Born in 1952 in (Germany)
Lives and works in Cologne (Germany )


Born in 1952 in West Germany, Rosemarie Trockel studied at a Catholic school, then began training as a primary school teacher. But she soon broadened her field of study, becoming interested in anthropology, sociology, theology, and mathematics, before enrolling at the School of Applied Arts in Cologne in 1974. Her multidisciplinarity and her technical approach to art are emblematic of her curious, precise, and elusive spirit, which is reflected in her work.
When she left the school in Cologne in 1978, she was part of a group of artists, who were mostly male painters, which would later become the Mulheimer Freiheit (with Jiri Georg Dokoupil, Walter Dahn, etc), but she distinguished herself by working exclusively in drawings and sculpture. On a trip to the United States, she discovered the works of women artists such as Barbara Kruger, Jenny Holzer, and Cindy Sherman, who were to profoundly influence her practice. Upon her return, she deliberately orientated her research towards more critical work, favouring no particular medium.
Her protean work was first discovered by way of her “knitted paintings”, in the 1980s, but her practice also includes collage, video, drawing, sculpture, photography, and installations.
In 1984, her first woollen “paintings” reworked designs such as the Playboy bunny, the swastika, the wool label, and the + and - signs, that covered the canvas in regular intervals. These “all overs” in series repeated logos of an economic and political nature. While the reference to Minimalist Art was initially obvious, commentary on traditional painting was to be found later, with a critical play on originality and imitation, uniqueness and reproduction. Despite the fact that the mode of production resembles mass production, these are in fact unique works. In the 1990s, the work in wool was no longer strictly flat, it also took the form of clothing or partially mobile elements hanging from the ceiling.
As for the formats, they became increasingly imposing. In 2005, the painting Ménopause is a three-metre sided square. Knitwear invaded all media: pieces of wool eaten by mites were used as a screen-print design – reworking the incisions in the paintings of Lucio Fontana – and were also the subject of videos, like A la Motte, produced in 1993.
From 1982, she entered the gallery that Monika Sprüth had just opened in Cologne, and participated in the Eau de Cologne magazine produced by the gallery owner, featuring women artists only.
From 1991, Rosemarie Trockel exhibited her videos, initially as “additional information for a better understanding of the rest of her work”. [1] But in 1994, for the first time, she only presented videos for her solo exhibition in Vienna (Rosemarie Trockel: Anima, MAK-Galerie). She thus became one of the pioneers of video art in Germany.
While she was multiplying her techniques, drawing remained a medium that she practiced in all its forms – ink, pencil, watercolour, etc. Metamorphosis and transformation haunt her sketches of swollen heads, containing orifices that liquid drips out of, or her portraits, created from the juxtaposition of two faces. We also find lots of animals: monkeys painted in black ink smile or grimace, dogs sketched out in gouache sniff the edge of leaves. Tame domestic animals, but also edible ones, inhabit her works, opening up an examination of our connection to nature and to bestiality.
In 1998, a curtain of eggs decorated her exhibition at Whitechapel, in London. Repeated as wallpaper, this egg design became a source of many games and parodies. It decorated a young woman's stockings, once again parodying Minimalist Art, while also overplaying the image of femininity. While it refers to gestation, it also makes reference to cultivated and industrialised nature.
As with wool, this theme is not linked to a particular medium, it is worked through in a formal, conceptual and iconographic manner, in photographs, videos, and installations.
In ten collaborations with Carsten Höller [2], from 1996 to 2000, the relationship between humans and animals continues to be explored. This series poses a long series of questions, of a moral, epistemological, or political nature. “Do races with a vegetarian diet act differently from those that are carnivorous? Is there a connection between Hitler's vegetarian diet and what he did? Why is it that throughout the world, men kill more than women do?” they wrote in the foreword to their book Une Maison pour les Cochons et les Hommes [A House for Pigs and Men], (2000). At Documenta X in Cassel, the installation, Maison pour les Cochons et les Gens [A House for Pigs and People], had the audience enter a pigsty directly.
The notion of habitat obviously accompanies the problematic of domesticity, more specifically connected to the female condition. The codes of this domesticity are subverted in her work. For instance, hot plates – an icon associated with the German housewife – are used to decorate sculptures and drawings. They even warm up the atmosphere of her exhibitions to the point of discomfort, which was the case in 2012, during the exhibition “Flagrant Delight” at the WIELS Centre of Contemporary Art in Brussels.
In 1999, she was the first female German artist to entirely occupy her country's pavilion at the Venice Biennale.
In 2005, the Ludwig Museum in Cologne dedicated a major retrospective to her, which she eventually entitled “Ménopause”, since she had just turned fifty – a respectable age for a retrospective or for menopause. A curtain opens and closes this exhibition, made from woollen strands that fall densely within a space measuring ten metres wide by five metres tall and eighty centimetres thick. This monumental installation immediately places her work within the realm of wool and femininity, as the strands appear to be bloodstained.

Rosemarie Trockel has taught at the Arts Academy of Düsseldorf (Kunstakademie) since 1999.

Patricia Maincent

Translated by Anna Knight

[1] Rosemarie Trockel, Groupements d'Œuvres 1986-1998, exh. cat, Hamburg, Kunsthalle/Cologne, ed. Oktagon, p. 78.

[2] Between 1996 and 2000, Rosemarie Trockel and Carsten Höller produced a series of projects brought together under the title Maisons/Haüser. Based on the notion of habitat, they explore the relationships that humans develop with non-humans, and vice-versa. With them, artistic activity becomes a site of experimentation into the conditions of a new kind of cohabitation between the various forms of life. Beyond an alternative environmentalism, they present a study of this biological species among others that is the human being, from the point of view of the animals.