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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Deniz 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.