“Roni Horn: my personal approach”Dazzling 🤩Guest Post by Dorothea Klein

Reading time: 5 minutes

Writing down my impressions and my thoughts has helped me a lot to see the common thread connecting the different works of Roni Horn.

I haven’t known Roni Horn before, and it was very inspiring for me to learn about the body of work displayed in ML.

Thank you very much Karla for your June ArtTalk and the way you always share your knowledge with us.

Give Me Paradox or Give Me Death
Roni Horn at Museum Ludwig

Every artist has a topic to work on, sometimes even a message. The ArtTalks always help me to see the context when, where, how and why a specific body of art was made. For me it was interesting to learn about Roni Horn’s work and to understand the motivation behind it. The June ArtTalk was very inspiring and so my approach to Horn’s work is very personal.

I was moved by Roni Horn’s art works, and the way they were mostly presented in daylight in Museum Ludwig in Cologne. Drawings, photographs, sculptures gave answers to questions that were way ahead of the time when asking and finding out about identity.

Horn doesn’t refer to persons only. Horn asks in almost the same manner about the identity of nature, of things, of colors (e.g. Hamilton Red”) or material (e.g. rubber as in “Soft Rubber Wedge” or gold in “Gold Field”) or even literature (e.g. poetry by Emily Dickinson)

Nowadays we tend to narrow the term identity to “gender” only. But gender is the least topic Horn is interested in. For Horn identity is much more.

Right in the beginning pairs of 2 x 48 similar photos, almost snapshots, show the artist’s niece as a teenage girl. The photos are presented on two walls in the entrance area of the exhibition. They are of the same size and display the niece’s face up to the shoulder. The photos show the girl within a period of three years. Looking from right to left and back again you realize either a slight or an obvious difference in each pair, depending on the niece’s facial expressions or the subtle way she turns her head or moves her mouth. You realize that it is the same person, but the photographs are not identical, they are taken shortly one after the other. And if you asked for the niece’s identity every picture shows a different aspect of her. Time and the change within time is something that forms our identity.

Change could have different reasons.

It could be a deliberate activity like in the 50 units of “Portrait of an Image (with Isabelle Huppert)”, when the actress shows different expressions of emotions depending on the roles she had played in different films. It could also be something natural in the way that it has something to do with daylight. “You are the weather” is more than a superficial change in a woman’s face. The photographs refer to a nature phenomenon that is outside of the photograph. You can’t see it directly but at the same time it makes the woman on the photo look different and presents a different side of her life.

One of Horn’s early sculptures, titled “Gold Field”, shows a gold layer on the floor. One edge is bent upwards. Daylight and the weather outside change the perception to every observer.

In a similar way I do understand Horn’s pictures of the River Thames. Of course our brain knows that water is liquid and transparent. And we know that flowing water changes constantly and won’t be the same in the next second. The photographs show a cut-out of the flowing water of the River Thames. Of course, it could be any river. Horn explicitly chose the River Thames, because it is the one with a high rate of suicides. What a gloomy perception! A long list of numbered quotes about the river is added under each photograph itself. Every quote could raise a new discussion and would be worth talking about. Every photograph shows water, nothing else. But the impression of water is so different. It looks dangerous or not dangerous, churning or calm. In one photo the water looks like a wet rock, in another the observer admires the wonderful abstract lines that are made by the movement of water in a fixed moment of time.

Water is a good example of showing constant change. You can see things this way or completely different. Life is not fixed, that’s the message. If the people who committed suicide in the River Thames had known before, would they have been stopped extinguishing their own lives? Roni Horn gives an artist’s answer to an existential question.

In the end I would refer to Horn’s way of dealing with language. One is “Hack Wit”; it is such a humorous way to present clichés and idioms. Horn paints them, cuts them and reassembles them to new expressions that seem to be familiar and strange at the same time.

Horn is obviously interested in language. Words are woven in the big collages that look like huge road maps when you look at them from a certain distance. Lines of poems by Emily Dickinson are quoted and written on foursquare sticks of different length leaning on the wall. Quoting lines of a poet in a sculpture is like a well-known song covered and interpreted by another singer or band.

I really like this way Horn deals with literature.

Dorothea Klein

Good news

Good news all ArtTalkers who were not with us in June - you can still visit the show!

Roni Horn
Give Me Paradox or Give Me Death

In Museum Ludwig, 23. März – 11. August 2024

Next ArtTalk on Thursday, September 5th