Monday, November 24, 2008

Calling all modern art fans... a round-table with ROSEMARIE TROCKEL at 4:30 in the James Stewart Theater at 185 Nassau.

by Molly Borowitz
Rosemarie Trockel is a professor of sculpture at the Academy of Dusseldorf, a Fellow on Princeton's Humanities Council, and—most relevant to our purposes here—a German feminist artist specializing in sculpture, computer-drawing, and video. Her recent series of video works, Manus Spleen, focus on reinterpretation of Bertholt Brecht's troubling play Mother Courage and Her Children (1938/9). Brecht's work throws maternal love into relief against war profiteering; Courage, a travelling saleswoman during the Thirty Years' War, ends up sacrificing all three of her children to her business. Brecht's intention was not to create an unflattering portrait of woman—he explains in the play's Notes and Variants that he wanted to highlight war's ability to pervert our virtues and emphasize our fears, thus demonstrating that war must be avoided at all costs—but Courage's unwitting sacrifices call the role of woman-as-mother into question. Once a mother, do her children's needs take center stage? Or does her responsibility to put food on the table (ostensibly Courage's goal in clinging desperately and stubbornly to the wagon that contains all her merchandise) trump her provision of constant maternal attention and supervision? One by one, Courage's children disappear while her back is turned; her mind occupied by business, she loses them all to violence.

Trockel is similarly preoccupied with the womanhood/motherhood dilemma; in the past twenty years, the EGG has been one of her most frequently recurring motifs. We see it in computer drawings of women lying with their stomachs on the floor, looking down at scattered collections of photographs; in installations with curtains of blown eggs collected from hens living inside a perfectly-engineered chicken coop; in her short video Out of the Kitchen into the Fire (1993), wherein a naked woman "lays" an egg that drops onto the floor beneath and shatters, leaving an ink stain in the shape of a human form. With this symbol of fertility, Trockel proudly asserts her womanhood—its significance was even more potent twenty and thirty years ago, when debates raged over whether women were truly capable of producing art. As if in reply, Trockel's works often incorporate wool or other knitted materials, clothing, and kitchen tools—art critics Ingvid Goetz and Rainald Schumacher praise the subtle feminism with which she transposes "woman's handicrafts and the kitchen as the woman's traditional place, into the realms of high doing so, she enhanced the cultural and ideological value of these traditional activities and role distributions" (p. 11 of Rosemarie Trockel: Sammlung Goetz, an exhibition catalog from her 2002 exhibition in Munich). Rather than asserting her ability to create "like a man" or producing "men's" art, Trockel finds a new synthesis between modern aesthetic and social tradition, effectively carving a space for women in the modern art world.

To my mind, Trockel's attempt to fuse high culture with traditional gender roles is a powerful statement—one worthy of a full house of feminists this afternoon. 4:30 pm, James Stewart Theater, 185 Nassau Street. I hope to see you there!


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