Ulrike Rosenbach: today is tomorrow

To celebrate his 80th birthday, im ZKM | Karlsruhe presents a large exhibition devoted to the work of a media artist Ulrike Rosenbach. Ulrike Rosenbach was one of the first artists in Germany to make use of the video medium in the early 1970s. In her works, she raises issues of female identity, assigning gender roles and the holistic relationship between man and nature.

Ulrike Rosenbach’s early performances, in which she experiments with the technical possibilities of video to directly record, store and play back videos, sometimes attaching cameras to her body, received wide international acclaim. Thanks to her participation in groundbreaking exhibitions such as documenta 6 (1977) and documenta 8 (1987), Rosenbach became the most famous German performance and video artist of her time.

While still a student at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, where she studied sculpture with Norbert Kricke and Joseph Beuys, Rosenbach made the role of women in society her subject. Her hoods and collars can be understood as symbols of women’s lack of freedom in patriarchal social forms. She also shows these themes in her early video works and creates physical actions without an audience in front of a fixed camera in her studio in which she questions her role as an artist, wife and mother.

Her involvement in the American Women’s Liberation Movement and her position as a professor of feminist media art at the renowned California Institute of the Arts (Cal Arts) in Valencia/Los Angeles, California in the mid-1970s, her work: instead of autobiographical themes, she focused on female patterns and clichés and their cultural message. She often used quotes from art history and worked with live recordings of herself overlaid with images of female characters from mythology, religion, art and popular culture.

With the advancement of digital imaging technology, Ulrike Rosenbach’s videos in the 1980s evolved into image compositions where she used visual effects such as computer-generated image montages and crossfading. Searching for the primal feminine principles and archaic matriarchal lines of tradition, in these years she increasingly shifted the focus of her works to the fundamental aspects of the coexistence of man and nature, the structure of space and time, and the cycle of creation and departure, death.

In the 1990s, Ulrike Rosenbach also created media sculptures in which the far-reaching emancipatory and socio-political content of her works was artistically realized. The artist has transformed many of her performances into elaborate spatial installations. Her latest video works are summaries and syntheses of earlier work cycles, in which, in addition to quoting images from her own works, she draws from edited sequences from the history of cinema and other sources, combining them into atmospherically dense, new compositions of images.

Since 2018, ZKM has been digitizing and processing Ulrike Rosenbach’s video archive, which consists of over 600 analog tapes and digital data carriers. Initiated by the late Peter Weibel (1944-2023) and created in close collaboration with the artist, this retrospective exhibition draws on the results of this work on the archive and presents over 120 works objects, videos, media installations, video sculptures, photographs and drawings – spanning over five decades.

Ulrike Rosenbach: today is tomorrow is part of a series of exhibitions at ZKM that honor the important work of a pioneering generation of media artists.

As part of the exhibition, a publication on the work of Ulrike Rosenbach, edited by Hendrik Folkerts and Peter Weibel, will be published by Buchhandlung Walther und Franz König in Cologne. In addition to Hendrik Folkerts, co-authors include Jennifer Doyle, Robyn Farrell, Stefanie Hessler, Natasha Marie Llorens, Alhena Katsof, Alisa Kronberger, Bojana Kunst, Peggy Phelan, Pavel Pyś, Rebecca Schneider, Caroline Lillian Schopp, Lumi Tan, Mmabatho Thobejane, and Jonah Westerman . The publication will be designed by Linda van Deursen.

Curators: Philipp Ziegler, Hanna Jurisch

The exhibition is supported by Stiftung Kunstfonds, Bonn. Special thanks go to the artist, lenders and Galerie Gisela Clement in Bonn.