Art: Roni Horn, Discovering the Identity in Multiplicity and Dichotomy

Courtesy of wmagazine.com
Courtesy of wmagazine.com

I love the idea that no matter how obvious something could be, or transparent, there is still room for doubt. It is really interesting that transparency is not as transparent as you think.

These words of Roni Horn rang in my ears like a discovery of a hidden cabala.  Within the walls of this contemporary art museum in Tilburg, the Netherlands, I experienced a journey of identity, ambiguity, and singularity through recurrent colours, words and photographs.

There is a harmony between Horn and her minimalist art.  Born in 1955, New York, where she still lives and works, she combines photography, sculpture and language.  She creates a vivid glance to her life whereby I also get a glimpse of mine.  Her questioning about the concept of identity leads me to explore along with her my own identity.  Her androgynous look, with sharp blue eyes is in perfect accordance with this exploration.  “When you see your reflection in water, do you recognize the water in you?” (2010) she asks in ‘one of the destinations of your journey’ through shapes, colours and words.

Courtesy of depont.nl
Courtesy of depont.nl

The journey begins in a long, time-warping corridor, with a 70 meters long wall on one side, on which her famous work of photographic series A.K.A (2008-2009) takes place; while small rooms resembling minimalistic caves accompany on the other side.  This highly successful installation creates a sense of a wormhole, where step by step, Roni Horn’s “selfless” self-portraits of various ages are paired on the wall, and they guide me while I go in and out the small rooms.  All the artworks are in a concordance, part of a whole, like chapters of a certain story.  In these rooms, the installation consciously helps to create the unity with all of her artworks.

 

Courtesy of depont.nl
Courtesy of depont.nl

In the rooms of “Portrait of an Image” (2003 & 2005), when I sit back and contemplate the 50 different portraits of the French actress Isabelle Huppert, I discover the uniqueness in multiplicity.  This repetition is amazingly clever.  These 50 portraits, each taken every morning one by one in a studio in Paris, make me feel like they are telling me a story.  Each look belongs to a character that Horn and Huppert randomly chose from the films that she played in.  Huppert’s impersonating of herself in her roles, through Horn’s camera, creates a unique story.  Just as in Eisenstein’s dialectical approach in film theory, the collision of each shot creates a different sequel, a three dimensional scene, in which these serial portraits seem more like they overlapping upon each other.

This concept is also visible in A.K.A.  The pairs of portraits are not ‘self’ portraits for Horn.  As she states, “This could be anybody”.  Ironically and successfully, this misidentification intensifies the sense of identification with the work.

depont.nl2
Courtesy of depont.nl

As David Hickey writes in his book about her art: “The mutable version of identity is not an aberration… the fixed version is the aberration.”  While each pair flows through the wall, the notion of identity gets blurry, and while it gets blurry the portraits become freer.  Free of time, free of space.  Photography is an image crystallised in the past, while we are in the present.  And liberating it from this crystallisation is one of the things I believe Roni Horn has achieved.  Each pair dialectically creates a new “one” frame.  This semiotic relationship continues in other rooms as well.  The dichotomy also appears in the works like “Dead Owl” (1997) and “Water Teller” (2014).

When the long corridor ends and I pass through the wormhole, all these chapters and rooms with multiplicity of colours, words, calligrams and portraits, reach to the concluding chapter of the story: a gigantic hall where I meet the final scene.

Courtesy of depont.nl
Courtesy of depont.nl

Massive glass cylinders are the final part of the journey of identity.  They look like liquid, as much as solid.  They are 5000 kilos of glass with the look of pure weightless fluid.  So just like the concept of identity, matter becomes blurry too.  The cylinders look like they are free of their mass and the material they are composed of.  They are beautifully opaque and transparent at the same time.

However, their transparency is an illusion…

The colours and words appear here too, with some phrases attributed to each piece.  The phrases look like they drifted away from a novel.  When I think about what these phrases refer to, I remember Horn’s description about identity: “a social assignment that has little to do with the thing it refers to”.  So maybe these words or colours do not need to refer to anything.  They just simply exist, and their simplicity is what makes them free and unleashed from their material, substance or attribution.  Just like those gigantic masses.

At the end, I felt the same sense of content as when I finish a book.  And the small cinematic room where you can watch a short documentary about the exhibition is definitely a perfect last touch.  In a general view, the exhibition is curated successfully and the installations are brilliant.

The word ‘journey’ is certainly well-deserved for this exhibition, where you can experience the minimalistic style and theme of Horn’s art at its best.  Additionally, the museum’s building perfectly suits Horn’s art—the raw industrial structure is simple and equally minimalistic, which gives it a sense of flow.

Through all the dualities, multiplicities, repetitions and uniqueness, an encounter of the ‘self’ of audience takes place exquisitely and simply.

***

cv imageDeniz Ezgi Kurt studied French Language & Literature at Hacettepe University, Media & Cultural Studies at Middle-East Technical University, and Cultural Studies at Tilburg University.  She writes since childhood and tries to mediate the knowledge academically.  She worked as a translator and a teacher.  As a fiction enthusiast and a passionate gamer, she writes on videogame culture, visual media and pop-culture.  After living most of her life in Turkey, she now resides in Netherlands.

The Poetry of Langston Hughes

UnknownTired

I am so tired of waiting,

Aren’t you,

For the world to become good

And beautiful and kind?

Let us take a knife

And cut the world in two –

And see what worms are eating

At the rind.

In the 1986 foreword to Hughes’ first autobiography — The Big Sea — Amiri Baraka writes, “Langston is the Jazz Poet! He is the singer, the philosopher, the folk and urban lyricist. His poetry is still one of the touchstones of American civilization, in its originality, feeling, and open commitment to social transformation.”  Langston Hughes is one of the most popular poets in North America, and is famous as one of the key figures of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. Jessie Redmond Fauset, the literary editor of The Crisis, the NAACP magazine where Hughes published his poetry, once said to Hughes, “You assuredly have the true poetic touch, the divine afflatus, which will someday carry you far.”  Hughes’ poems are well-known and beloved, and lines have been used in popular book titles such as “Black like Me” by John Howard Griffin, and “A Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry, but his influence is more than that, as I’ve come to realize over the years.

Hughes was a poet, playwright, essayist, memoirist, and a social activist who I’ve been familiar with for the last decade or so.  He started publishing his poetry in 1921 and his first autobiography was published in 1940.  Decades later Hughes is still as important as ever.  Funnily enough, he began to write poetry mainly because of a stereotype his teacher held:

“I was a victim of a stereotype.  There were only two of us Negro kids in the whole class and our English teacher was always stressing the importance of rhythm in poetry.  Well, everyone knows, except us, that all Negroes have rhythm, so they elected me as class poet.” – Langston Hughes, The Big Sea

Hughes’ poems explore various themes such as religion, race, racism, love, and the diaspora.  His poetry is readable, yet profound.  He is a humanist whose poetry discusses subtleties in a wide range of poetry topics.  As a woman I was pleased to see Hughes wrote about women in an understanding and compassionate way, particularly as the Harlem Renaissance has often been criticized about being patriarchal and misogynistic:

imagesTroubled Woman

She stands

In the quiet darkness,

This troubled woman

Bowed by

Weariness and pain

Like an

Autumn flower

In the frozen rain,

Like a

Wind-blown autumn flower

That never lifts its head

Again.

Rereading Hughes recently reminds me of the fact that he was the first poet who made poetry accessible to me, particularly by creating poetry I found relatable to some of my experiences as a member of the black diaspora. Hughes brought to life the black experience in poetry form; the Harlem I had always heard about or seen in movies was illuminated by his words, and the lives of everyday folk that I wasn’t used to reading about were immortalized. To me this was all so very unlike the British poetry I grew up on which, although good, I always felt a disconnect from.

Several of Hughes’ poetry, in this age of the much publicized news on police brutality towards black Americans, serve as a much needed balm.  It not only seems prescient in that so many of his poems are still relevant to this present time, his poetry also has cathartic and therapeutic qualities, and is often a reminder to black Americans that they are strong, powerful people, and in these times, poetry is as essential as ever:

Unknown-1My People

The night is beautiful,
So the faces of my people.

The stars are beautiful,
So the eyes of my people.

Beautiful, also, is the sun.
Beautiful, also, are the souls of my people.

I opened my copy of Hughes’ Selected Poems after hearing the news of Philando Castile’s murder by the police and came across the poem “Democracy”, which seemed just right to voice the frustrations of black people living in the U.S.:

Democracy [Excerpt]

I tire so of hearing people say,

‘Let things take their course.

Tomorrow is another day.’

I do not need my freedom when I’m dead,

I cannot live on tomorrow’s bread.

Reading his two autobiographies — The Big Sea and I Wonder as I Wander — I was able to get a deeper sense of who Hughes was, and which events and experiences contributed to the man he became.  With his wit, dreams, keen observations of life, this explorer who encountered the world and met with issues of race at every turn, left us two very insightful accounts of his life.  Being a black man in America, race is on the forefront of many of his observations, and Hughes’ explorations of what it means to be black in America, in Mexico, in Europe, and in Africa, are very important accounts to this very day.

Hughes’ poetry still has great reach and influence.  It seems to me that to be someone of Hughes’ calibre, it’s important to be a compassionate and sensitive observer.

After all, I suppose, how anything is seen depends on whose eyes look at it.

Langston Hughes, I Wonder as I Wander

***

IMG_7386Rowena was raised in Scotland and Malawi and now calls Vancouver, Canada home.  Because of her diverse upbringing Rowena has always been passionate and inquisitive about culture and identity.  As a graduate of Intercultural and International Communication, her prime focuses and interests lay in issues of diversity, feminism, identity and storytelling.  Rowena finds that literature and music keep her very grounded.

The Things That Words and Pictures Do

cecile-illustration1 The question isn’t whether or not literary magazines need images—it’s about how many.  How much is too much?  There may have been a time when literary magazines could do without them.  That time has passed. We all live on the Internet now, where the playing field between text and image has been leveled.  These days we swim through them in equal measure, only breaching the surface to leap from one tab to the next.  So the real question is: What’s the best ratio?  How does the editor of a literary magazine balance word against image?  Is the ratio 4:1?  3:1?  At what point does a collection go from being a literary text to a glorified art book?

And is it even a bad thing if that were to happen? Read More

Art Review: Outside[,] the Frames

In the Chaillot neighborhood of Paris on Saturday mornings, there’s usually an outdoor “marché” along Avenue President Wilson between the avenues d’Iéna and Marceau.  It’s a quintessentially French affair filled with wines, cheeses, meats, poultries, fish, fruits and vegetables, as well as a sumptuous variety of prepared foods.  The smells are intoxicating and the event is always lively and full of good cheer.  My husband and I knew it was not likely to be open the morning after the terrorist attacks in the 10th and 11th arrondissements, but we went anyway just hoping to be around others and not be so isolated within the confines of our apartment, in [fear] [sadness] [resignation] [(all of the above)].

2015-11-16 14.37.06As we suspected, the marché didn’t take place, but still feeling the need to be out, we headed down President Wilson.  We came to the Palais de Tokio, alongside which there’s a staircase that leads down to some streets adjacent to the Seine.  Having just recently moved to this neighborhood, we hadn’t noticed this area before and went to explore.  Directly at the bottom of the staircase is Rue de la Manutention which after a short block ends in Port Debily on the Seine.  There is a small bridge there called the Pasarelle Debily that crosses the river and leaves you in front of the Museé de Quai Branly.  The Quai Branly is a promenade along the south bank of the Seine, very close to the Eiffel Tower, where we discovered an outdoor installation of photography called We Are Family. Read More

Photography Reflection: Ciao, Ciao Rio!

lens-1280307_960_720Each photo session was filled with anxiety.  Though I’d brainstorm ideas before each shoot, collaborating with models was preferred.  Suggestions were always considered. But they didn’t always go as expected—some were complete flops.

I once rented a boat.  Two fishermen sailed a 2-spirit person (a transwoman in mainstream-lingo) named Cíntia and myself near Forte de São Marcelo just off the coast of Salvador (Brazil).  Our photo shoot was scheduled to take place just off shore.  However, turbulent waves swayed our vessel, leaving me one wave short of regurgitating on deck.  And just when my stomach was ready to topple over the fishermen received my direct order to hastily return our party to dry land.

Another incident occurred during a photo session on my veranda.  Perched over Rua do Carmo, this very public viewpoint attracted the inquisitive eyes of several neighborhood men, some of whom were the same ruffians who’d opened a can of whup-ass on a third rate thief a few weeks ago.  Amongst the crowd was Gregorio, a beloved street-wanderer based in the local community of Santo Antonio.  Excessive intake of cachaça and other alcoholic drinks was his preferred method of escape from so much tolerant oppression and daily depravities in Brazil.  However, the mean streets of the historic center couldn’t have found a more upbeat soul than good ol’ Gregorio, regularly intoxicated but rarely, if at all, pissed-drunk.  Somehow he always seemed to be in my apartment, offering random advice about life or what not.  My roommate had furnished him with a spare key to look after the place while we were out and about.  Well, after my photo shoot, Gregorio pestered me time and time again about his superior sexual prowess and how his participation would drastically improve each and every one of my photo sessions. Read More

Opinion: The Age of Simulated Reality

Photo_Virtual realityVideo games appeared as an entertainment medium that caught our attention back in the 80’s.  In our childhood, many of us were fixated on our television screens while Mario jumped through walls and pipes, or while we were trying to shoot a duck with a Nintendo zapper.  Since then, games have evolved to a virtual realm—a simulation of reality.  The child’s play of the past has been transformed into a visual cinematic medium, which offers something more than cinema—interaction.  Video games can be considered as an interactive storyteller.  The question then is: why is this important?

 

There are different answers, but the concept of reality is a keyword here.  The notion of reality has been one of the subjects that preoccupied mankind.  From Aristotle to Hegel, great thinkers of humanity have asked the question “what is real?” and they have struggled to find an answer.  So, the simulation—the replica of reality—has become a subject of interest, sometimes even more appealing than reality itself.  We can think of fiction novels or stories as the first version of reality simulations.  Even just by reading, without any visual stimulus, an alternate form of reality can be experienced.  Our mind creates the images through words.

Read More

Writing Prompts: The Unexpected

SurrealismWhen I open a book I’m always hoping to be surprised.  It’s what I look for above all else.  Whether it’s in the narrative, or the language an author employs in its construction, I don’t ever want to know where I’m going in advance.

What I crave is uncertainty—that rush of possibility.  I want to be in free fall through a text.  I want to turn a corner and end up at some place unexpected.  Then take a few more steps, and enter somewhere stranger still. It’s this sense of discovery, of stumbling headfirst into the unfamiliar, that appeals to me most about surrealist and magical realist writing.

In its most interesting variations, the reader is discovering a space whose strange nature extends beyond the material.  The fantastical elements push beyond the physical realm, into something deeper.  These spaces, after all, are purely linguistics in nature.  They are built from and sustained by language, and, as such, basic laws of physics—our understanding of probability, space, and time; all the disparate threads woven through the fabric of reality are suddenly made malleable. Read More

Reflection: The Image of the Writer

Annie M.G. Schmidt (1984)The Dutch poet, writer and songwriter Annie M.G. Schmidt wrote a lovely song called “Alleen uit Leed wordt Kunst Geboren” meaning Only from Suffering Art is Born.  The protagonist laments that only artists who experienced personal hardship can become true artists.  And that is something she is still missing, according to her teacher.  Her teacher compares the protagonist’s life with that of composers such as Beethoven, Bach, Haydn and Mozart, and concludes that her student’s life lacks tragedy.  Since her voice lacks sorrow, she will not be assigned solos.

The idea that artists need hardship seems to apply to writers too.  Writers are often depicted as unhealthy beings; hermits, who drink and smoke; who are on the verge of a mental and physical breakdown; who seemed to have lost their marbles; but who after going through their personal hell, deliver their long awaited Master Piece.  (And not just any masterpiece, but The Master Piece of the century.)

433ea4fbba5a2767a59f8f839cda4b63Luckily, this image is being adjusted.  But there is also the impression of writers who sit in avant-garde coffee shops or bistros, drinking fancy coffees or some Boba tea, observing potential characters, while typing away on their laptops.

Is it false?  No, probably not.  There are always examples to be found that fit the image.  Only it seems unfair to claim that all writers live in their own little world, estranged from every-day-life.  (Perhaps it is something some of us would like to achieve.)  But the examples above have nothing to do with writing; they depict certain lifestyles that could be associated with writers. Read More