Rebecca Horn


Baden-Baden’s morbid magnificence was an excellent framework for the melancholy/ironic combination of rented brilliance and fragile creativity described in Rebecca Horn’s La Ferdinanda: Sonata for a Medici Villa. This film was premiered in conjunction with an installation, of the same name, displaying objects from the film; this connection between video and film on the one hand and objects used as props on the other has for years been characteristic of Horn’s artistic praxis.

Until the early ’70’s, objects related mainly to the body served as instruments of social experience of the self in Horn’s performances. Objects of fascination, of extension, objects for touching, for flight, for cutting, constituted the instruments used in the psychic-spiritual experiences and perceptions of the social individual. Horn has constantly increased the number of these instruments. Not for the first time in La Ferdinanda, but here with a high degree of intensity, personal experience flows into a timeless picture of both erotic creativity and cultic masquerade. Within this field of tension, the artist is the concerned observer but is no longer the acting agent who is present.

La Ferdinanda, as indicated by the subtitle, takes its name from a Tuscan hunting lodge once owned by the Medici. In the film, as in reality, this palace of modest splendor serves the upwardly mobile bourgeoisie as a backdrop for private festivities. The lodge is the setting where Dr. Marchetti, who is faced with a legal trial, passionately conducts his ornithological studies. Two groups, the doctor’s culturally polished friends and some noisy wedding guests, meet at the lodge. Only members of the first group are given names: the diva Caterina de Dominici; her niece, the sickly ballerina Simona; her companion, the young cellist Mr. Sutherland; an art historian’s young friend Larry; and so on. Since there is no human interaction, a story that is not a story emerges in the film. There is barely any contact between the two groups: noisy merriment among the wedding guests, but indignant, stylized affectation in the other group, at least among the adults. Only among the young is there a tender, erotic expression of life. Animals—specifically a peacock and its eggs—and the objects in the lodge play a decisive part in this despairing investigation of the sources of creative life. The sacrificial death of the young Larry, who has withdrawn into loneliness, explodes the lifeless community of artificial characters. In the end one of Dr. Marchetti’s wounded peacocks, desperate and furious, remains. It has been robbed of its magnificent tail, but is still able to see—a melancholy, hopeful image of the creative individual who, with personal strength, isolatedly observes in a world of artificial characters.

The film’s aggressively parodistic tones are calmer in the installation. The objects are shown without being associated with the people to whom they belong. The atmosphere resembles a waking dream—a consequence of the division of the show into eight spaces, each of which stands for one of the characters in the film. Mounted between the spaces are the names of eight Medici children whose deaths were tragic. Their mature, sad faces are on the walls, as is a small, silently turning feather wheel. The stories of the characters permeate the spaces and the objects. These are waking dreams that have become objects, puzzling images from the unconscious. The peacock’s tail, the swings, the quicksilver columns, and the mirror chest all reveal something of these dreams, because they penetrate, via subjective experience, into a universal consciousness. Morbid cult and the fragile reality of “childlike” erotic creativity are present in puzzling proximity.

Annelie Pohlen

Translated from the German by Martha Humphreys.