German Sculptor, Filmmaker and Performance Artist
Summary of Rebecca Horn
Rebecca Horn has a longstanding interest in the creation of magical objects, which she infuses with both tenderness and pain. Her work looks back to alchemical explorations by the female Surrealists, and forward to large-scale contemporary, poetic, and mechanical sculptures. During childhood Horn endured the chaotic aftermath of post-war Germany and felt unnerved by her father's highly imaginative but frightening stories. In early adulthood, like Frida Kahlo, Horn experienced a profound change in direction and surge of inspiration following an extended illness. Also bed ridden, Horn started making soft sculptures with materials she could work with whilst recovering. Thus although the artist suffered from physical collapse, this was followed by a re-birth of sorts and in turn a heightened understanding of her own spiritual capacity and that of others. As result, Horn always makes art that "extends" outwards to best communicate with others. To this day, she lives within the rich and private, whilst paradoxically, transparent and revealing, real fantasy world that she has created for herself.
- Rebecca Horn is one of few incredibly insightful artists to make visibly clear that humans are literally more than they appear. The artist's 'body extension' pieces very cleverly display internal happenings on the outside of the body. As such, these sculptures serve to help viewers understand difficult emotions and have a therapeutic impact. They are also at once sculptures in their own right as well as being part of a performance; this was an unusual artistic development during the 1960s and 70s, and shows effective combination of very different media, one tangible and one ephemeral.
- Horn constantly addresses the balance between psychological states of heaviness and lightness in her artwork. As a constant exploration of anxiety and depression and the human capacity to deal with such states of being, the artist has said that one of her goals at the beginning of her career was to fight "loneliness by dealing with bodily forms". When locked in constant dialogue with the mind, Horn reveals that working with the body (and indeed the process of art making) brings balance.
- The artist's interest in sound and in combining musical instruments in visual pieces reveal her desire to combine and dissolve difference rather than to create separation. She makes work that is at once poetic and scientific and as such brings forth her belief in the interrelatedness of all things. She introduces sound to her pieces to suggest to the viewer that they approach art more like music, that they do not agonise and try to understand, but instead that they 'listen' and experience an intuitive response.
- Most of Horn's works, especially early sculptures, as well as making profound comments about the human body existing in space, are often reminiscent of torture apparatuses. As such, and in particular the artist's large-scale installations, the work deals with war, and the injustice of cruelty and violence. Horn makes it utterly clear that her work goes beyond the personal to also exhibit full commitment to the political, and most importantly, to forever act as a counter force to dangerous historical amnesia.
Biography of Rebecca Horn
Rebecca Horn was born in the midst of war, in 1944 in Michelstadt, Hesse, Germany. While Horn has not discussed her childhood or family in depth, introducing only snippets, we know that her parents were industrialists and her uncle - to whom she was close - was an artist. She has expressed a deep love for the Romanian governess who looked after her as a young child recalling that it was the governess who spent much time drawing with her at around three or four years old. Growing up in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War affected Horn greatly, and as such the experience penetrates many of her artworks to come. After the war, Horn and her fellow Germans could hardly speak their own language because, blamed for the atrocities of the older generation, they had become a hated people. Horn learnt to speak both French and English but she preferred drawing as a way to communicate that remained untainted and universal.
Important Art by Rebecca Horn
Einhorn (Unicorn) is a white wearable sculpture intended to be worn by a female performer. A cone-like structure, akin to the mythical creature's horn, is attached to the performer's head as an extension of her body using a series of horizontal and vertical fabric straps that run from the head, to the neck, and down the naked body. This is one of Horn's best-known works, as well as one of her earliest. Exhibited both as a sculptural object and in her influential film Performances II as part of a series of documented performances, the work challenges how we think about sculpture. Horn states that Unicorn was performed near Hamburg after having spent a year in a sanitorium following lung poising caused by glass fibres that she had inhaled whilst making work at Art College. As Horn had lived in total isolation for a full year, independent curator Sergio Edelsztein suggests that Unicorn, and other related 'extension' works, act as the artist's attempt to reach outwards and "restore communication with the outside world". Horn has also said of the work, "When I got out [of the sanatorium], I made that piece for one particular girl in a class of mine, Angela. It's dedicated to her. She had a very strange, stiff way of walking".
Architect and lecturer, Charles Holland, contributes that Horn's "early prosthetic extensions - gloves with foot-long fingers, a mask with numerous tiny pencils attached - take a simple bodily action and subject it to elongation and distortion. Supposedly straightforward functions, such as drawing or touching, become difficult and compromised, but are also given new meaning." Indeed, Unicorn extends the body and imbues the performer with an at once otherworldly and robotic quality. Although it is unlikely that Horn was familiar with Frida Kahlo's work at this time, the resemblance between this sculpture and Kahlo's 1942, Broken Column painting is uncanny. Both artists visualise trauma that they have experienced and transform this into meaning. As such, these art works move beyond individual traumatic experience and become instead ciphers for dealing with some of the most difficult and universal experiences of both physical and emotional pain, and the subsequent necessity to re-build.
The Gigolo is a 45 minutes feature film set in the artist's New York studio. Interweaving fantasy and reality, the film begins with Max (performed by Timothy Baum, Horn's long-term partner) playing the theme tune of the film The Third Man on a toy piano. After a ballerina arrives, and an argument breaks out between her and Max, twins enter the film, providing the haunting and mirror-like qualities of doubling and divided identity. Horn sets up an opposition between the genders, for instance in the creation of an argument, and by showing the capacity of the female twins to attract the attention of the male characters, Max and blind Frazer. When one of the twins is drawn to objects that she has found in Horn's studio, fantasy returns to reality and refers back to the artist herself again. There is a moment when one of the twins notices some hatpins and her attraction to these seems threatening. The ending of the film memorably involves one of the twins becoming tempted by a mechanical swing, then jumping to an image shot of a dead girl in the street outside Horn's studio.
The film features one of Horn's important sculptures, The Feathered Prison Fan. The work thus introduces an important and recurring material and theme for the artist, that of the feather. The feather and wings are long standing motifs associated with melancholy and the expression of creative anxiety. Since Albrecht Dürer's famous engraving of a large 'melancholy' angel, many artists have since re-visited this subject. Francesca Woodman made a series of photographs called On Being An Angel (at a similar time as Horn did this piece). There is a sense in both of these oeuvres that the artists are attracted to a more celestial (out of this world) existence, but at the same time attempt to manage and negotiate an everyday, earthly life. With the 'wings' looking like a cocoon but also being referred to as a 'prison', there is a simultaneous message that this way of being (highly thoughtful and imaginative) can be at once protective and restrictive.
Overall, as an abstract, surreal, and fantastic narrative, Horn's film helps to bring her body sculptures to life using a highly impressive melange of different media and styles. The curator, Valentina Ravaglia has described how in The Gigolo Horn's "mechanical sculptures serve as actors in the film whilst actors play their roles like dysfunctional machines." Here, the symbolism of Horn's moving sculptures standing as revealing replacements for the actual body becomes clear. In the film, the fragility of human life is exposed and the absurd nature of human relationships is suggested. The Gigolo, like Horn's other feature films, evokes strong psychoanalytic interpretations, and for some, possesses an alienating quality because characters are built of the imagination and do not necessarily make sense socially or rationally.
Cutting One's Hair with Two Scissors at Once is the eighth part of Berlin Exercises: Dreaming under Water (1974-75), a series of recorded performances. In the first part of the color film, German actor Otto Sander is seen reading out the following text to camera: "Tongues flickering, their heads move back and forth until the scaly skin beneath the throat is touching. The instant physical contact is established, they begin to entwine. The aggressive fighting dance of the two partners is characterized by a gradual, mutual loss of momentum and the beating against each other of their forebodies. The jerkily undulating bodies wind so tightly around each other that the two snakemen merge into a single body whose two heads move back and fro in parallel. The fight is decided when the stronger animal has pressed his opponent down against the floor."
After this, Rebecca Horn emerges holding a pair of scissors in each hand, simultaneously cutting both sides of her long red hair. A tense atmosphere is created by the loud and constant sound of the scissors, as well as by Horn's fixed stare into camera. The intensity of Horn's gaze is challenged by the closeness of the scissors to her eyes, and here; the suggested struggle might be between the scissors and Horn's clarity of vision, or it could be between violence and human resilience. In the last part of the film, a window in the room seems to open by itself, and text overlaid on this image translates as: "When a woman and her lover lie on one side looking at each other, and she twines her legs around the man's legs, with the window wide open, it is the oasis."
The words spoken at the start of the film create a powerful description of a physical fight; these are followed by the implicit battle between the two pairs of scissors to remove Horn's hair. The bluntness of the cuts deliberately reject notions of an ideal feminine appearance, and her stare suggests an attitude of defiance in the face of constraints placed on the body and mind. Overall, the act of hair cutting, as both the voiceover and end text also suggest, is always connected to romantic relationships. Frida Kahlo cut her long locks when she divorced from Diego Rivera, and such is a recurring theme for women as they suffer loss in love. Taken in comparison to Marina Abramović's classic performance Rhythm O, who aside from this performance made many works that dissect the dynamics of relationships with her partner Ulay, Horn commits the act of hair cutting unto herself, whilst Abramović submitted herself to the will of an audience. The theme and act also share meaning and tension with other key performance works by female artists at a similar time, for example Yoko Ono's documented live performance Cut Piece (1964) and Martha Rosler's Semiotics of the Kitchen (1975).
Influences and Connections
Useful Resources on Rebecca Horn
- Rebecca Horn: Bodylandscapes Drawings, Sculptures, Installations 1964-2004Our PickBy Doris van Drathen, Rebecca Horn, Katharina Schmidt and Armin Zweite / This monograph accompanied Horn's solo exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in London in 2005
- Rebecca HornBy Germano Celant, Nancy Spector, Giuliana Bruno and Katharina Schmidt / Comprehensive (collectible) monograph accompanying Horn's major Guggenheim retrospective in New York
- Rebecca Horn: The Glance of InfinityBy Carl Haenlein / Collectible monograph on Rebecca Horn
- Rebecca Horn - The Vertebrae OracleBy Rebecca Horn, 2014 / Book of poetry by Rebecca Horn
- Rebecca Horn - All these Black DaysBy Rebecca Horn / Postcard collages and texts by Rebecca Horn sent to Timothy Baum and friends
- The bionic womanJeannette Winterson meets Rebecca Horn / The Guardian / 23 May, 2005
- Round The HornAn interview with Rebecca Horn / Frieze Magazine / 6 September, 1994
- The Backbone of Rebecca Horn (an interview with Rebecca Horn)Our PickBy Kurt McVey / Interview Magazine / 15 May, 2014
- Rebecca HornInterview with Rebecca Horn by Gesine Borcherdt / December 2014
- Rebecca Horn is TravellingOur PickProduced and Directed by James Erskine / BBC Art Zone / 2000
- Discussion of Rebecca Horn - Body Extensions and IsolationJoey from Tate Collective London discusses Horn's work
- Rebecca Horn, Berlin 1974Rebecca Horn performing for camera in Scratching Both Walls at Once, 1974-75
- Documentation of Berlin Exercises in Nine Pieces: Exercise 8: Cutting One's Hair with Two Scissors at Once
- Tied to a Bed - The Thing About...Art & Artists - Rebecca HornVideo montage of documentation of Horn's work including brief footage of an interview with Rebecca Horn