– Autumn/Winter 2003

Mechanics of Meaning, or the Painting Machine

Anne Wagner

Tags: Rosemarie Trockel

Rosemary Trockel, O.T. (Malmaschine). Iron, chipboard, felt, brushes, 257cm x 76cm x 115cm, 1990. © Rosemarie Trockel/DACS London 2011. Courtesy Sprueth Magers Berlin London.

Rosemary Trockel, O.T. (Malmaschine). Iron, chipboard, felt, brushes, 257cm x 76cm x 115cm, 1990. © Rosemarie Trockel/DACS London 2011. Courtesy Sprueth Magers Berlin London.

Rosemarie Trockel's Untitled (Painting Machine) had been made and used and first shown by June 1990. The piece was put on view alongside its ostensible painterly products, the wall piece called 56 Brushstrokes, in Cologne. This context needs looking at, yet title and date alone already offer information enough, from an art-world perspective, to put us in immediate touch with the work's main issues and themes. Here is a piece that addresses both authorship and artistic identity as 'mechanical' constructs: it draws its fuel straight from a high-octane postmodern tank.

Or so it seems, until we take a second look. For once a single run of images had been made - a set of seven sheets of straggling parallel lines - and its uniqueness guaranteed (each is numbered 1/1), the artist herself pulled and cut its plug, as if in anticipation of the fact that soon enough the motor of this particular object would strike its viewers as outmoded - all too difficult, even impossible, to fire up. It was belated from the beginning, in other words: assertively so. Belated, yet not quite obsolescent. When I look at the machine's now quiet carcass, I cannot imagine that the scrap heap calls. Remember that appliances are often delivered without their plugs; it's the work of a moment to get wired, and be off and away. Away towards an account of authorship that aims both to admit, as well as to question, its endless mystique. I think that Trockel does this in quite unfamiliar ways - unfamiliar above all to any audience that expects ambitious artworks to manifest their concern with authorship and production via an absolute intimacy,

  1. Howard Singerman, 'Sherrie Levine's Shop Window Proof', in Sherrie Levine Sculpture, Cologne and Los Angeles, 1996, p.9

  2. Ibid.

  3. Ernst Gombrich, 'On Physiognomic Perception', Meditations on a Hobby Horse, London: Phaidon Press, 1963, p.49

  4. Ibid.

  5. Translation: 'Every night we are visited by a dream'

  6. Rosemarie Trockel, 'Endlich ahnen, nicht nur wissen. Ein Gesprach mit Doris von Drateln', Kunstforum International 93, February 1988, pp.212-13, as quoted by Uwe M Schneede in 'Wool, Knitting, and Thinking About Art in Knitted Pictures', in Rosemarie Trockel: Bodies of Work 1986-1998, London: Whitechapel Art Gallery, 1998

  7. My discussion is indebted to that of Uwe M Schneede, op. cit., p.22

  8. Ibid.

  9. For reproductions and discussion of these works, see Jonas Storsve, Rosemarie Trockel, Dessins, Paris: Centre Pompidou, 2000. See also my essay, 'Trockel's Promise', Drawing Papers, 18, New York: The Drawing Center, 2001

  10. In a recent paper, 'Faces, Apes, Houses', delivered at The Drawing Center, New York City, Brigid Doherty has interestingly discussed a range of issues raised by Trockel's ape drawings, not least in light of what she sees as their anti-photographic stance, as it might be related to Brecht's view of photographic aping.

  11. Trockel's choice is striking, not least by comparison with Gerhard Richter's historical essay, which takes up media representation of the deaths of the Baader-Meinhof 'gang'.

  12. Briony Fer, 'What's in a line? Gender and Modernity', Oxford Art Journal, 13:1, 1990, pp.77-88

  13. Walter Benjamin, 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction', Illuminations, New York: Schocken Books, 1969, p.218

  14. Isabelle Graw, 'Rosemarie Trockel AR Penck Space Switch', Flash Art, Vol.155, November-December 1990, p.150

  15. The most extensive treatment of the Painting Machine is that offered by Wilfried Dickhoff in S. Stich (ed.), Rosemarie Trockel, Boston: Institute of Contemporary Art and Berkeley: University Art Museum, 1991, pp.106-09

  16. Leo Steinberg, Other Criteria, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1972, pp.88 and 90

  17. Rosalind Krauss, 'The Crisis of the Easel Picture', in K. Varnedoe and P. Karmel (eds.), Jackson Pollock, New Approaches, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1999, pp.168ff

  18. Mario Carpo, 'How do you imitate a building that you have never seen? Printed images, ancient models and handmade drawings in Renaissance architectural theory', Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 64, 2001, p.224

  19. Johann Caspar Lavater, Essays on Physiognomy, London: Murray, 1789-98, p.58 (first published in German in 1775)