American Sculptor and Photographer
Summary of Roni Horn
Roni Horn is a challenging artist to define because her methods and mediums are steeped in the same sense of ambiguity that drives her own gender neutral, fluid-identified existence. Rather than rely on categorization, or underlying message, her art is about instigating a relationship with the viewer that jostles and provokes myriad perceptions. She creates conceptual circumstances that combine installation, material, place, and language in a Post-Minimalist fashion to emphasize the centrality of a witnessing mind and body to the meaning of a work.
- The gesture of doubling, or presenting pairs as an aesthetic or conceptual strategy, has been a recurrent motif for Horn. Her interest in this technique lies in its ability to invite the viewer to scrutinize more carefully what and how they are seeing, thus altering the overall dynamic of the artwork.
- Horn consistently thwarts closure within the viewer by creating pieces that thrive on uncertainty and cause a person to temporarily rejigger their personal lens to adjust to the world of the artwork, upon which they have entered, and from which they will depart questioning the validity of fixed identities.
- Place is an important component in Horn's art. Whether confined within a museum room, or orchestrated in collaboration with an existing environment such as her beloved Iceland, an artwork's location is as essential to its final impact as the intended subject or original matter.
- Driven by a deep love of solitude and creative sanctuary, Horn and her art are elementally entwined as documentation of a life spent investigating mutability, multiplicity, and meaning.
Biography of Roni Horn
Born in New York in 1955, Roni Horn was the granddaughter of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. She has said of her childhood: "I grew up in a typical secular Jewish household where humor is absolutely the most important thing in keeping people connected." Her father, Arthur, owned a pawnshop in Harlem, but moved the family upstate to Rockland County while Horn was still a child.
Important Art by Roni Horn
One of Horn's earliest mature works, Gold Field is a 49 x 60 inch sheet of impossibly thin gold leaf laid on the gallery floor. Made of a single material, the work examines how sculptural presence is achieved. Guggenheim curator Ted Mann says: "Unadorned and set directly on the floor without a pedestal, it is in fact not so much a sculpture as the material of gold itself - 'the simple physical reality' of the stuff, in the artist's words."
Horn's interest in gold as a material goes back to her childhood and growing up among the items of her father's profession as a pawnbroker. The work hints at the multiple layers of monetary and mythological connotations associated with gold but also subverts them by offering the simplest version of the material. "In Gold Field," Mann argues, "she sought to strip away these cultural associations to allow viewers to experience the material unmediated, as a visual and tactile thing."
Nevertheless, the thinness of the gold leaf gives the piece a fragility and vulnerability, which is likely to create an emotional response. For instance, the artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres, whose partner was dying of AIDS, had a strong reaction to Horn's work: he wrote that the work was "waiting for the right viewer willing and needing to be moved to a place of the imagination." Within the context of the socially, economically and even biologically turbulent early 1980s, Horn's Gold Field could be read as a symbol of hope, or as Gonzalez-Torres put it, "a new landscape, a possible horizon, a place of rest and absolute beauty."
The work has similarities to various floor-based works by Minimalist artists, such as Carl Andre's Steel Zinc Plain (1961). However, the intended mode of interaction between visitor and work is very different. Although, as Tate's conservation team points out, the "artworks have much in common, the two artists desired very differing types of interaction with their work." Whereas "it has always been clear that Andre's metal floor works are meant to be walked upon," the fragility of Horn's work makes this impossible. While Andre emphasizes the relationship between the artwork and the space in which it is sited, Horn prefers to emphasize the uniquely affective materiality of gold and the physical and emotional relationship the viewer has with that material.
This work is part of a series of "Pair Objects" made by Roni Horn in the late 1980s. The work consists of two machined copper cylinders placed in separate rooms. The viewer sees one before going into the next room to be faced with the same set-up. The machined works are identical in every way, subverting questions about the artist's craft and about the uniqueness of the art-object. Horn explains: "With one object, its presence is emanating out into the world with it as its center. With two objects that are one object, you have an integral use of the world. You have the necessary inclusion of circumstance."
Circumstance here arrives as the experience of seeing two objects which appear to be identical in identical contexts one after the other becomes uncanny for the viewer, who is never given the opportunity to examine the two pieces side by side to confirm whether they are truly identical. The curators of the exhibition titled "Roni Horn aka Roni Horn" at Tate Modern in 2009 noted, "Though the cone in the next room is identical, the experience is different because it is filtered through the memory of the first object. The effect can be disconcerting, since the viewer cannot check if the parts are the same."
The works draw from the Minimalist tradition in the use of industrial production techniques, simple geometric form, and attention to materiality. However, they significantly move away from Minimalism in the importance placed on the viewer in relation to the objects and on the fact that the viewer experiences the works in real time by walking from one to the other.
In the mid-1990s, Roni Horn created her first photographic installation You are the Weather, featuring 100 close-ups of one woman named Magret. Each image is a tightly cropped shot of the woman's face as she leans down to gaze into a pool of Icelandic water. The model's face carries an almost imperceptible variation of expression from image to image, mostly different degrees of squinting. These small changes are a result of the weather (light and humidity levels) at the time when the photograph was taken. Viewers are thusly placed in a similar role to the weather in witnessing the woman's transformation of face, informing the piece's name.
The woman's face becomes like a place or landscape, moulded by the repetitive actions of the living environment. This subtle testament to time and physical transformation gives the piece its power, because as Dia Art Foundation's senior curator Donna De Salvo explains, "The faces require this incredibly acute and precise eye. They really draw you in." Again, Horn is waxing poetic on twin passions that compel her, those of mutability and place.
Horn also draws attention to the notion of looking at art as a voyeuristic practice, effectively turning the tables on the viewer. She writes, "the way this work is shot and installed, the viewer is voyeurized by the view. You are surrounded by a woman who is staring at you." Although we are used to watching the weather, we generally do not consider that the weather might be watching us.
Influences and Connections
Useful Resources on Roni Horn
- Roni Horn (Phaidon Contemporary Art Series)by Louise Neri
- Roni Horn aka Roni HornOur Pickby Briony Fer
- Roni Horn: Another WaterBy Roni Horn
- Roni Horn: BirdOur PickBy Roni Horn
- Roni Horn in conversation with Jarrett EarnestOur PickBy Jarrett Earnest / The Brooklyn Rail / December, 2013
- Roni HornOur PickBy Mimi Thompson / BOMB Magazine / July 1, 1989
- Manifold Singularity: An Interview with Roni HornBy Robert Enright / Border Crossings Magazine / June, 2009
- Roni HornOur PickBy Julie Belcove / W Magazine / November 1, 2009