Brigitta Rohrbach


Every day fliers from supermarkets or furniture stores fill our mailboxes—only to end up in the trash. Since the early ’90s, Brigitta Rohrbach has been collecting this kind of ephemera—announcements for art openings; advertisements for various services, emblazoned with phone numbers; cash-register receipts; and the soccer scores from the sports pages of daily newspapers. Rohrbach then photocopies these items, eliminating images that appear and altering the proportions of the numerals, separating them from their original context. In this way she produces graphically strong compositions consisting of long columns of computations or isolated numerals with spare color and monochrome backgrounds.

In German the word Zahlen means both “numbers” and “to pay,” and in restaurants one calls out “zahlen,” an abbreviated form of bezahlen, meaning “to settle a bill.” This overlap between abstract sign and everyday function also characterizes Rorhbach’s work with numbers. While her numbers seem like signs with no signified—one must pore over the images in order to locate clues to the meaning of all this numerical notation—they retain hints of their original contexts. Although in the age of information technology, one could say that the alphanumerical alphabet has become the dominant semiotic system, rather than using these characters to calculate or to program, Rohrbach generates what resemble landscapes comprised of masses of numerals. Telling of nothing but themselves, the sole interest of these ciphers and repeated digits lies in how they are arranged on the panel—the way that these “landscapes” combine ambivalent beauty with a workaday appearance. The numerals—which are painted in blue and set against white backgrounds—float like stars in the sky, but attempting to decipher pieces like PS—I (Percent sign, 1996), a formally polished small aluminum panel, returns one to the realm of the bargain basement.

Sabine B. Vogel

Translated from the German by David Jacobson.