A sculpture that plays on the relationship between abstraction and the figurative, Knock Knock combines many of Rothschild’s formal and thematic concerns. It comprises a floor-standing framework of thin steel rods that measures almost three metres in height. The straight sections of rod are welded to one another in a curving formation. A single rod extends upwards from the lower, branching part of the framework to create a shape that resembles a root or other organic form. The rods are covered in red and black leather strips: the upper part is red and the lower part is mainly black. These strips are tightly woven over the rods of the upper two thirds of the structure, and left loose over the lower third, trailing slightly where they reach the ground. The sculpture seems to be ‘magically floating’ according to the artist (Eva Rothschild in Conversation, Tate Britain, London, 6 October 2009). Its apparent precariousness suggests themes of instability and mutability to which Rothschild’s work often refers.
Knock Knock is also typical of much of Rothschild’s work in that it has been made using practices evocative of both industrial process (in the welding of the steel armature) and craft (in the plaiting of the leather strips). Rothschild has incorporated leather in a range of sculptures of the early twenty-first century, including Town and Country and Silly Games, both 2003, (reproduced in Ruf, pp.32 and 43). Speaking in 2003, Rothschild commented on the works using leather:
[I]t would be very hard for me to explain where they came from. They emerged from having some scraps of leather left lying around the studio and bunching them together. I try to keep lots of stuff or materials in the studio and if I am messing around with something and it feels like it shouldn’t go straight into the bin, I generally keep it around a while.
(Quoted in Slyce, p.83.)
Rothschild’s use of elemental and geometric forms and industrial materials suggests connections with minimalism. Her aesthetic concerns have also been compared to those of the British sculptor Anthony Caro (born 1924). Contrastingly, Rothschild’s work at times appears to evoke a spiritual (New Age) dimension, not least because of the mystical or magical quality suggested by the forms of sculptures such as T12337, and the use of incense sticks in Burning Tyre 2004 and the series entitled Disappearer begun in 1998 (reproduced in Ruf, pp.21 and 25). However, Rothschild does not seek to create narratives or invest her works with particular meanings. Rather, the sculptures engage with the ways that different forms can suggest or engender meanings or associations. She has commented: ‘I am interested ... in the ways people look at things; how people bring their narrative modes of looking to things ... [B]ut the objects themselves aren’t the same as the things people want or imagine them to be.’ (Quoted in Ruf, p.11.) To the artist the impact of the work is bound up with its ambiguity of meaning, as she has explained: ‘For me, making work is about creating something experiential – visual, physical, spatial – but also something that refuses legibility, or an immediate summing-up. It just is itself. I guess I have a phenomenological take on it.’ (Quoted in Slyce, p.83.)
The title Knock Knock cannot be easily explained. Part of Rothschild’s strategy to prevent her work from being subjected to a limited interpretation lies with the titles, which are deliberately non-descriptive and ambiguous though nevertheless important. To Rothschild, a title functions ‘almost like a speech version of the work’ (quoted in Ruf, p.13). It emerges in the process of making when the ‘right kind of phrase’ comes to attach itself to the sculpture (Eva Rothschild in Conversation, Tate Britain, London, 6 October 2009).
Clarrie Wallis, ‘Eva Rothschild’, in Beatrix Ruf and Clarrie Wallis (eds.), Tate Triennial 2006: New British Art, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2006, pp.128–31, reproduced p.130.
Beatrix Ruf, ‘An Introduction and a Conversation’, Eva Rothschild, exhibition catalogue, Kunsthalle Zürich 2004.
John Slyce, ‘Random Rules: Eva Rothschild and Keith Tyson’, Flash Art, vol.36, no.231, July–September 2003, pp.82–5.