Unveilings of the Circumstantial

Katrin Bucher Trantow

Frenzi Rigling casts her skin. Again and again, she has illustrated her own protecting shell in the form of diary drawings in her Protocols, which have constantly grown since 2004. In an unbroken line, she draws the picture of her clothes on the sheet of paper as a daily sketch of the life line, following the varying metamorphoses of herself. Like an ancient Greek Moira, she spins the thread of her life into a readable story about the weather, the temperature, her condition on a particular day but also events of her private life. For what we call “fate” she makes use of the archetypal image of live-giving womanhood: whether Germanic Norns, Roman Parcae, or Greek Moirai. It is an adaption of the picture of the three wise spinning women who are sitting around a spindle spinning the thread of life, measuring it out for life and also cutting it. In Frenzi Rigling’s work, the individual thread of life merges with the drawing and the cyclical return of existential metamorphoses. In the process, she interweaves the unique and the personal. If Max Frisch writes in Gantenbein that he tries on stories like clothes, Frenzi Rigling’s approach seems to be similar to this.1 However, her clothing shells, such as in her piece “Teppich 2002 -” (Carpet 2002 -)

where old clothes of strangers are sewn together in a performative process to form an almost infinite surface, also bring along their own hidden stories and secrets of the everyday. As a conceptual collector and ‘filer’ she gives circumstantial things a voice in the process, integrates them in a structure which plays life as an infinite loop of un-veilings in various patterns and media.

What Frenzi Rigling is interested in is the everyday, the at times very female, the circumstantial that usually doesn’t get a chance to speak. She pays unusual attention to washings, stones, insects, leftovers or skins. The things that seem hardly worth mentioning are what she processes and stages. If her own clothes have turned into evidence veiling life in the aforementioned diary drawings, the Steine (Stones) seem to be driven by an absolutely caring interest in the integrity of the shell. Stones, whose cavities tell us of the permanently washing current of water, are what Frenzi Rigling makes whole, mends and takes care of. The dead insects she has filed for several tens of years are a project that likewise stabilizes life. In Sammlung (Collection), a conceptual aspect is added to the always repressed work of domestic tidying up and the recycling of the “collection items” accumulating in the process, which turns the everyday act of cleaning up into an artistic process. In Socken (Socks) too, the “ready-mades” found in the household are connoted with woman’s work and the still predominantly female everyday life in a peculiar sense. They are subjected to a process of ironical sustainability by being “marooned” in the forest which, on the one hand, strictly conceptually elevates the insignificant sock into a sculpture in the landscape, yet on the other, succinctly documents the aspect of finitude we are strictly subjected to in all our being and thinking. The two works Hasen (Rabbits) and Fellzopf (Skin Braid), which are devoted to the vital skin of animals and relate it to desire and consumerism, deal with other very personal shells. In the form of an oversized design lamp and haptically attractive sculpture they have been turned into walk-in and touchable social fantasies. At the same time, they mark the continuation of Frenzi Rigling’s examination of the linear in drawing and their affinity to additive life cycles.

Then again, in Gedicht (Poem), Frenzi Rigling has found a linguistic counterpart in Hermann Hesse’s “Blue Butterfly”, which she examines with a focus on cyclical and culturally inscribed aspects in a different medium. She appropriates these popular verses stitching them on old washcloths of her family.

Flaps its wings a small blue / Butterfly blown by the breeze, /

A mother-of-pearl frisson, / Glints, flickers, passes away.

Thus in the blinking of an eye /Thus blown back from the mists of time

Saw I fortune wave at me, / To glint, to flicker, to pass me by and expire.2

In its German original, this poem about the bliss of the transitory and ephemeral follows a simple rhyme scheme of two consecutive cross rhymes and unfolds its effect in its linguistic, lyrical and tonal simplicity. Frenzi Rigling deals with the poem as if it were a traditional embroidery pattern by stitching the verses yet deconstructing and structurally transforming the overall picture. The verses have turned into set pieces on the washcloths whose colors and sizes have been coordinated when transforming them into a larger whole. The overall picture she has created has turned into a group picture of a family. In Frenzi Rigling’s interpretations the beauty of the butterfly enclosed from the pupa establishes a direct connection to what touches us humans in its shell. In the process, she encounters new figures of speech and the poem seems to accept the transformation with some reservations. The ephemeral bliss starts to flicker in its personal timing and seems oddly familiar.

Across all media, Frenzi Rigling addresses herself to the conditions of what is applied to our body. Skins, cells, food, and cyclical processes are key concepts defining Frenzi Rigling’s mysterious and archaic works. Dealing with what immediately surrounds us she reformulates their codes and appropriates them in ongoing processes. The creative process is not only incorporated in everyday life but emanates from it and thus also becomes absolutely readable in terms of the feminist view of attitudes and values. These works are both vanitas reflections on the frailty of everyday life and radical examinations of markings intrinsic to society and art. They question cultural images of live-giving womanhood and cyclical concepts of time in the tradition of a feminist art practice. Equally sensual and existential examinations circling around the concepts of pattern, order and possible connection unfold by means of the materials used, the medium, and the process – and turn into a reflection on the conditions of artistic creativity as such.


1  Max Frisch, Mein Name sei Gantenbein, Hamburg 1968 (published in English as Gantenbein or A Wilderness of Mirrors), p. 19.

2  Hermann Hesse, “Blauer Schmetterling” (Blue Butterfly), a poem from 1927, e.g. in: Hermann Hesse, Schmetterlinge, ed. by Volker Michels (Frankfurt a. M.: Insel, 2002)