For the 19th Biennale of Sydney: You Imagine What You Desire, internationally renowned North American artist Roni Horn will present a series of nine rarely seen glass castings, Nine Liquid Incidents (2010–12), at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia.
With rough edges and fire-polished surfaces, these exquisite sculptures seem to both draw in and exude energy, appearing transparent or highly reflective depending on the play of light in the space. Our associations with the life force of water are endless, and these pieces highlight its chameleon qualities, resembling frozen pools, mirrors or bottomless wells – objects to fall into, to float on and to drown in. Beyond simply seeing ourselves in the water-like surface, Horn invites us to see the water-like qualities in ourselves, to see ourselves as water. Water has the capacity to be brutal or gentle; to inspire both reverence and fear. It is most often connected with the realm of the imagination, with emotions, intuition and sensuality. Water is life, and both are ever-shifting.
Horn often works in series, pairs and multi-work installations, using multiples to amplify and intensify the experience of encounter. Sometimes her pairs appear side-by-side in a photographic diptych; at other times, analogous objects are separated by a physical distance that has to be bridged by the viewer. Here, the works and their shifting relationship to each other activate the space between them, and the presence of many affects the character of each one.
With a career spanning almost four decades, Horn is not devoted to any one medium; rather, her eclectic practice ranges from artist books and photographic series to 5000-kilogram sculptures. Binding her large body of work are the recurring motifs of place and identity, framed as interwoven and always in flux. In particular, Horn has had a love affair with Iceland from an early age, making regular visits to live and work there since the mid-1970s after completing an MA in Fine Arts at Yale University. Iceland’s dramatic landscape and strong association with the element of water has been foundational to her practice.
Beginning in 1990, Horn has produced books of photographs, drawings and writings that collectively make up the ongoing series ‘To Place’, which the artist has cited as the entrance to all her work. The publications consider the relationship of identity to place, as well as the identity of place, with images of people interspersed with those of geysers, birds and hot springs [Pooling Waters (1994)] or the innumerous details of a female locker room [Her, Her, Her & Her (2002)]. Each new volume adds to and changes the make-up of the series as a whole.
Horn’s geometric sculptural work in 24-carat gold or solid copper relates aesthetically to minimalism and its attention to line, shape and form; yet her propensity to situate her sculptures in affective and metaphorical terms is distinct. Horn aligns her work with ideas of the self, which she sees as multiple and ever-changing. People, and so too places and objects, are capable of containing multiple identities at once, of integrating difference rather than being fixed to one thing. The nature of a work like Pink Tons (2008) – a soft-pink cube of solid glass that stands well over a metre tall – for example, shifts according to the position of the viewer and the light in the room, itself affected by the time of day and the weather outside. In this vein, Horn’s work is often characterised by close and sustained attention to a singular subject – whether her niece Georgia or the River Thames – in order to draw out its complexities.
Since her first solo show in 1980, Roni Horn has shown in numerous major international exhibitions, including 8th Gwangju Biennale (2010); Whitney Biennial, New York (1991, 2004); documenta 9, Kassel (1992); and five Venice Biennales from 1980 to 2003. Recent solo exhibitions include ‘Roni Horn’, Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt (2013–14); ‘Photographic works’, Hamburger Kunsthalle (2011); ‘Paired, Gold: Felix Gonzalez-Torres and Roni Horn’, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (2010); and ‘Roni Horn aka Roni Horn’, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston (2010), and Tate Modern, London (2009).