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Roni Horn is a wonder. She is one of that select group of “large arc” artists whose works are epic and full scaled and yet they still feel personal, intimate and emotionally alive. The ironic stance and political positioning that walls off a lot of contemporary installation art for me is not present in her work. There’s edge and discomfort, but it is not used to outrage or disconnect the viewer. Rather it is a way to pull all of it–all of life–into an experience that is transforming and transcendent. She is in a special category of personal favorites along with Bill Viola and Olafur Eliasson.

A new 30 year retrospective of her work recently opened at the Tate in London. A review by Kathleen Jamie from the Guardian is posted on Slow Painting, but here’s an excerpt from Jamie’s piece that caught something of her approach that I have found compelling:

On the morning the Tate show opened, a dull grey-green sky was clamped down over the city, over St Paul’s, and the river was busy as usual. Under its many bridges tugs towed platforms with heaps of sand and other materials upstream. Here the Tate’s situation comes into its own. For this show, the blinds have been opened on the gallery’s north side to reveal the views of the Thames a stone’s throw away, because the London river is another recurring theme in Horn’s work. “I like the fact that you can’t pastoralise the Thames,” she has written. “It’s this wild thing running through this huge urban area … so much stuff gets into the water and vice versa.”

Still Water (The River Thames for Example) is a series of 15 metre-long photographs of the surface of the Thames. It is ever-changing: now swirling, now scrunched like black tin foil, now in Turneresque lemon and flame colours, now plucked up into dune shapes. One can cross from the photographs to the window and look down on the real river, then refer back to the photographs. Each is annotated with tiny numbers, which refer to footnotes. The footnotes, hundreds in total, worry away in small type under the images – they happen, in other words, under the surface, and concern what the water suggests and conceals. (“Black water is sexy. / What is water? / What do you know about water? Only that it’s everywhere differently. / Disappearance: that’s why suicides are attracted to it. / You can’t talk about water without talking about oneself. / Down at the river I shot my baby.”) You look at the surfaces, read the fretful notes, then go back to the window to gaze again at the real water: redolent, bright, sinister, sexual, hemmed in with buildings. Thus, as with much of Horn’s work, the viewer is factored in; you become a participant before you know it.

Hmmm….

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