Questions to Frenzi Rigling

asked by Stella Rollig

Stella Rollig: With what does your art begin? With searching or with finding?

Frenzi Rigling: Spontaneously, I’d say with looking. Then I see something, and it hits me, and I think: The world is exactly like this, or something like: This concerns us humans!

This can be an object, or how people do certain things, how they behave, or also a movie.

Perhaps, let’s put it this way: It begins with a fascination. For example, the trigger for my rabbit drawings was the movie The Lacemaker by Claude Goretta. How Isabelle Huppert wrapped a terry towel around the woman’s wet hair in the hairdressing salon in the beginning of the movie – this was universally meaningful for me.

I’ve been trying to find a form which could convey this feeling for many years. That is, a character without an own story who triggers off certain feelings and stories, and possibly memories, in the viewer.

The appearance of the rabbit has been shaped by history – but my rabbits have no history; moreover, they are no nature studies – but they are nevertheless rabbits, have the characteristic features of rabbits – long ears, long limbs, a scut. I have made the rabbit because I have seen the form this way, because I’ve had a vision.


What function does time have?

In my work “Tagebuch“ (Diary) I wrote down each and every day which clothes I was wearing on any given day – and this over an extended period of time. This is only a small activity in time; it is only the constant stringing together which makes this work powerful and lets us experience time in retrospect. Seasons and temperatures can also be read off. If this piece is supposed to work, a longer period of time is vital. At first, the notion of time was a different kind of concern for me in this work. In fact, I wanted to steal time. Through this most simple linear self-examination I wanted to step out of time for a short moment once a day.

Then I noticed that this simple coded record enables many viewers to bring in themselves. This has then become a main concern of this work: to move oneself forwards and backwards in time with ease.

When time goes by, many things become visible.

Life changes over time and leaves traces. In my work “Teppich” (Carpet) I have manually sewn together the worn pieces of clothing from my family without changing their shape. This project is not about any esthetics of the textile but about a fundamental esthetic intention. I have selected the pieces of clothing according to their emotional content. When I started out I didn’t know which direction this work would take. Only time and the reactions of the viewers have stabilized its development.


Is art an integral part of your life praxis or is it a way out of it?

In recent years, I have produced art away from the market and without many exhibitions. I have developed some kind of naturalness when dealing with art. The handicraft activities in my artistic projects are similar to the work I have to do in the everyday life of my family. I am not looking for a way out of my daily routine but I am also not striving after elevating my daily routine through art.


Is a work of art an object or a space? How many dimensions does it have?

Well, the work of art is a story of its own. I studied painting in an altogether classic sense and soon realized that this medium did not really satisfy me. Art as an object has always had little importance for my work. Of course, I create objects which need space time and again but I have never known how to deal with them. And I have developed a great deal of neglectfulness, yes, even scorn for my so called results. I was really happy when I had somehow found a solution for the works.

To develop a method of making an attitude visible without having a pre-defined final product – this is what I’m interested in. The dimensions arise from the respective initial subject.


Must materials be organic in order to fascinate you?

No. I select the material with a focus on how it can intensify the work’s message. For example, these can be red rubber mats – but also dead insects, fur, felt, etc. As a matter of principle, I like to work with materials that appeal to many people in our culture and thus bring back their memories. Be that because they have often been visible or present in their lives or have certain significance in the way we live. Materials which many people have emotional ties to or which affect people for whatever reasons: for example, collecting shells or pressing plants: These are things thousands of people do – why actually?

Something very touching is inherent in these activities, or, if not, they bring back memories of the past in very many people, memories of certain people they used to know. It’s so universal and at the same time private – I think there is something absolutely adorable in this work. It is an activity pursued by people, and very many at that, when they want to do something positive, when they are in a positive mood, and want to capture positive lifetime. I wanted to increase this oscillation between the private and the universal by presenting the pressed plants on newsprint.

When I see the pressed plants on newspaper clips now, I am embarrassed.

When collecting shells etc., the subject of organizing things also plays a major role: How to preserve things, how to present them? After all, I cannot just put them between two sheets of newsprint – sooner or later such “souvenirs” are thrown away too – which is painful and liberating at the same time.

I have been dealing with the subject of “dowry” for some time now; with what people take with them when they go abroad, leave their home countries; the places where their families live, where they grew up …

Of course, I also think of myself in this matter because I also set out, and I am looking for a form and perhaps also for a material that triggers off so called concernment and emotion, allows for a high degree of proximity or maybe simply doesn’t leave us cold.

I didn’t look for anything specific; I simply noticed the washcloths one day and saw that the names of my grandmothers were stitched on some of them.

So I sewed together these washcloths. And then I stitched this oddly kitschy but touching poem by Hermann Hesse on them.


Does everything have an end or does nothing go by?

When I was a child I was passionately interested in fairytales. I felt that everything has an end in these stories and nevertheless nothing goes by. And this corresponded to my attitude towards life.

I would have loved to grow up in a culture where more rituals and art are lived in everyday life and the realm of the mystical is not only covered by the Church. I’ve always considered this very boring.

I touch upon this field in my works “Knot” and “Socken” (Socks). In “Knot” I knot together pieces of clothing in way that neither beginning nor end are visible. Thus the objects are given something absurdly meaningless, relieved from their everyday purpose. It’s like in Dada, a combination of chance and myth.

And the “Socks” are about the perishability of the material and, of course, also about the reconquest of an enthusiasm for nature. What is also interesting with regard to working with the socks is the fact that even in the thick of it I didn’t know how the work would develop, when it would be finished, and also what I should do with the results and how I could present them.


Are there people you are not interested in?

Oh, certainly, many – but I just can’t think of anybody right now.


Is there a work of art you cannot get enough looking at?

I am an enthusiast and a passionate viewer of art – to move freely and look, that suits me fine.

Unfortunately, in Switzerland, where I grew up, we don’t have such opulent temples of art like here in Vienna. Of course, there are many wonderful places with extremely wonderful art. I fondly remember my visits of the Römerholz, a private museum near Winterthur – three of my favorite works are also exhibited there: two works by Gerard David – a crucifixion and a lamentation – and a sculpture by Maillol. In the Kunsthaus Zürich, there are Joseph Beuys’ Olivestones, and then there are Hans Arp’s white reliefs of metamorphosis which show up time and again somewhere.

In Vienna, there is Rubens’ “The Little Fur” …


A phrase by Balthasar Gracián seems to me like a maxim of your art: Attempt easy tasks as if they were difficult, and difficult as if they were easy. Agreed?

Oh yes, I like it very much. Only recently I came across an article about the American writer Richard Ford where a statement by him was quoted that I liked very much: “I throw things into the air and then I look where they land.”

The statement immediately reminded me of my own works and I felt vindicated with regard to my own artistic output.


Which section of the newspaper do you read first?

What I usually read first, and love to read, is about the weather. About the weather today, forecasts for the next days, or what the temperature is in other parts of the world.

I also like talking about the weather with strangers; here I can learn a lot in a relaxed manner without having myself any importance as a person.