Roni Horn

New York USA 1955, lives and works in New York

Due to the use of aluminum and its industrial finish, Kafka’s Palindrome by Roni Horn is somewhat reminiscent of works from Minimal Art, particularly those of Donald Judd. But whereas Judd’s forms are rectangular, the outline of this volume on the floor is an irregular quadrangle. The sides contain black plastic letters which make up the following sentence: It would be enough to consider the spot where I am as some other spot. In order to read this sentence the viewer must move around the object, something which one could regard as a radicalization of, but also as a break with minimalism.

With Minimal Art, the spatial experience of the work of art gained crucial importance during the sixties. By renouncing the pedestal, the artist was abolishing the distinction between the everyday world of the viewer and the imaginary space of the sculpture. The viewer then shares the space with a work of art that is clearly an object and becomes aware of his role and situation in the space. The sentence in Kafka’s Palindrome suggests, however, that the spot where the ‘I’ is located should be seen as a different spot – that the spot must first be transformed by the imagination in order to be truly experienced. Horn thus gives the work an imaginary dimension which contrasts with the ‘literal’ approach of Minimal Art.

The use of a poetic text in Kafka’s Palindrome is no exception in Horn’s work: fragments of poems by Emily Dickinson have been incorporated into an extensive series of works. ‘I felt my life with both my hands,’ wrote Dickinson: this act of feeling one’s own presence is of great importance to Horn. That is why she emphasizes the role that subjective impressions and memories play in perception. 

Roni Horn has devoted many books with drawings, writings and photographs to Iceland, where she travels frequently. The photographs show chunks of hardened lava, abandoned sheepfolds, tumultuous masses of water and calm, almost heavenly pools of (hot) water. The collective title of these books is To Place. It is not the noun, but rather the verb that interests Horn. In the barren and, in geological terms, young landscape of Iceland, the earth’s crust is still in motion; things are not yet fixed. In this landscape Horn is moreover able ‘to place’ herself: amid crevices and vast lava fields, in places where man has yet to impose an order. Precisely because the landscape is so indefinite, the senses can be sharpened and one’s own sense of being can be experienced more fully.

In the large installation Pair Field, Horn has meticulously created ‘placing’ potential for the viewer, not by means of a natural landscape but rather through formalization. The work consists of eighteen identical pairs of forms made of solid copper or steel. Although each pair has a unique form, their rounded contours contain identical volumes. The interrelationship is clear, but every form is distinct, hermetic, enigmatic. The perfection and restraint of the objects is essential: the mass and the position of each one marks a place without transforming that place into something familiar right away.

The pairs are separated from each other in two adjoining spaces, so that two ‘fields’ with precisely the same elements are created. The positions of the pieces in relation to each other is the same in the two rooms. But the spaces are different, both in terms of measurements as well as orientation. The smaller room  is a kind of distortion – a foreshortened representation as it were – of the larger.

The effect of that proportional modulation is considerable. There is something mysterious about the relationship between the two basically identical configurations. As a viewer, one is actually always in two rooms at the same time; physically one walks through the one field, but mentally one is also in the other to some extent. In this confusing situation, the viewer becomes the focus. The words of Kafka’s Palindrome surface again: one looks at one environment but remembers another. The place in which one is standing is another place at the same time.

Here you will find more information about Roni Horn's exhibition in 2016 in De Pont.