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Knitted pictures, hot plates and pigs: Artist Rosemarie Trockel defies categorization

She became renowned by criticizing the male-dominated art world with references to knitting and the kitchen in her works. Rosemarie Trockel, one of Germany's most renowned modern artists, now turns 65.

Rosemarie Trockel became famous in the 1980s with her knitted wool paintings. What the artist called her "knitting pictures" wasn't the result of turning a hobby into art, however: Trockel's wool artworks were rather machine-generated. By shifting the way traditionally feminine materials were used, she criticized traditional role models as well as the established hierarchy of art forms, which places painting above crafts. 

Among her best known works are also her so-called "hot plates," in which she placed dark electric cooker hot plates onto colorful backgrounds, turning them into minimalist black circles.

Deutschland Leverkusen - Doppelausstellung Maison de Plaisance mit Rosemarie Trockel (picture-alliance/dpa/O. Berg)

The circles on this untitled artwork recall the plates of an induction cooker

The works were not only a take on the alleged role of women in the kitchen, but also offered an ironic homage to the matrix dots popular among pop artists.

Trockel has since upgraded her hot plates, which now recall induction cooktops; the artist adapts to the times with a critical eye and a sense of humor. 

Read more: The unwilling superstar: German painter Gerhard Richter on show in Australia

Breaking through in a male-dominated art world

Born on November 13, 1952, in the town of Schwerte, Rosemarie Trockel grew up in Leverkusen. Her works are still regularly on show at the Museum Morsbroich in that city. 

She developed an interest in film and painting at an early age, but first studied social anthropology, social sciences, theology and mathematics in college. She later moved on to art studies at the Cologne Academy of Fine and Applied Arts. 

She has been a professor at Düsseldorf Arts Academy since 1998.

Köln - Knitted Paintings von Rosemarie Trockel auf der Art Cologne (picture-alliance/dpa/F. Gambarini)

Trockel's "knitted paintings" made her famous in the US

While traveling in the US, Trockel met artists like Jenny Holzer and Cindy Sherman. Trockel's works were shown at New York's Museum of Modern Art by the late 1980s, and later in Chicago and Boston.

She was the first woman to participate in the German pavilion at the Venice Biennale, in 1999.

Trockel had previously stirred controversy with her "House for Pigs and People" at the Documenta of 1997. The installation, created together with artist Carsten Höller, featured a family of pigs living in a house. The project aimed to show the "pigs" in human beings. Instead of questioning the role of women, the work dealt with identity and how society is organized.

Read more: Documenta cancels 'Auschwitz on the Beach' performance after hefty criticism

Deutschland Kassel - Stall für Schweine und Menschen auf der Documetna von Rosemarie Trockel (picture-alliance/dpa/Z. Uwe)

A house for pigs and people at the Documenta in 1997

Few public appearances

Although Trockel is an internationally renowned modern German artist, she is largely withdrawn from the public. She doesn't have a homepage, and she usually rejects interview requests.

However, Trockel still addresses political and social issues, and not only through her work. For example, following the events during New Year's Eve in Cologne in 2015, she signed an appeal by Cologne artists and musicians against sexual violence and xenophobic hatred.

Rosemarie Trockel (Rosemarie Trockel, Bildrecht Wien 2015 und Kunsthaus Bregenz/M. Tretter)

A life-sized doll wearing a bullet-proof vest on show in Bregenz

Trockel's last prominent solo show took place in Bregenz in 2015. It was entitled "Märzôschnee ûnd Wiebôrweh sand am Môargô niana më," a traditional Begrenz saying that roughly translates as, "The pains of women disappear the day after, like snow in March," which downplays the suffering of women. 

A lot of attention was given in Bregenz to Trockel's life-sized doll wearing curlers, and partially clad in black linen, as is typical of Bregenz traditional costumes. The doll wore a bullet-proof vest, and the beard of a chamois and chicken feet on her back. The doll was said to stand for both strength and vulnerability combined in one person. The doll's gender was undefined. 

Playing with the expectations of viewers

Trockel still develops new ideas through paintings, sculptures and installations, works characterized by humor and contrasts.

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She has created boobs out of ceramics; a stable-looking box out of foam. What is soft becomes hard, and what is hard becomes soft, an idea that recalls Swedish pop artist Claes Oldenburg.

Rosemarie Trockel still uses threads as a material in more recent works. She spans colorful acrylic threads across a canvas making them appear like stripes and squares when seen from a distance. Painting with threads, so to speak.

In 2015, Rosemarie Trockel announced that her Bregenz show was to be her last for the following seven years. Her latest works can meanwhile be seen at the Malkasten artists' complex in Düsseldorf. Trockel has designed its entire interior, including a 400-square-meter large colorful carpet.

 

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