Eva Rothschild


The Irish artist Eva Rothschild (b. 1972, lives and works in London) has attracted attention over the past few years with objects made out of such materials as leather, paper and Plexiglas, indicating a "renewed" preoccupation on the part of a young generation of artists with the three-dimensional object. Last year the Whitechapel Art Gallery launched what they called a new generation of British sculptors – Eva Rothschild, Shahin Affrasiabi, Claire Barclay, Jim Lambie and Gary Webb – in their show “Early One Morning”. Through the renegotiation and expansion of familiar artistic idioms and materials, these works re-accentuate the three-dimensional object by elaborating on the formal vocabulary of 1960s art in particular, and "recharging" the third dimension with the transcultural, transmedial codes of contemporary content.

In addition to the three-dimensional object, Eva Rothschild's artistic practice includes wall pieces and video, in which she embroiders customary notions of abstraction, representation and decoration with models of longing and projects them on various social groups. Artistic and semantic yearnings are often intertwined in her works. Her beautiful objects impart a curious melancholy, generating an ambivalent potential of abundance and hope coupled with an impressive emptiness.
The artist invests the early avant-garde with renewed spiritual energy: concrete art's call for social and political relevance and the aesthetic penetration of daily life; minimalism’s championship of the autonomous, elementary form; and the numerous uses of potentially utopian, spiritual "images" for subcultures and the "quest for meaning" that buoys esoterics and recent utopian models of society.

With subtlety and ambivalence, her works compel viewers to think about the picture as an object of use and the use of pictures. The items viewers find in an Eva Rothschild exhibition look like sculptures, pictures and objects and yet always resonate with something else: a hanging basket woven out of leather, a curtain made of strips of plastic, miniatures altar-like, street-culture objects of protest, elements of the ultimate in upscale interior design or handy little fetishes. Object worlds and use cultures merge in an array of materials that engage a bazaar of meanings and projections to transmit the history of abstract art and the tradition of elementary forms, defined as viable and autonomous, such as circle, sphere, square and triangle.

To produce her work, Eva Rothschild takes industrial production from minimalism and craftsmanship from subculture. Both together form a counterculture of the commodity art object, which functions as a supplier for the mass culture of the desire for content and meaning and, at the same time, resists it.
By using stick incense in her work Disappearer (from 2002), Eva Rothschild typifies the semi-spiritual mix of codes which has marked our way of life since the 1960s. Once part of ritual practice in the religious traditions of the East, stick incense has become a signifier in the subcultures of the Western world, indicative of commitment, in one form or another, to a spiritual and enlightened worldview. However, this work also references Felix Gonzales-Torres' self-consuming works in their capacity as exhibition pieces in action (e.g. his watches or piles of candy).

Burning Tyre (from 2001), a used tyre in which Rothschild burns stick incense, also unites a wide spectrum of codes. It is a minimalist circular sculpture, a signifier of protest, counterculture and street culture and a fragrant object that invokes esoterically flavoured campfire romanticism – in other words a beacon of references, a belittled, narrative, minimalist object all at once, or maybe simply a tyre that has found another use.

The superimposition of systems and worlds of meaning becomes especially evident when, for her woven works on paper, Eva Rothschild works two images into each other. An example would be her “Night of Decision” (1999), in which a Christian poster and a New Age image of a wolf give rise to a third image. The tripartite plaited piece entitled “Eyes” (2003) consists of large-size photocopies of a pair of eyes and a disc of rays of the sun that likewise has an esoteric touch to it. Where in her early works, Rothschild directly appropriated posters that evoked the Romantic sensibilities of adolescents, who alone in their rooms sought to flee the sad mundane world of everyday life by immersing themselves in images of yearning and desire, in her more recent plaited wall pictures, she makes use of images which she creates herself or derives in fragmented form from the arsenal of stock media images. Eva Rothschild’s woven works function by means of admixture and hybridization – and not only at the level of pictorial content, but also at the formal, compositional level. The two-dimensional flat qualities of the picture are transformed into three dimensions by the weaving, and the elaborate handiwork of cutting and weaving the strips of paper contrasts with the mass-media copying process for the found images. The result is an exciting tension, which Rothschild emphasizes by relying on extremely artificial neon colors. The sub culture of the 1960s, the fetishization of the autonomous objects is likewise brought to mind, by the frequent tassels in Rothschild’s works. These are woven leather objects, which like objects of archaic rituals hang on the wall or as groups in the room as if they were abstract Beatles, paper pictures with long carpet tassels are reminiscent of the leather-jacket and carpet culture of a Romantically blinkered Hippie world, and und in formal terms dissolve the image the artist has created.

In Eva Rothschild’s oeuvre, the insignia of Modernity are subverted by irrationality, emotionality and unsettling contents; perhaps for this very reason they cast the viewer’s possible projections back onto him. The works in black Plexiglas, in which Rothschild takes upright triangular forms and dovetails them using various different combinatorial systems to generate a kind of kit-like Serra sculpture, both trivialize and reactivate abstract shapes and their reception. Eva Rothschild is interested in the reasons why certain things or objects amount to more than the pure material properties. She is interested in the intellectual desire that, in the form of projections, focuses on the objects. Her objects, “decorated” with potential meaning, heighten the sense of irritation the viewer experiences, exposing the purported potentiality of the objects to be an idealized, mystified, and utopian affirmation, kindling a yearning for the impotence of objects – and in this way first liberating it as a formal object in its own right.

Our lecture and educational programme is supported by Swiss Re.
The Kunsthalle Zürich thanks: Präsidialdepartement der Stadt Zürich