PRINT Summer 1987


ROSEMARIE TROCKEL'S KNITTED PICTURES would certainly strike one as odd if one happened upon them in a museum set aside for the display of works involving the disciplines and concerns of the crafts. Their size as well as Trockel’s tough choices of patterns would be the tell-tale signs that something was afoot. Take this fact and add it to the information that the knitted pictures are made for, exhibited in, and position themselves in a sphere that has, in Modern culture, traditionally set itself apart from the crafts—the fine arts—and one arrives at the issue that no matter where these textile pictures are, whether in a crafts institution or an art gallery, they are powerfully irritating in their mismatch role. They are produced by a computerized knitting machine. The knitted and stretched material is given here a “Norwegian” pattern, there a series of Playboy bunnies, or rows of the logo that signifies a garment is made of wool, or a plaid grid, or an ancient emblem that events in the 20th century cause us to read only with horror—the swastika design. Each of these signs is open to interpretation, some more in political terms, some more in critical, some in art-historical—such as the clear reference to the formalist alienating materiality of flat, artless pictures structured serially and allover, pictures without motifs. With this Trockel doesn’t only go back to a moment in art history, she poses questions for today: what are the possibilities for contemporary art, and what is the actuality of it. Her method even exaggerates the questions, blows them up, as it were. Made with a machine according to Trockel’s designs and sketches, this process implies the production of a picture and the denial of fastidious hand or touch detail. It of course touches many points in the contemporary discourse, but its rigor, complexity, and seriousness do not simply caricature the issues through kitsch or the by-now-automatic appropriation. It stakes out the realms of art and craft, art and design, art and imagination, with an added social and political dimension, without depending for its tension on fine differentiations between the ideas of the original and the simulacrum, as do many “neo-geo” artists.

The added dimension is of course the feminist position that these works implicitly contain. Knitting, often taken as a symbol of women’s work, is reversed in its implications here, and becomes an instrument of liberation for Trockel. The machine does the work for her, and allows her to make her point with these banal or irritating patterns without having to paint them, perhaps without having really to touch them. These loaded or banal patterns are chosen so as to open up the art discourse in an ironic way that somehow still stays deadly serious and thereby honors those whose only option was the medium of knitting.

Trockel does not try for the declarativeness of the knitted pictures in all of her work. A recent show in Munich, for example, at the Galerie Tanit, also included sculptures and a series of diarylike drawings. The drawings especially have a strong personal element. Circumstances, moods, and obsessions are explored not so much through intellectual analysis as through a process of circling association, from head to skull to vessel to balaclava mask to African mask, for example. The drawings’ aura of intimation, emotion, and metamorphosis is like a radical change of climate from the knitted works, which on the surface repress the experience of the psychophysical and the unplumbed. But of course it is there too, and it’s wonderful to see it break through so vehemently elsewhere.

Ingrid Rein is an art critic who lives in Munich.

Translated from the German by Charles V. Miller.