New York

Roni Horn

Over the last two decades, a group of scientists have independently developed a theoretical mode for describing reality, popularly referred to as “chaos theory.” Its proponents have posited a dynamic system that incorporates the nuances and effects of particularization and randomness. These variables that work independently of computable operations were once believed to be inconsequential to science’s approximation of physical systems but are increasingly being recognized as integral to any accurate mathematical or philosophical portrayal of the world.

A similar theoretical approach underlies Roni Horn’s sculptural installations. In her work, the minutest details play a major role. This is evinced, first, in the artist’s rigorous attention to the properties and potential of her materials. It is evident in her Post Work IV, 1987, at the Germans Van Eck gallery, for which Horn chose the method of iron casting to produce five tall, squared-off posts, a method that revealed the texture of the metal. And though these posts rested as gracefully against the walls of the gallery as the slender trunks of five slightly different trees, the viewer couldn’t help but be aware of their weight. In the creation of Pair Object III: (For Two Rooms) “The Experience of Identical Things,” 1986–88, at Galerie Lelong, Horn worked with copper that had been specially treated to release all oxygen and foreign substances. The metal was then forged through compression into its final shapes: two identical, solid, truncated cones. For the viewer familiar with the process, awareness of the copper’s original grain structure made its “invisibility” part of the experience. Similarly, the slight convex bulge at the end of each truncated cone, though minute in scale, was noticeable to the eye that was really seeing and not just looking.

Horn considers the nuances of site with an equal rigor. Her seemingly “random” placement of the truncated cones in separate rooms of the gallery was in fact quite precise: it required the viewer to experience these identical objects in isolation from one another. For even from a vantage point where it was possible to see both, the viewer was placed between them and forced to turn his or her head from side to side. In the process, each object, lying on its side on the floor, read as a two-dimensional disk. This alternative reading, it was clear, was as valid, as truthful—or essential to truth—as any other.

Like the perfect calligraphic brushstroke that can only be identified by the enlightened Zen master, Horn’s Pair Object III called for a heightened awareness. And through a chain of perceptual discoveries, the viewer is both oriented toward and educated by her installations. Going beyond the limits imposed by tradition, Horn offers a more comprehensive definition and experience of reality.

Kirby A. Gookin