Rosemarie Trockel: A Cosmos at Serpentine Gallery, London

Rosemarie Trockel: A Cosmos opened at the Serpentine last week, displaying an eclectic mix of the artist’s works, influences and connected pieces. In a manner alien to many artists, she has chosen to show her largest retrospective as a museum-like collection of the work that surrounds her practice, from animated clips to 19th century botanical drawings and artifacts. The really brilliant aspect is the fact it is so hard to tell which works are who’s and from what era they come. She has always worked in a very open manner, flitting from subject to subject and between materials, meaning that her overall style is difficult to pinpoint. There are central themes that arise, such as our relationship with nature, the idea of craft objects as oppose to fine art objects, and running throughout her work, a strong connection to her feminist roots.

The first section of the show comprises her collections of botanical and zoological artifacts. Especially interesting are the tiny, sketch-crammed books made by Manuel Montalvo in the last century, a collection of ten or so that are filled page to page with studies of animals, insects and natural forms. Equally fascinating are the collections of glass jellyfish from the 19th Century, so delicately made and representative of the real thing, it’s hard to imagine that they weren’t formed in a modern day machine. These works are shown alongside the exhibitions calling card, the photograph of the tattoo covered body by Trockel herself. Look closely and the (at first aggressive seeming) body ink reveals itself as delicately etched flowers. Further into the exhibition is a spine tingling shot of a tarantula climbing over a ladies private parts, in a room also showing a bird cage with a surreal set up, containing three birds that rotate at random intervals and a bell underneath a bell jar. Where at moments you can grasp her works with total clarity, at other times she loses you completely, and this room is where it begins to pull apart. Despite this, she never loses the viewers interest. It is very unusual to visit and exhibition and be able to keep involved with work that at times is beyond comprehension, but her relaxed presentation allows an ease of viewing these works not necessarily with a desire to ‘understand’ or to be informed, but more to get some sense of feeling from them.

Her recent knitted paintings in the following rooms hark back to her feminist sensibility with materials to create images that would be considered deeply conceptual if they were rendered in paint. The wool brings up her questioning of our labeling of art vs craft and also brings an intellectual capacity to a very female and traditional material. One final work that really stuck out was the video by Wladyslaw Starewicz, a stop frame animation following the love life of two married beetles. It is at once lighthearted and poignant and ties the exhibition together very well.

There are many more things to look out for in this conglomeration of works, and it all works surprisingly well together in its disorder, to provide an insight into such a complex and at times almost unreadable artist.

Rosemarie Trockel, A Cosmos, 13 February until 7 April, Serpentine Gallery, Kensington Gardens, London, W2 3XA.


1. Rosemarie Trockel, Installation view. © 2013 Jerry Hardman-Jones
2. Rosemarie Trockel, Installation view. © 2013 Jerry Hardman-Jones
3. Rosemarie Trockel, Less Sauvages than Others, 2006, Installation view. © 2013 Jerry Hardman-Jones