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 sixties - the civil rights, anti-war, and feminist movements -she began locating her work outside conventional institutional venues, shifting her performances and sculpture to the street, city parks, subway platforms and other public spaces, broadening the audience for her work. At the same moment, Rothenberg began to immerse herself in research, particularly feminist histories of labor and social action. Partnering with historians, forensic scientists, research librarians and archivists, she developed a practice that includes and recognizes intellectual workers and material fabricators in a non-hierarchical approach.
From her 1970s performances to her 1980s installations to her collaborative approach in the 1990s, Rothenberg has probed formal boundaries for what they can produce, designing responsive structures that encourage participation. This strategy continues to drive her work, and can be seen as an esthetic, political, and social force. Inclusive, generative, collaborative, open... these are essential characteristics of her ongoing work. Expanding and extended this approach internationally in the 1990's Rothenberg produced a hybrid pedagogy in her teaching as well. Working with established communities and forming new ones has become an essential part of her working process.
Investigating through multiple permutations: graphics and publication, sculptural objects, performance, installation, moving images, and public events, Rothenberg rejects a singular approach to material and concept, while retaining a taut attention to detail and materiality in her work.
Rothenberg's work has been presented in North America and Europe at 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; The Brukenthal National Museum, Sibiu, Romania; among others. Awards include NEA Fellowships, The Bunting Institute Fellowship, Radcliffe College Harvard University, Illinois Arts Council Fellowships, The Massachusetts Artist Foundation Fellowships, and grants from CEC Artslink, The Charles Engelhard Foundation, The 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. She and Daniel Eisenberg have been named inaugural Faculty Research Fellows of the Institute for Curatorial Research and Practice at SAIC.