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Rebecca Horn in Maribor

Published by Bo Ko — 7 years ago

Blog: Maribor
Tags: General

When I went to Maribor it turned out that the city was European Capital of Culture. There were some very interesting events that were part of this program. One of them was an exhibition of a famous German artist, named Rebecca Horn. I went to see her works and then I had to analyze them. She turned out to be quite an interesting artist with some very peculiar ideas. Here is a short analysis I did after seeing Rebecca Horn's exhibition:

Art is communication

Art tends toward timelessness. It represents, talks, shows, and communicates with the audience. The main purpose of art only some three centuries ago was representation. It started as a representation of daily life, religious beliefs and practices, historical figures and events, and so on. The ancient Egyptians used art to represent their gods and to prepare for the afterlife. Greeks and Romans represented beautiful human figures, admiring the perfect proportions of the human body.

During early Christianity, religion and the Church had a great role in people’s lives, so art was mainly religious. In Japan and China prints and drawings often represented nature, routine daily actions, beautiful women, warriors, etc. Until the invention of photography in the 19th century, art had this representative function. “Perhaps the great revolution produced by photograph was in arts. The painter could no longer depict a world that had been much photographed. He turned, instead, to reveal the inner process of creativity in expressionism and abstract art” (McLuhan 210).

With photography, art became liberated. It was a gradual process of investigation and experimentation that artists underwent. Different artists explored different perspectives of their inner worlds. Surrealism, abstract art, cubism, futurism, etc. dealt with a variety of personal artistic interests and searches.

After the two World Wars art became more and more abstract. Artists, such as the Dutch Mondrian, were looking for a certain logic and simplicity in the world. Picasso and Braque were interested in time and space, thus creating cubism, which represented the fourth dimension, which is time. McLuhan states that “cubism, by giving the inside and outside, the top, bottom, back, and front and the rest, in two dimensions, drops the illusion of perspective in favour of instant sensory awareness of the whole. Cubism, by seizing on instant total awareness, suddenly announced that the medium is the message… Is that not what has happened in physics as in painting, poetry, and in communication? Specialised segments of attention have shifted to total field, and we can say, ‘The medium is the message’ quite naturally” (McLuhan 13).

And art in particular has changed to an extent to which it became interested in the artist’s inner preoccupations and fears, emotions, love, or sadness. That is why art is so abstract today. Art could be a painting, a photograph, an installation, or a video. Art could be anything because the human emotions are so vast, because information comes so quickly and affects our lives on a daily basis, making artists connected to the whole world, experiencing its problems and joys. In the “global village” we live in today, it is only logical that art could be considered anything that has a particular relevance to a person’s life, emotions, and fears.

Rebecca Horn

Rebecca Horn is a modern artist. Her works are abstract, unpredictable, machine-based, and often even weird. “In 1964 I was twenty years old and living in Barcelona in one of those hotels where you rent rooms by the hour. I was working with glass fibre, without a mask or anything, because nobody said it was dangerous, then suddenly I got very sick. For a year I was in a Sanatorium. My parents died. I was totally isolated. That’s when I began to produce my first body-sculptures. I could sew lying in bed” (Winterson).From the isolation of her bed, Horn “began designs that would extend her body”, so when she recovered and returned to art school she started working with prosthetic bandages and padded body extensions (Winterson). “When you are very isolated or alone, you have this tremendous longing for communication, and also this strong desire to communicate through the body. ” (Power Point).

Rebecca Horn was born in Germany in 1944, just a year before the end of the Second World War. She perceives drawing as a language, and that is a language that is “not suspect” (Winterson). “We could not speak German. Germans were hated. We had to learn French and English straight away. We were always travelling somewhere else, speaking something else. But I had a Romanian governess who taught me how to draw. I did not have to draw in German or French or English. I could just draw” (Winterson). Horn read and admired Johannes Valentinus Andreae’s The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz and Raymond Roussel’s Locus Solus. These two works raised Horn’s interest in the absurd, the alchemy, and the surreal machines. She was also inspired by the writings of Kafka and the films of Buñuel and Pasolini (Rebecca Horn).

Rebecca Horn lives in many different places: Paris, Berlin, Majorca, Barcelona, and New York have all been her home cities. “If a country asks me to make a piece of work for them, I go and live there” (Winterson).

In the 1980s Horn was working in Italy. She was filming a piece, for which, a peacock fantail was needed. When filming was supposed to begin, the peacock had lost its feathers, so Rebecca built a machine that would do its job. This was the beginning of her love for machines and automata, which gradually replaced her body-extensions and started living a life on their own. “For me, all of these machines have a soul because they act, shake, tremble, faint, almost fall apart, and then come back to life again. They are not perfect machines… I’m interested in the soul of a thing, not the machine itself. I work closely with my technician, who actually builds the machines, but I know how they will look and function. It’s the story between the machine and its audience that interests me” (Power Point).

The 1980s marked another change in Horn’s artistic direction. While collaborating with Jannis Kounellis on an installation at the site of an insane asylum in Vienna, she became increasingly interested in the memory and the history of the place. She started choosing places, which were historically or emotionally marked, for the setting of her projects (Rebecca Horn). “The escalation of events in Yugoslavia had already passed through the tragedy of a second winter in Sarajevo. Any hope for the survival of the besieged seemed almost illusory. Vienna’s underground was populated by the refugees of the war. These abandoned people were hiding in doorways and subway tunnels. The energy of a special kind of music was present everywhere one went. These people somehow still needed to articulate themselves - no longer with a cry nor in their language, all they had left was their music. This was their only way of expressing pain; they couldn’t speak German, they had no passports, no identity, they were on the run. In the Third Reich, before Hitler occupied Vienna, the city virtually became a transit station, and suddenly this desperate exodus was happening all over again. As a counterbalance to this momentum of flight I tried to establish a sense of stability within a space where these nameless people might rediscover their identity” (Power Point). The result of this experience was a work, named "The Tower of the Nameless", constructed in Vienna and dedicated to those nameless refugees. It is a large construction, a sculpture of violins and ladders, interwoven together into one piece. “In Vienna, I constructed a tower of ladders on a baroque staircase in a private house. It became a structure in which only one ladder was standing on the floor, and the others grew upward from it to the ceiling and out through a high window. Attached to the ladder tower were nine violins, mechanically playing to themselves in a manic, melancholy sigh. It was like passing through space to another floor where some other hope existed. I called it "Space for the Nameless" after a small cemetery on the banks of the Danube just outside Vienna, which is populated by the unidentified bodies of those found floating lifeless down the river. Every afternoon a gypsy violinist came and played and improvised for an hour with my nine mechanical violins. Some people felt that it was like East meeting West. To me, that is Vienna. ” (Power Point). Another peculiar example of her works, could be Chorus of the Locusts, which is a construction of thirty-five typing machines, hanging from a ceiling and typing at different rhythms.

Rebecca Horn teaches in Berlin. She loves communicating and connecting with young people. She believes Berlin is the place where there is always something happening. “There is not much money”, she says, “but you can rent very cheaply, and artists are coming there from all over the world” (Winterson).

Horn has received several awards. She is the first woman to receive the prestigious Trägerin des Kaiserrings Goslar. Her works can be seen in many different cities and museums. In 2012 Rebecca Horn exhibited along with several younger artists at UGM Maribor Art Gallery. A short summary of her work could be: a large collection of installations, films, drawings, photographs, performances, and automatized objects.

The exhibition Horn held in Maribor was called Maribor Project/Rebecca Horn & Guests. It was a retrospective of Horn’s works and part of the celebration of the city of Maribor as a capital of culture in 2012. Horn invited Matthias Deumlich, Ali Kaaf, Antonio Paucar, Jakob Schaible, and Markus Wüste to exhibit along with her their most recent works. For the occasion, Horn created an art installation exclusively for Maribor. The name of the installation is "Will o’the Wisps".

Matthias Deumlich concentrates on sound, movement and the relation between both. Ali Kaaf works with paper and photography. Markus Wüste creates sculptures from traditional materials such as graphite or marble, but making objects, which contrast with the traditional idea of sculpture: a “plastic” bottle made of blue pearl stone or a boot made of graphite. Jakob Schaible works with salt, sound, water, light, and movement. Antonio Paucar focuses on performance art. “Employing different material and techniques, all five artists have developed a strong individual artistic language in order to reflect their subjective perception of aesthetic, societal and historical subject matters” (Exhibition information).

Rebecca Horn’s works

Rebecca Horn works in a symbolic language. When asked by journalists and curious spectators at her exhibitions, to explain her works, she would advise them to find their own meaning. She claims her works are about transformation: the personal transformation of the individual. She likes to provoke and to reach the limits. In her opinion, artists such as Buñuel or Pasolini “are people who went to the edge. That’s important, even if you are attacked for it”, says Horn (Morgan). Her common usage of machines in her works is also a subject of interest. “Not machines”, Horn exclaims, “tension. And to create moments of tension you need a vocabulary. If there is a story about people who love each other and touch and faint but who can’t be together, perhaps you can tell it better with two brushes” (Morgan).

In Maribor Project Rebecca Horn & Guests, many of Horn's older works were exhibited. Several new ones were also shown.

This work was created in 2012. It consists of two chairs with knives instead of legs. Every few minutes, two of the legs move. There is a sea shell on one of the chairs, an element which has appeared in other of Horn’s works. It could be considered an erotic symbol of the female. The description available for this work is:

Gesualdo’s appearance after killing the servant, the lover, and his wife Maria… moon-winds knitting the bodies anew in the robe of the silver crane.

Gesualdo was the prince of Venice in the late 16th century. One night his wife, Donna Maria d’Avalos and her lover, Don Fabrizio Carafa, the Duke of Andria were found murdered and covered in blood. Witnesses were convinced that the murderer was Gesualdo, who had entered the apartment where the murder took place, shouting about killing the two adulterers. Gesualdo disappeared from Venice after the crime and became a composer some years later (Ross).

Horn’s work is based on this peculiar story, where art, love, and revenge connect into one. It is a work that bears Horn’s style: mechanized objects, which move and make noise. Every few minutes, the audience is surprised and often scared by the sudden moves of the chair legs, which are also knives. The story behind this work is all about emotions: love, revenge, anger… It is what interests Rebecca Horn as an artist: the human emotions and experiences in all of their forms.

Large Feather Wheel


Large Feather Wheel is an older work. It was created in 1997. Feathers were a common object in Horn’s pieces at the beginning of her career: “Feather Finger” (1972) in which feathers were attached to the fingers of a performer, or “Cockfeather Mask” (1973), in which feathers were part of a specific mask. These earlier works show Rebecca Horn’s idea of body extensions. Objects were used as part of the body, by being attached to the hands, arms, and legs of performers, or by being worn as costumes or masks. As mentioned earlier in this essay, throughout the years Horn’s approach changed and she started creating mechanized objects, which functioned by themselves, due to incorporated in them mechanisms. Machines have taken over and live their independent lives. In this sense, it would probably be easier to relate Horn’s later works to Baudrillard’s theories of media and technology being independent and influencing the human’s life in every aspect. Horn’s later pieces of art are hardly body extensions anymore. They are independent.

Will o’the Wisps

This particular work was created for Maribor Project / Rebecca Horn & Guests. It is a peculiar and complex composition, consisting of mirrors, lights, human skulls (most likely no real ones) and shoes. The mirrors and the lights move in different directions. “Will o’ the wisp” is an actual term, which comes from European and later form American folklore. According to the legend, "Will o’ the Wisp", also known as “foolish fire”, “ghost-light”, and many others, is a deceiving light, which appears at night to mislead travelers from the safe paths. This would usually happen near graveyards, swamps, bogs, and so on. In the folklore beliefs these lights were spirits or malicious fairies ("Will-o'-the-wisp").

The description provided for this Rebecca Horn’s work is:

The lost walkers circling in their loneliness never seen to be arriving, fled when still too young those silenced in the wind”. The work has symbolic meaning. It could be considered a “discussion” of emotions and feelings, which were a major theme in Horn’s works: loneliness, isolation, etc. Told in a mythological or folklore style, this work represents isolation, fear, and loneliness. The work is very complex in its nature. A large number of “sculptures”, consisting in skulls, attached to poles, and terminating with worker’s shoes are arranged together. Movement of certain elements gives life to the figures. Dry plants are added in order to create the sensation of being outside in a forest, or near a swamp. This work could be viewed as a summary to Horn’s art. It brings together the idea of machines having soul, the notion of isolation and loneliness, the mythological… That is Rebecca Horn herself: a complex artist, who is always searching, experimenting, and expressing a wide range of emotions.

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