Sunday, 23 September 2007



(First published 12th June 2007)

Rebecca and Roni Horn are not related, but share name, gender and work with subtle and surprising affinities (and Rebecca not to be confused with Rebecca Horne, photographer). The Horns are usually classified as Conceptualist, at times perhaps Minimalist artists, have each had a distinguished career, built a varied and formidable body of work.

Rebecca is the older, and her early work, beginning in the late 60s, starts from the artist’s performances with novel implements that are literally body extensions, in other works as much costume. But in each case implement or costume as much determines the tasks performed as enables the wearer to perform them, often gives works a vaguely sexual charge. Moreover, separated from performance and records, the objects themselves similarly allude to body parts or shape as much as occasions or goals, often inspire more impractical, even fictive applications. Rebecca’s work in this sense belongs to Conceptual Art’s project for identity of the work as a phase to performance, an instance of a greater work. This issue is also discussed in Posts 4, 17 and 22.

Later works eliminate Rebecca’s body from performance and instead maintain a kinetic or frenetic identity, often with a distinctly audio, even olfactory component. Works like Ballet for The Woodpeckers (1986) or Orlando (1988) remain in a sense incomplete, refer to process and outcome, while not quite belonging to either. The work, in other words, while not as directly linked to the artist’s body, continues to stand as a phase, points both to an occasion and continued activity, a further end. This attention to the work’s identity as an instance and its progressive removal from the artist’s agency, literally and figuratively, is also discussed in posts 8, 25 and 33.

Roni’s work properly emerges around 1980 and ranges between sculptures, installation, prints or publication, especially photography. Her recent survey show in Iceland, where she has been a frequent visitor throughout her career, in fact cues this post. Unlike Rebecca, Roni does not stress process or performance, a task or record. On the contrary, Roni’s work is concerned with the identity of the work denied sequence or process, so that qualities displayed or relations between parts are correspondingly elusive or subtle. In this, Roni’s work is closer to Minimalism, where sculpture and installation (a distinction, not always easily or profitably drawn) often proceed by placement and context for materials rather than more traditional construction from them.

Roni’s work is not only devoted to displaying subtle properties to an object, as in Asphere VII (1986-95) but these also tend to be commissioned objects, so that works, together at least, tend to point to the artist’s lack of intervention, reliance upon standard production. This is true of her photography as well as objects and text. Works commonly consist of two or more identical or nearly identical objects, placed at surprising angles or orientation to each other, so that comparison quickly brings problems in comparing like surfaces or volume, but under different lighting and surroundings. How similar they are, and what exactly they are, must be simultaneously assessed. And this oscillation between description and identity in many ways remains Roni’s Minimalist heritage.

Her many series of photographs where water, birds, children, a tiled interior, and more interestingly, the long series of the Icelandic model Margret, register a range of differences to facial expression, angle, and atmospheric conditions. All variously probe latitude granted an identity, the need or fear of being pinned down. Text works similarly trade in difference to phrasing and tone where a text alternates placement and design on a four sided volume, as in Untitled Gun (1994) or Kafka’s Palindrome (1994). In a later, freer work, Agua Viva (2004) the words are necessarily inflected by the shape and colours but there is no isolating their meaning without colour or shape, without then changing their meaning, ever so slightly. For Roni this slightest of differences finally becomes the measure of identity, the thing we can never know completely, without begging the question.

The difference between Rebecca and Roni would seem to be stark, Rebecca, bodily, egregious even sexual, Roni cerebral or verbal, hermetic even frigid (Iceland!). Yet the work that grants latitude to identity and the work that identifies phases or stages for it, are really two sides of the same coin. Whether their work is especially feminine is less important, but as with assessment of Cindy Sherman, attention to context, even at its most fleeting or inconvenient, would seem typical.

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