Critics’ Picks

Rebecca Horn, Notebook Samarkand (detail), 2001.

Rebecca Horn, Notebook Samarkand (detail), 2001.

New Delhi

Rebecca Horn

National Gallery of Modern Art | New Delhi
Jaipur House, India Gate
July 19, 2013–May 20, 2012

Rebecca Horn’s heartfelt impressions from Uzbekistan are collected in Notebook Samarkand, 2001, a book of poems and untitled photographs, currently on view as part of her first solo exhibition in India. The diary-size hardback sits on a block, setting up the mood for the fourteen selected photographs that hang on the walls. Each image seems, as the artist states in her collection of poetry, “dipped into the liquid gold of the morning.” In one, an old woman smiles toothlessly. In another, a young boy dressed for prayer peers shyly out at the viewer, and in yet another, a middle-aged man, wearing a round Uzbek hat and denim jacket, laughs, the moisture from his slightly intoxicated tongue almost transcending the glass of the photograph’s frame. The photographs are life-size and capture their subjects so closely and with such precision that the viewer feels confronted with same corporeality the lens of Horn’s camera must have seen. Each image is exposed twice, resulting in a layering of the sky, trees, and mosques, and the subjects that inhabit these spheres. Horn’s poetry mirrors this, as in the line, “under the dome of the sky,” which reflects the confusion of architecture and natural landscape. This play of perspective captures life in Samarkand with a nostalgic complexity that might otherwise be revealed only in an involuntary surge of memories or daydreams.

Each photograph is in dialogue with the colors blue and gold, hues that consistently emerge in her poetry as well: “People in samarkand / Their smiles combine the sun and gold in blue.” Heightening the intensity of the imagination of this place of dust and laughter are wisps of black and gold that Horn paints onto every photograph—they seem like thoughts, ether, filaments of light, or at times camera grain. The paint also becomes the writing on the walls of unnamed edifices. One of the photographs shows an old woman waving at the camera, with the text of a tomb superimposed on her body, the larger history of the city and her own wrinkles harmonizing to tell a tale of passed time. Similarly, Horn’s book is itself a double exposure, twinning her art with a visual proclamation of the people—or, in her own words: “Budding flames erupt / from the ancient walls / The handwriting of fire / Spreads signs on invisible wings.”