PRINT October 2005


THE UNDERLYING INDETERMINACY OF THE PHYSICAL WORLD, AND PERHAPS ALL THE more so our experience of it, reserves a rebuke for any kind of graphic fixity. It is a rebuke that Roni Horn has embraced, interrogated, and accommodated in an especially diverse body of work. Nowhere, though, does the figure of mutability appear quite so enigmatic as in her photo-based portrait series. That the effects derive from an element in some sense external to the multiple takes should come as no surprise; Horn’s sets, series, and multiwork installations invariably involve a repercussive relay of allusions and inflections. But You Are the Weather, 1994–95, Clowd and Cloun (Blue) and Clowd and Cloun (Gray) (both 2001), and Doubt by Water, 2003–2004, demonstrated that atmospheric or geographic conditions, in the trace of an exposure or a proximate representation, could infiltrate and perturb the human facies, imbuing it with a dissociated abundance. The equivocal “you” equated with the barometric—you the subject? you the viewer?—was again addressed in This is Me, This is You, 1999–2000, with a mirrorlike doubling of the portrait grid on a facing wall, leaving a corridor that would be filled by a network of connections of the viewer’s own making. Into this cycle Horn has now introduced Portrait of an Image—Erika, Lena, Claire, Charlotte, Dominique, Jeanne, Mika, Isabelle, Marie, Emma, Beatrice, and Others (with Isabelle Huppert), a work in twenty-two sequences of five photographs—two sequences of which provide Artforum this portfolio—and, with it, a reformulation of the “paradox of the actor.”

The cult status Huppert has attained clearly reflects a contemporary sensitivity to the closure she conveys—the impassivity of her cheeks and mouth, the unseeing eyes—her craft residing almost exclusively in the periorbital, auricular, and frontalis musculature of her face. The epitome of subtle self-differing, for Horn, she was ideal. But if the premise of Portrait of an Image was to capture an assortment of major characters Huppert has portrayed on screen—Erika Kohut in Michael Haneke’s Piano Teacher (2001), Marie in Claude Chabrol’s Story of Women (1988), Béatrice in Claude Goretta’s The Lacemaker (1977), to name only three—the parenthetical credit the actress receives suggests that Horn views her participation as something of a cameo performance, a “cameo” perhaps in the sense that she lends only the gemlike relief through which the otherwise invisible and therefore external personae enter into the picture. To do so, however, Huppert had in fact been constrained, not to assume a variety of aspects but rather to revisit and reassume temporally distant ones constitutive of roles played in the past, locating the concomitant sets of physical reflexes in her muscular memory as might an athlete or a musician. During two weeks of sittings involving one character chosen by mutual agreement each day, Horn apparently offered little direction other than to coax the film actress’s practiced averted glance into the lens of a still camera destined to fix her in a way quite different from that of the motion picture. This exercise left Horn with the ineradicable impression that Huppert had engaged in an act of “self-impersonation,” a rich term in that it conveys the imitation and imposture, the self-alienation or no-ownership approach to personal properties, which lie at the very basis of personation, while at the same time it reminds us that for each of the personae, no original exists.

What then is the “image” of which this work is a “portrait”? Obviously the viewer will bring to these sequences a more or less distinct sense of Isabelle Huppert, recognitions and misrecognitions of films in which she has appeared—in other words, remnants fished out of the murky region that Robert Smithson so aptly dubbed a “cinematic atopia.” He or she will attempt to unpeel the actress from the aspect and find a composite, or the aspect from the actress and discover the indissociable multiplicity of fictive figures. But if it is permissible to speculate about an “image” that has yet to be exhibited, extrapolating then from the artist’s prior work, it seems imaginable that, in the dynamic interaction of these sequences, the “image” with which the viewer will be confronted will progressively reveal itself as the phenomenal equivalent of his or her own atopia.

Lauren Sedofsky