On the Ambivalence of Things - Patricia Waller's Crochet Work

by André Lindhorst, Director Kunsthalle Osnabrück


© 2000 André Lindhorst
from: Needleworks II, Katalog Patricia Waller, Osnabrück 2000

Karlsruhe-based artist, Patricia Waller's work is homogeneous in three ways. Firstly, in its limitation to the material wool and the technique of crochet. Secondly, in the continuity and system of the work. And thirdly, in its concentration on content.

Wool may conjure up an image of gloves and bobble hats or "granny's jumper for winter". Or else of handiwork intended to emphasise the cosiness and security of the parlour. Possibly one also thinks of the kitschy dolls and hats that act as woollen covers for toilet-paper rolls that are decoratively placed on the rear shelf of a car next to the cushion embroidered with the car's number plate.

Patricia Waller, originally a sculptor, changed to "Needle and Thread" while studying art at the State Academy of Fine Arts, Karlsruhe. She aptly entitled one of her wool exhibitions of crocheted wool "Needleworks", thus arousing a good response from the public and expert press alike, although wool is usually considered a material that does not speak to today's virtual age; similarly, crocheting is smirked at as an anachronistic technique. However, Patricia Waller's tongue-in-cheek satire on parochialism, the petty bourgeoisie, and the quest for improvement lives on ambivalent references.

Patricia Waller describes her artistic intention in the following terms: "Wool is often classified as inferior in terms of art and art history. It is not a material of which major works of art are made. We women artists who work with it, reflect our status in art, culture, and society, from this material and method that one can call genuinely feminine."1

Patricia Waller's artistic scope is broad. As a member of the "Institute for the Observation of Alterable Things", she deciphers with a wink inconsistencies that exist on the border between kitsch and art, and unconventionally reports on the Zeitgeist Boulevard with subtle scepticism. She raises existential and ethical issues and is a meticulous master of camouflage with plenty of challenging ideas. As soon as she allows levels of reality to slip, anxieties and traumas emerge behind seemingly banal everyday situations. A sense of violence can be intimated. The ambivalence of things is made apparent by the feature of the material she uses - wool - due to polarities and irritation.

The artist's crochet sculptures are initially disturbing. However, they usually play a double role and are hidden. They are a background system of signs and charades that cannot always be interpreted satisfactorily. But Patricia Waller always ensures that her audience is given visual experiences full of relish and ambition. "With all of my work, I try to create new and different forms of perception and levels of association for the beholder by interventions and altered forms of presentation..." she states. "The irony or the humour contained in the work are most definitely intentional. It is important to me to let the beholder access the work. I consider causing a laugh or a smile as a positive and legitimate means of approach. This of course does not mean that I do not take my work very seriously. I rather view this type of irony as a 'means of seeing through'. Such an approach enables me to enjoy putting my ideas into practice, and makes me see art as a responsible, positive act, rather than an agonising task." 1

Patricia Waller places her subjects in surroundings familiar to us all - in everyday life, in known settings, and in the seemingly harmless, homely life. A dental compound or dentures in cleaning solution can thus trigger a whole chain of thoughts - from prostheses, organ donations, transplants and commercial trade in organs, for example. In her series of works entitled "Donations" and "Handicap", the artist portrays a whole stock of spare parts for prostheses, and human eyes, ears, fingers, and hearts preserved in fluid. Everything concerned with human beings seems to be replaceable and exchangeable. The most significant of all originals, man is also nothing more than a copy in this age of virtual reality - a result of a high-risk optimisation mania. The "embryo" draws its life blood and incubation warmth via an umbilical cord connected to a power socket - rosy prospects!

Games become serious. In the cycle "Computer Games", the push of a button triggers off the evil and the sinister, where a defect brings the world to the brink of destruction. Here, the coldness of the cyber world is portrayed. Mars attacks! Flying saucers rapidly approach from the universe. Alien spaceships threaten the blue planet. The harbingers of the invasion are already circling over the beautifully painted Black Forest house. The idyllic, peaceful mountain villages are soon to lie in ruins. Even the church - once the bastion against all that is evil - is not spared and is in flames.

Mutants and aliens as a metaphor for the heedless risk of manipulating our own nature, as an index fossil for a science that attempts to optimise life without ethical reservations. This lack puts balance and shelteredness in natural processes at stake. Feelings have no role to play. Progress like crazy! A soft teddy from sheltered childhood days cooped up in a non-returnable jar, preserved for better days. Now at the latest, the smile is wiped from one's face.

A calling into question of our attitudes to nature is discernible in all of Patricia Waller's works. In this context, the opening-day buffet is enigmatically prepared. The plates and bowls are filled to the brim. The shark-fin and turtle soup is served. A chopped pig's head decorates the laid table. But beware! Flogged nature will be avenged. The sucking pig's eyes flash angrily, even with hostility ("Sucking Pig, Buffet Detail"). And the lobster that has suffered torments of hell in boiling water seems to be waiting with its powerful pincers for a hand that dares to approach ("Lobster, Buffet Detail").

In the group of works entitled "Don't Kill your Idols", Waller quotes popular artists, the sculptor Stephan Balkenhol, for example, or Joseph Beuys, Marcel Duchamp, Robert Gober, Jeff Koons, René Magritte, and Vincent van Gogh. Marcel Duchamp and René Magritte are artists whose ideas are, in the broadest sense, related to Patricia Waller's works. Waller is interested in the Belgian surrealist, René Magritte, because of his "attitude towards banal, everyday items and the way in which he creates new pictures via change and alienation. He manages to completely free the items from their everyday meaning and triviality, and fills them with new significance. Those are things that are equally important to me in my work." 1

With her "Don't Kill your Idols" group of works, the artist refers to the traditional lines - pop art, dada, and surrealism - with which she sympathises. However, with the group of straitjacketed subjects, she pays particular attention to artists such as Francis Bacon who have occupied themselves with outer and inner paranoiac reality, or Vincent van Gogh, who perished as a result of the contradictions between art and reality.

Again and again, Patricia Waller devises coherent, exciting connections between her subjects. A red thread - a German image for a leitmotif - runs through her subjects. In cyclic and working phases, the artist plumbs the depths of social fields such as the family, religion, research, medicine, technology, law, and culture. She creates a critical, perfect profile of society, a finely meshed network of relationships in an original aesthetic that approaches the comic. She finds the core of her intention - the emphatically humorous and at the same time intellectually challenging - through art.


1 Patricia Waller's statements reproduced here are taken from an interview given in March 1997 to the Italian art journal "Juliet".