Museum Tinguely in Basel and Centre Pompidou-Metz are presenting parallel exhibitions devoted to the artist Rebecca Horn. In this way, the two institutions offer complementary insights into the work of an artist who is among the most extraordinary of her generation. In the Body Fantasies show in Basel, which combines early performative works and later kinetic sculpture to highlight lines of development within her oeuvre, the focus is on transformation processes of body and machine. The Theatre of Metamorphoses show in Metz explores the diverse theme of transformation from animist, surrealist and mechanistic perspectives, placing special emphasis on the role of film as a matrix within Horn’s oeuvre.
Horn’s work is always inspired by the human body and its movement. In her early performative pieces of the 1960s and ‘70s, this is expressed via the use of objects that serve as both extensions and constrictions of the body. Since the 1980s, her work has consisted primarily of kinetic machines and, increasingly, large-scale installations that ‘come alive’ thanks to movement, the performing body being replaced by a mechanical actor. These processes of transformation between expanded bodies and animated machines in Horn’s oeuvre, which now spans almost five decades, are the focus of the Basel show. The exhibition juxtaposes performative works and later machine sculptures in order to follow the unfolding development of motifs of movement. Divided up into four themes, the Basel show traces the development of her works as «stations in a process of transformation» (Rebecca Horn), emphasizing the continuity in her work.
My performances started out as body sculptures. All the basic movements were centred on movements made by my body and its extremities.
Rebecca Horn, 1997
A first group of works is derived from the performance White Body Fan (1972) in which Rebecca Horn referred to the old human fascination with winged and feathered beings. Using belts, she fixed a pair of semi-circular wings made of white fabric to her body that unfolded when she raised her arms. A film documents the experiments she performed with this body instrument: opening and closing, controlling the wings in the wind, forms of concealing and revealing, but also the spreading of wings. These movement patterns were further developed by Horn in a series of sculptures, as in the Paradise Widow (1975) that encloses a naked body, the parading Mechanical Peacock Fan (1981), the Hängender Fächer (1982) and the feather wheel Zen der Eule (2010).
To talk about love is like a wind that I shield off with a fan. It stubbornly seeks its own course and quite uncontrollably attacks me.
Rebecca Horn, 2004
This part of the exhibition addresses various forms of circulation. The central work here is Overflowing Blood Machine (1970) that presents the human individual as a hydromechanical structure. This work is juxtaposed with the installation El Rio de la Luna (1992) whose system of pipes sprawls out into the space, as mercury is moved in its ‘heart chambers’ by pumps. Whereas in the former work, the inner movement of circulating blood is relocated to the exterior, in the second work Horn’s emphasis was on rendering visible emotional energy flows.
The sculptures in an installation encapsulate stories and experience, they are living experience crystallized into a kind of chemical formula.
Rebecca Horn, 1997
Drawn lines and coloured markings are always also traces of body movements, constituting another thematic focus within the exhibition. This motif is presented by the Pencil Mask (1972), an instrument worn on the head that turns the body into a rhythmic drawing machine. Horn pursues the topic further with automated painting machines, of which two types are on display. The markings they create are always also understood as expressions of emotions and passion. Finally, drawing as an inscription of body and mind is returned to in the large-format works on paper of the Bodylandscapes series (2004/2005).
A final themed group of works looks at extensions of hands and feet. With the finger extensions of Finger Gloves (1972) the artist explored her surroundings as if probing with tentacles. In her kinetic works, she developed this subject further, often using everyday objects like brushes, hammers or women’s high-heeled shoes. With their keyboards, typewriters, too, are instruments that extend our fingers. Horn used them in several works, including La Lune Rebelle (1991), a key work included in the Basel show. The works in this group also offer a sociological view of the machine as an extension of the body, in particular by bringing together objects that are considered female.
For me, 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.
Rebecca Horn, 1993
Rebecca Horn was born in 1944 in Michelstadt in the Odenwald forest. Between 1963 and 1968, she studied philosophy and art at the Hochschule für bildende Künste in Hamburg. In 1972, she was the youngest artist to take part in documenta 5 in Kassel. The same year, she moved to New York, subsequently splitting her time between the United States and Berlin. Her work of this period is marked by body instruments and performances.
From the late 1970s, she made several feature-length films: The Gigolo (1979) and La Ferdinanda (1981), followed in 1990 by Buster’s Bedroom. The machines that featured in these films lived on in installations, as her oeuvre came to be characterized by kinetically animated objects.
In site-specific installations like Concert in Reverse (Münster, 1987) or Concert for Buchenwald (Weimar, 1999), after long periods living abroad, Horn dealt with Germany’s World War II history. From 1989 to 2009, she was professor for multimedia at the Universität der Künste in Berlin.
Rebecca Horn has been awarded many honours, including the Carnegie Prize from the City of Pittsburgh (1988), the Kaiserring from the City of Goslar (1992), the Praemium Imperiale for sculpture (2010), the Grande Médaille des Arts Plastiques, Académie d’Architecture de Paris (2011), the order Pour le Mérite for science and art (2016), and most recently the Wilhelm Lehmbruck Prize from the City of Duisburg (2017). Since 1989 she has been living in Bad König, Odenwald.
The richly illustrated catalogue with essays by Sandra Beate Reimann, Antje von Graeventiz, Stefan Zweifel, et al. is published by Verlag für moderne Kunst:
ISBN (German): 978-3-9524759-6-6;
ISBN (English): 978-3-9524759-7-3.
The exhibition was curated by
Sandra Beate Reimann.
© 2019: Rebecca Horn/ProLitteris, Zürich