Rosemarie Trockel wields clay as a material for high art, wresting from it forms that puzzle and provoke us as much as they please. The pleasure we gain from her ceramics arrives - but not always on time. This experience offers a thrill, like the one we feel encountering a difficult text, where opaque words please us more as we pursue their meaning. Words, sometimes in the form of inscriptions and always in the form of titles, have been integral to Rosemarie Trockel's work. The meanings in her works are best uncovered through poems rather than criticism, (...), as they articulate ideas and experiences parallel to those that suffuse her work. These ideas can only be characterized as archetypal, as mythic.
Like many other works throughout the thirty-five years of her oeuvre, Rosemarie Trockel's ceramics evoke a strong presentiment of dread and disturbing (in both the verbal and adjectival senses) apparitions of the uncanny. Freud described this feeling in his essay Das Unheimliche (1919) as that anxious uncertainty about whether an object is living, dead or inanimate, like a doll. Sixty-two years after Freud, in Powers of Horror. An Essay on Abjection, the French literary critic Julia Kristeva explores the uncanny even more deeply, arriving at abjection: the repulsion we feel to organic substances that were once part of our physical being, such as blood, pus, and shit. Detached from us, they excite disgust, fear, and fascination.
Certain of Trockel's platinum glazed ceramics from 2006, notably Less Sauvage Than Others, and Zum schwarzen Ferkel 4, suggest the dense, rampant growth of foliage-like hair, reminiscent of the "mailed radiance" of the snakes growing from Medusa's head (...)
For Medusa is both enchanting and hideous, so ugly that the sight of her turns the observer to stone.
As in Greek myths, beauty and pain are never far from each other in Rosemarie Trockel's works: as we draw nearer to their beauty and the desire to possess them, we must accept their invitation to the experience of pain.
When we consider the special and more usually exploited attributes of ceramic as a material, we think of its malleability, and, with some notable exceptions in the history of fine and applied art, the smoothness of its surface (as in "porcelain skin").
As sculpture, ceramics is predominantly an additive medium, and smoothness (and, usually, roundedness) is a quality its practitioners have valued, from 20,000 year-old fertility figures to the caress of hand-building in ancient Japanese and Korean pottery. Consider the seamless, spun quality achieved by throwing on the wheel, when the potter's aim is to almost efface her fingerprints, and the more rigid perfection of the molds used in the beginnings of mass production. Smoothness, that self assured quality of containment on the surface of the ceramic vessel, is often seen as an irresistible invitation to touch.
Ceramic is also the material sine qua non for modeling copying or imitation. Modeling denotes, more particularly the act of creating a small three-dimensional representation or replica of a person or thing; and shaping or fashioning a figure from clay or wax.
Today, nearly one hundred years later, we are endowed through the Internet with an analogous but far more extreme lightness of being-in images. This is experienced as both ecstatic and unbearable, because we still are anchored in our bodies, these earthly vessels of consciousness. Just as the digital orchestrators of social media searches for "content" - which means meaning embodied in text - so our digital communiques tethered, finally, to our physicality.
Trockel has traveled from painting and weaving to photography and cinema, landing, at least for the moment, upon the ancient, stubborn art of clay. Her ceramics signal a resurgence and endurance of the body it represents and composes: an unlovely, entrancing stronghold.
Excerpts of Rosemarie Trockel's Ceramics: From Maidens to Maenads in Reflections: Rosemarie Trockel and works from Turin Collections (pp.42-49), ed. by Corraini Edizioni for Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli.