Reading Dickinson in Aoyama

Roni Horn’s exhibition draws on literary sources for its material.

poster for Roni Horn Exhibition

Roni Horn Exhibition

at Rat Hole Gallery
in the Omotesando, Aoyama area
This event has ended - (2010-09-07 - 2010-12-05)

In Reviews by Erika Raberg 2010-10-05

Following a number of major solo exhibitions worldwide, the Rat Hole Gallery in Aoyama is presenting a selection of American artist Roni Horn’s sculptures and drawings, on view until December 5, 2010.

Many viewers may already be familiar with Horn’s sculpture, photography, series of books, and site-dependent work such as ‘Vatnasafn/Library of Water’ in Iceland. Yet this exhibition, displayed in a spare and strikingly beautiful space, highlights in particular Horn’s longstanding dedication to literature and language. In viewing pieces from the “White Dickinson” series, which she began in the Eighties, and a selection of pigment drawings from various points in Horn’s career, we are allowed access to a rich world of ideas regarding words, images, and the relationship between the two.

Nineteenth century American poet Emily Dickinson has inspired a number of famous artists across various disciplines through her poems and letters, including Roni Horn. The larger of the two rooms, with an entire wall of glass and beautiful wooden floorboards, features four of Horn’s works from the “White Dickinson” series (2007). Selecting phrases from the thousands of letters written by Dickinson to her friends over the course of her distinctively reclusive life, Horn then gives the phrases a physical embodiment by casting their solid white plastic letters in long, rectangular aluminum rods.

Roni Horn, 'Else 12' (2010) (detail)Roni Horn, 'Brooklyn Red'

From the front and the opposite side, the viewer can read the phrase, for example, “EVERY SPARK IS NUMBERED”. From the other two sides, however, the letters appear as unrecognizable, abstract geometric forms in aluminum. In this way, as articulated by the Rat Hole Gallery, “in turning fragments of Dickinson’s writing in to solid objects, Horn explores how physical form can be given to language and at the same time, how language can construct alternate worlds which transport us from the physical reality that we live in.”

Roni Horn, 'White Dickinson EVERY SPARK IS NUMBERED' (2006)The exhibition also features three of Horn’s drawings ranging from 1985 to current day. These drawings display one of Horn’s techniques in which she slices up two drawings containing similar forms and then places the fragments back together in order to produce different images, creating what she refers to as “plates.” We find the presence of text within Horn’s work here as well. Pairs of peculiar words etched lightly in pencil appear at the seams of the drawings, such as, “nup/nup,” “wup/wup”, and, “gup/gup.” These odd pairs of words are surrounded then by the occasional single word, such as “loaf”, “tick”, and “stove”.

One of the things that make this body of work so special, as in so many other compelling works of art, is the degree of interaction and freedom it grants to the viewer. The work is at once inherently intimate to Horn and to Dickinson herself, yet it is also, in equal measure, unmarked territory for the viewer. We are simply invited to consider a phrase, and from there we can construct an infinite number of fictions and fantasies in response to the work.

Proving more of a complex meditation than an instant delight, the Roni Horn exhibit presents us with a vast range of compelling questions and concepts. “FAITH IS DOUBT”? And we’re sent on our way to construct own meanings.

Erika Raberg

Erika Raberg. Though raised in Lexington, Massachusetts, otherwise known as “the birthplace of American liberty,” Erika has often found herself in many a non-East Coast locale due to an incessant desire to try new things and learn as many foreign languages as possible. After gaining a solid foundation in Indecisive Studies during her undergrad, Erika’s wanderlust landed her in Tokyo on a two-year fellowship through the Oberlin Shansi Foundation. Erika spends her days teaching university students, hauling around her delightfully archaic large format camera, and seeing as much art as the hours of the day will allow. » See other writings

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