A minimal composition of seemingly endless repetition, Untitled exemplifies Trockel’s trademark build-up of motifs as well as her project of symbolically de-contextualizing universally recognized logos. A symbol printed on products as an assurance of the pure quality of the material, the Woolmark logo, is contrasted by the prominent image of the Playboy bunny. Underlining the materiality of the present work, the Woolmark here alludes to the mundane image of female domesticity, whilst the Playboy bunny, an emblem of the salacious pulp aesthetic of the iconic magazine, characterizes the sexualized female stereotype and the objectification of women. The unique juxtaposition of two logos representative of opposing female identities highlights the simplistic categorization of women prevalent in everyday life. Whilst the individual motifs draw attention to the clichéd connotations of gendered signifiers, the repetition of these symbols dislodges their original meaning by transforming the potent contemporary logos into decorative patterns.
Defying expectations surrounding the character of work female artists of her generation should have been producing, Trockel created her first wool-painting in 1984. Thinking back to this moment she explained, “In the 70s there were a lot of questionable women’s exhibitions, mostly on the theme of house and home. I tried to take wool, which was viewed as a woman’s material, out of this context and to rework it in a neutral process of production.” (the artist in conversation with Isabelle Graw, Artforum, March 2003) In a subversive transfiguration of the material, Trockel redefined the conventional use of wool and knitting, traditionally aligned with female craft. Stretching tactile, thick wool works onto frames like conventional canvases Trockel dared to align this inferior practice with the revered process of ‘pure’ painting. Designed on a computer, these machine-generated ‘knitted paintings’ combine the seemingly disparate domains of craft, art and industrial production. Thus, to quote Sidra Stich, “they are works that evoke the feminine but refute the usual ‘female’ detachment from ‘male’ modes of creativity and productivity.” (Sidra Stich in Exh. Cat., Boston, The Institute of Contemporary Art (and travelling), Rosemarie Trockel, 1991, p. 12) Heralding the value of her process without suggesting a hierarchical supremacy Trockel promotes the coexistence of contradictory artistic pursuits, whilst highlighting the established subordination and alleged inferiority of women.
A successor to a primarily male group of acclaimed German artists, Trockel’s unique concerns for feminist issues of social and cultural categorizations, stood in contrast to those of her contemporaries. However, similar to her male counterparts, Trockel’s artistic development was shaped by the radical artistic dialogues of avant-gardists such as Joseph Beuys and Andy Warhol, that had stirred cultural debates around the world. Having studied in the late 1970s at the Werkkunstschule in Cologne, an institution heavily influenced by Beuys, Trockel’s celebration of the unglamorous material of wool mirrors Beuys’ disdain for the conventional hierarchy of artistic media. Patterning this unorthodox material with computer generated motifs, such as the Woolmark logo and Playboy bunny depicted in the present work, Trockel highlights the range of pervasive signs in contemporary society. Symbols of the consumer-driven social environment of the time, the use of these emblematic motifs alludes to Warhol’s pioneering appropriation of popular culture in iconic works, such as his Campbell soup paintings. Establishing a distinct dialogue of cultural connotations and references, Trockel set the foundations for her critical examination of perceptions in modernity and visual art and the socio-political effects these perceptions have had on contemporary society.
Through an incisive subversion of iconographies Trockel raises questions about the role of our hyper-mediated society in the transformation and manipulation of images, whilst her elevation of a domestic and distinctly feminine material to the status of a work of art not only defies traditional artistic codes, but simultaneously undermines established female ideals and outdated gender politics. A wry commentary on conventional taxonomies and cultural hierarchies, Trockel’s striking wool painting is unique, yet universally resonant.
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