Roni Horn: Temporality and Circumstance

by Velvet Park Media

If conscience is a placid lake, and our subconscious a network of rivers beneath rivers, adrift in these deep waters is probably a fierce psychological need for the presence of water to be comforting. Roni Horn has worked directly with water, in capacities of solace and sorrow but mostly, it’s the inherent qualities of water that emerge in her work(1). Temporality, mutability, reflection: more than medium or aesthetic these shifting states are her true material.

Horn has employed photography, drawings, sculpture, installation, mixed media, and yet: none of these disciplines describe the totality of her vision. A profoundly conceptual artist, Horn has four pieces currently at New York’s The FLAG Art Foundation. The show is named after the enigmatic gold wall sculpture (Double Mobius) and includes another sculpture (Pink Around) and two sets of photographic works (This is You, This is Me andPuff).

On a physical level, is there anything more redundant than water? Without it we cannot exist. Thoughts, perception—the interior pools of reflection that accompany a physical being—are they not quite excessive when imagined as a collective weight?  In serene but valiant play with texture and material, Horn reduces concepts of redundancy and excess, revealing them as illuminating.  A solid pink glass sculpture is both abrasive around the edges but soft to the touch on its top surface. This floor sculpture is Pink Around. It poses as many questions about reflection as it does about aberration.

“Invisible continuity is intrinsic to water. This continuity exceeds us even while being the biggest part of us. It’s this continuity that makes our effect on water an effect on us.”—Roni Horn2

Double Mobius is Horn’s third sculpture in gold, engaging the viewer at eye-level. Gold ribbons in the shape of a mobius strip: a geometric form that appears to have two sides, but only has one. The gallery has termed the beguiling effect of this sculpture as “a simultaneous impression of intimacy and infinity.”  Working with pairs has been a theme for Horn, I’m sure it’s no accident that Double Mobius is situated across from Pink Around.

Between these two works is This Is You, This Is Me, a series of close-up photographs of Horn’s niece: ninety six photographs of Georgina’s expressions and explorations of identity. Fitting the concept of doubles, Georgina looks remarkably like Horn herself, in younger days. This Is You, This Is Me occupies two walls facing each other, placing viewers between very elastic gazes. Another consistent theme of Horn’s work is obvious with this piece: gender, identity, androgyny. Specifically, in how style, posture and gaze steer identification and perception. It’s unfortunate that the book This Is You, This Is Me is not also on display at the gallery. If it were, viewers could see how the book itself was created in loop form: after reaching the last page, the reader turns the book around and begins again.

Looping in a cycle, This Is You, This Is Me addresses infinity, but on a less paradoxical level than Double Mobius. The print version of This Is You, This Is Me is cyclical in a linear way. Double Mobius poses the question of what Horn calls double infinity: “It’s a double Mobius, and I just love that paradox, double infinity. What the hell is one infinity? Now you’ve got two infinities. It’s almost like the double negative. It has this funny feeling of amplification, but of what?3

Gold and water are both highly malleable elements.  Gold and water can easily be perceived as double states of corporeality: water for human composition, gold for internal illumination. Pink Around is cast glass, but glass is never actually a solid. Glass remains liquid, despite its imperceptably changing solid state. Within the context of Horn’s work with water, materials like glass and gold pose the experience (singular, cumulative) of gender identity as a mutable, fluid continuum despite cast(e).

Mutability defies single definition. The spatial dialogue and mathematical replicas of the pair become an arena of multiplicities. Pink AroundDouble Mobius and This Is You, This Is Me each affirm a deeply human malleability: transition as constant. These works suggest states (of being) as relative to circumstance (frozen, liquid, solidity). Temporality in relation to circumstance. Beyond a stark formality, Horn’s deceptively simple works are intensely emotional and rewarding on multiple levels.

Double Mobius is on view at New York’s The FLAG Art Foundation until September 2, 2011.

Additional photo credits: portrait of Roni Horn by Juergen Teller. Slideshow photograph: detail of Still Water (The River Thames, for Example), 1999. Lithograph. © Roni Horn. Photograph sourced from MoMA.org

(1) (2) from the artist statement at: http://water.pulitzerarts.org/artist-statements/horn
(3) excerpted from an interview with the artist at:http://www.wmagazine.com/artdesign/2009/11/roni_horn#ixzz1RCVBa4CT