Zurich

Dieter Roth/Ingrid Wiener

A tapestry woven by Ingrid Wiener, based on ideas by Dieter Roth, was the centerpiece of this exhibition. It was presented here for the first time, together with all the preparatory sketches and detailed studies accompanying this slow and painstaking work. Further, the two- and three-dimensional waste products accumulated in connection with the piece were also exhibited, as well as the photographic and written correspondence between Wiener and Roth. A considerable amount of this material constitutes the core of a three-volume, Xeroxed catalogue that Roth has fashioned into one of his inimitable editions. The subject of the show, then, is not just the tapestry itself, but the entire course of its evolution, with all its material, pictorial, and psychic difficulties.

The project dates back to 1979, to Bertorelli B., a Gobelins-type tapestry woven by Valie Export and Wiener, which used a damask napkin that Roth had scribbled and dribbled on as its cartoon concept. This piece whet the two artists’ appetites for a more ambitious project in which the long involved process of weaving would be visible as a constitutive element of the work. To guarantee the dynamism they were after, they enlisted Roth as designer and also made him the subject, or motif, of their tapestry. A life-sized black-and-white photograph of the sitting Roth provided the initial design, and the pictorial space was to be literally woven into a texture of relationships between Roth’s and Wiener’s worlds. (Export bowed cut early on because of other projects, after completing a small red-framed area in the tapestry’s lower left corner.)

Each object in the tapestry is clearly a meaningful fragment that sings its own song while blending its individual voice into the concert of the overall composition. Roth’s image in the tapestry has a fluctuating quality in which everything seems to float on an equal basis: views of Wiener’s apartment—with its coal and ash buckets—combine naturally with a landscape seen from a window in Roth’s apartment in Mosfellssveit, Iceland; on one horizontal plane materials used in making the tapestry—skeins of thread—mix with the image of a cat contemplating some sort of game; Polaroid photos are integrated into the tapestry, as is a piece of rug from Roth’s apartment in Stuttgart; and Roth’s vest takes on the autonomous quality of a picture within a picture. These are but a few examples of the apparently anachronistic texture of relationships among objects and views, which opens up into ever more complex entanglements and in the end spills over into a web of relationships among the people around Roth, making it impossible to define the piece in purely formal terms.

This texture of relationships determines the work process and thus the end product as well, especially in regard to Roth, who, one might say, has developed collaboration into a medium unto itself. In a metaphorical sense, then, this tapestry is a piece of woven life, a metaphor to be taken with a grain of irony. It is, however, the metaphorical and art-historical connotation of a Gobelins that fills this Grosser Teppich (Large carpet, 1981–86) with its particular tension: a medium is here subtly profaned, yet by virtue of its interweaving nature it is ideally suited to capture and objectify the chaos of Roth’s image world.

Max Wechsler

Translated from the German by Leslie Strickland.