Rosemarie Trockel’s Balaclava is a knitted helmet which features a distinctive black-and-grey repetitive ‘wave’ design. This is derived from a pattern book, and reminds us of the black-and-white Op Art of the British painter Bridget Riley. It was created with the aid of a computer and manufactured on a knitting machine. The balaclava, with its roots in the Crimean War of 1853–1856, and its popular use on ski fields, has historically provided protection from the elements. Since the late 1960s however, it has been associated with terrorism and is a symbol of violence and fear.
Balaklava thus questions and potentially revises the terms of ‘women’s work’. The traditional forms of women’s industry are invoked in the object: knitting, the borrowing or appropriation of existing images, the production of functional rather than conceptual material. These are juxtaposed against both the modernist exemplars of ‘women’s work’ (Riley) and its repressed or silenced embodiments: the terrorist, the woman for whom violence is ‘work’.
The balaclava needs the human head to give it shape and meaning, and is open to variations of size, gender, and individual form. In a similar way the meaning of the work becomes moulded by the prior associations of the viewer. Trockel’s interest in the balaclava was triggered by the Baader-Meinhof terrorist campaigns in Germany of the late 1960s and 1970s, which aimed to liberate the country from capitalism, with its perceived American cultural and economic imperialism. The balaclava continues to serve as protection—preserving anonymity. Here, the lack of a mouth-opening may signal the terrorist’s inability to speak in the face of perceived oppression. But Trockel’s art is not didactic. It is instead profoundly ambiguous and open-ended, posing questions, rather than providing definitive answers.
Adapted from an unpublished manuscript by Shaune Lakin
International Painting and Sculpture
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
 See Elizabeth Sussman, ‘The body’s inventory—the exotic and mundane in Rosemarie Trockel’s art,’ in Sidra Stich ed, Rosemarie Trockel, Prestel, Munich, 1991, pp 27–36, esp pp 34–35
 ‘Rosemary Trockel: Balaklava’, in ‘European Painting and Sculpture in the National Gallery of Australia’, 2004, unpublished ms; adapted by Christine Dixon and Krysia Kitch 2009
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: National Gallery of Australia exhibition SoftSculpture (reference )