On the exhibition “Rebecca Horn, Labyrinth of the Soul: Drawings 1965-2015” at Sean Kelly Gallery (New York: January 7 – February 18, 2023 / Los Angeles March 11 – April 22, 2023)
Photographs: Courtesy of Sean Kelly Gallery
Beyond the idea of finding an exit door, the concept of labyrinth brings to the mind the possibilities of choosing between different paths, as diverse as the oeuvre of Rebecca Horn is, being a multifaceted artist, she has explored media such as performance, installation, and cinema, but this time, she is showing a large set of drawings; in the title of the exhibition “Labyrinth of the Soul: Drawings 1965-2015”, the word labyrinth, seems to indicate the sense of disorientation or the possibility of getting lost, while doing the act of moving within a space which, as the name of the exhibition indicates is the artist´s soul.
In the diversity of the drawings produced by Rebecca Horn, there are visual characteristics that let the viewer identify the author of those works, due to the coherence of visual elements such as the presence of organic shapes and the gestures that gave them their origin.
Rebecca Horn´s drawings show visible characteristics, as well as they make visible some aspects that are not evident to the sense of view, for example, the process; they give the idea of space without using linear perspective, this effect is produced by the different sizes, directions and tones of the lines as well as he gestures that created them; Rebecca Horn also utilized color to make some of her images, but there is no decorative intention, the chromatic elements included by her, create sensations of temperature, space and atmospheric effects.
While traditionally the drawings show lines that construct figures and spaces by suggesting the limits of the surfaces, the drawings by Rebecca Horn do not divide the formats and are not limitative, by the contrary, they have an expansive behavior and, by the route of those lines, they connect distant points of the plane. The gestures that can be observed in her brushstrokes and traces also indicate the capacity of reaching and, in the case of the works made directly with her body, how much space it can encompass, the distance it is able to reach, which is a way of exploring its physical limitations too.
Bodylandscapes and devices
Generally, lines can be seen as visual structures, but the drawings made by Rebecca Horn, can also indicate movement and gestures, a way to express time and space without being narrative, the viewer can move the eyes to follow the lines of her drawings and by doing so, reproducing in the mind the way she worked reconstructing the previous process, it becomes clear when reading the following quotation by the artist “I always did drawings. (Then) I started working with large-scale paper, It´s an extension of performance because the pieces are the size of my full body”.
There is a remarkable fact about the drawings by Rebecca Horn: she has used different devices to create some of them, for example, in the 60s, she built drawing machines as Jeffrey Grove (Director, Museums and Publications at Sean Kelley Gallery) mentioned in the introduction to the exhibition´s catalogue, they “evince Horn´s concern with human form, bodily appendages, states of transformation, mechanization, and machinery, making evident her dedication to the aesthetic form of performance”; some of those mechanisms move and create linear patterns full of accidents and unrepeatable details, this act could be described as a way of using rationality to achieve irrational results.
The practice of creating objects to be attached to the body modifying its mobility, became fundamental in her career since 1968, when she suffered a debilitating lung condition and was hospitalized, which made her more interested in the isolation and vulnerability, this can be observed in the photograph entitled “Bleistiftmaske”, which shows the artist wearing a mask with pencils attached to it, moving her head in front of a white surface to explore unconventional ways of drawing.
The drawing entitled “Lippenmaschine” (“Lips Machine”), is referred to a part of the body, specifically the lips, while the work “Untitled (Coloured Liquids)”, shows a device attached to the female body represented on the surface of the paper; the first case, shows a profuse use of pink which can be related to the color of the kind of skin indicated in the title, in the second case, it is remarkable that she used a black pencil to represent the human figure and color pencils to represent other materials.
The drawings Rebecca Horn has made ,can be seen by the viewer as objects by themselves, but also as a part of a process, in fact, for the artist it is also important how the lines are produced, whether they are the result of body movements or the consequence of the action of an artifact; the artist has also produced some series of drawings which are projects for installations, they do not describe objects that existed previously, instead, they precede the physical existence of another objects.
The drawings made by Rebecca Horn give way to accidents, in fact, they play an important role when configuring the formal structure of the work, although the artist decides when and where to put limits to the accidental elements of the process; her drawings are not based only on the materiality of the work or the process of making them, titles like “Im Inneren der Stadt” (“Inside the city”) refers to a location in space, “Die Geliebte” (“The Beloved”) evokes another theme which would be the beloved subject or object and the act of loving it, showing an interest in feelings.
A matter of perspective
There are also drawings in which Rebecca Horn represented a female nude figure,the presence of the human body is shown before the viewer as seen from outside, but at the same time it indicates that the artist is seeing herself as a subject matter, which implies the conscience of interiority and exteriority, being the surface of the work a medium to express both sides at once.
Although some elements in the works shown in the exhibition visually behave like stains instead of lines, which is the main characteristic of a drawing, if it is thought about the process of making them, it becomes clear that linear gestures. It is also interesting to look at the borders of those stains in their interaction with the traced lines on the surfaces as it can be observed in “Untitled” (2009).
The white surfaces of the papers on which the drawings were made, also require to be mentioned and described, there are small works which invite the viewer to get closer to appreciate them and notice every detail, they show a reduced surface where the figures are more important than the white areas, by the other side, she also made other works on bigger formats such as “Goya´s Augen Wirbel”, where the gestures produce traces that look as they are suspended on white areas, giving sensations of space and transience.
It has been mentioned that some drawings by Rebecca Horn refer to the human body, in other cases they represent projects for installations and devices to be attached to the body, there are also drawings that show the space between the floating lines, but there are also other works made by her, that are focused on animality, it is made evident in “Das Tier mit den Zwei Rücken”, a title which can be translated as “The Beast with Two Backs”; an image that appears to be abstract, demonstrating that it is not the same to represent an animal and to represent the animality.
The use of unconventional methods and devices to draw, and the freedom in the compositions of the images created by Rebecca Horn, show a constant experimentation blurring the limits between disciplines at the same time, while she lets the viewer perceive a mastery in each one of them.
Mario Pérez Rodríguez