Pictures of the event
‘Now I see you. You’re sitting on the bed, back against the wall, legs apart. I’m kneeling between them and you say to me: that was sweet, that was so sweet.’
Roni Horn, ‘CROSSING A FIELD I REMEMBER’
This exhibition reads the work of Roni Horn through the prism of cinema for the first time. Horn’s photography and sculpture are presented alongside clips from Ingmar Bergman’s 1966 drama ‘Persona’. This juxtaposition not only clarifies the profound influence of cinema on Horn’s work, both formally and conceptually, but also sheds light on its intense psychosexuality, which is often submerged under its conceptual rigor and empirical character. While words, literature, and language are often grasped as keys to Horn’s practice, this exhibition reveals that the body, desire and sexuality — the ‘secrets’ of the ‘swamp’ — are equally crucial to the instability and mutability of identity, which is her main theme.
Like many of Roni Horn’s works, Bergman’s film centers on a paired form—the interaction between two women: Elizabeth, an actress who for some unknown reason suddenly refuses to speak, and Alma, the nurse who is assigned to her care. While their ever-changing relationship defies a definitive narrative, Bergman presents visually and formally a peeling off of each character’s masks to reveal the deeper psychic conflicts that define who they really are. At times their interaction feels like a struggle of wills, at others like a reversal of roles, with the nurse increasingly performing for the actress and the actress quietly observing the nurse. There are moments where we feel like we are witnessing an erotic relationship with a sadomasochistic dimension. Are we watching two different people merging into one, or one person taking over the other’s identity, or even two sides of the same split personality?
Both Bergman and Horn reveal the tension between the external world, where the socially inscribed body reigns and the internal world of psychic reality, locus of the lived body with its drives and desires. Bergman exploits the formal devices of the medium of film to mimic the mechanisms of psychic life: Dramatic contrast of light and dark, repetition of identical and near-identical images, camera angles, close-ups, cutting and splicing.
Horn’s writings from Iceland attest to the projection of the libidinal energy onto the landscape. Employing cinematic techniques in her drawings and photographic suites, Horn has developed a syntax of forms whereby her erotic imagination—real and fantasized, conscious and unconscious—coalesces into a unique cosmology. Concrete manifestations of Horn’s sublimated sexuality: The hot springs and pools that double as eyes and orifices, the phallic quality of her stuffed birds photographed from behind, the gridded peep hole views of the girl’s locker room in ‘Her, Her, Her and Her’ (2002-2003), the serial images of Margret sweating in the thermal waters. The clown in ‘Cabinet of’ (2001-2002) with its smeared red nose and lips can be read a symbol of sexual arousal, while revealing the relationship between identity, mask and performance. ‘a.k.a.’ (2008-2009), a series of self-portraits, charts Horn’s exploration of her androgyny to reveal the relationship between gender and performance and, like Bergman, the multiplicity and fluidity of identity.
‘Roni Horn. ‘SWEET IS THE SWAMP WITH ITS SECRETS’ is curated by Jerry Gorovoy for Hauser & Wirth Monaco. The title is taken from a poem by Emily Dickinson.
Images: Roni Horn, Key and Cue, No. 1740 SWEET IS THE SWAMP WITH ITS SECRETS, 1994/2007, Aluminium and black plastic, 193 x 5.1 x 5.1 cm / 76 x 2 x 2 in © Roni Horn. Photo: Genevieve Hanson.