideas within a theme–that’s my way of thinking like a printmaker and doing multiplicity.”

Dora’s collagraphs are carefully cut out and folded neatly in a little laundry pile in her workspace. Dora imagines them draped across an ironing board or stacked up in a teetering pile with a playful, powerful signifier added: the fragrance of Suavitel and Ariel wafting from detergent-flocked spacers hidden between the prints. 

Untitled-1She’s placed her sponges in sponge holders cut out from frosted acetate and mats them in elaborate patterned frames, as if sponges were decorative objects meant to be hung on wallpapered walls. She plans to show her new work alongside an avalanche of small etchings of bright orange Ambar, the bar soap of choice for doing laundry on a Guatemalan patio.

“We make choices about our objects for a reason,” says Dora. “It’s about the cultures and the groups we identify with as consumers, but it’s also about marketing. If these are stereotypical objects, that’s exactly the point. They represent the machine behind everything.”

Dora Lisa Rosenbaum is a Monterey Bay-based artist who earned masters degrees in printmaking first at Libera Accademia di Belle Arti di Roma in Rome, and then at Indiana University, Bloomington. Her love for object-based installation shines through in her three picks for her most inspiring artists: Rachel Whiteread, Tara Donovan, and Cornelia Parker. See more of Dora’s work at