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MLN 121.3 (2006) 720-739

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On Iceberg and Water.

Or, Painting and the 'Mark of Genre' in Rosemarie Trockel's Wool-Pictures

Princeton University

This essay concerns the role of genre, or Gattung, in the work of contemporary artist Rosemarie Trockel.1 Commissioned for the catalogue of the retrospective exhibition, Post-Menopause, organized by the Museum Ludwig, Cologne, in 2005, my remarks on that subject were written in no small part with Bianca Theisen's work, especially her final book, Silenced Facts, in mind. For that reason it seemed right to offer this as my contribution to the memorial colloquium organized in Bianca's honor by Rüdiger Campe and Rochelle Tobias at Johns Hopkins in October 2005. As I prepared my presentation for that event, I realized that the connection I felt to Bianca and her work with regard to this essay had to do as much with comedy, indeed with laughter, as it did with questions of genre or Gattung as such. "My most vivid memories of Bianca," I said by way of introduction to what follows, "are of her smiling. And laughing—not uproariously, to be sure. But knowingly, warmly, appreciatively, generously. I'm lucky, I know, that I lack images of her illness to intrude on my recollection [End Page 720] of what Bianca looked like when she laughed. I present this paper with her laughter—and her earnest appreciation of comedy and its capacity for transformation—in mind."

With regard to art, the words genre and Gattung designate classifications of form and content, technique, medium, and theme. This is hardly the place to present a complex or extensive etymology, or indeed even a brief account of the conceptualization of genre and Gattung in the history and theory of art and literature. Nonetheless it is worth noting that genre and Gattung are terms not just of classification, but, more broadly conceived, of relation and generation, similarity, resemblance, production and reproduction. Borrowed from the French, genre has its roots in the Latin genus (generis); thus it calls up not only kind, race, group, and class, but birth and gender, as well as the place of genus in the discourse of natural history, in particular the biological sciences and their taxonomies. Gattung has its origins in the Middle High German noun Gate (mate or spouse) and that word's verb form gaten (to come together, to unite, to couple), as well as the prefix-verb form begaten (to couple in the sense of mating or begetting); and Gattung is connected, though somewhat more remotely, to the modern German verb gattieren, which names processes of admixture and classification, for example in the textile and metal industries.2

Genre (or Gattung) figures among the formal and thematic concerns of Rosemarie Trockel's art in a multiplicity of ways. The double-necked sweater in Schizo-Pullover (Schizo-Sweater; 1988; figure 1), the couples (Paare) depicted in the drawings, photographs, and video work shown in an eponymous 1998 exhibition (figure 2), and the works in several media that incorporate logos and Rorschach tests, are only a few instances of Trockel's longstanding interest in the technical and metaphorical possibilities that various kinds of pairing, coupling, [End Page 721]

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Figure 1
Rosemarie Trockel, Schizo-Sweater (1988). Wool. Courtesy Monika Sprüth/Philomena Magers Gallery, Cologne/Munich. © 2006 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn.

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Figure 2
Rosemarie Trockel, Couples (1998). Detail; 7 photographs, Power Print, acrylic panel. Courtesy Monika Sprüth/Philomena Magers Gallery, Cologne/Munich. © 2006 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn.

generation, production, and classification open up for contemporary art. The exploration of likenesses, differences, and boundaries between human beings—more precisely humans as species-beings (Gattungswesen)—and all manner of animals, plays a similarly important and exemplary part in Trockel's art (figures 3 and 4). Prominent among the non-human species to which she has repeatedly turned are apes, including...


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