Bremen, Germany

Rebecca Horn, Berlin Exercises, 1974–75, 16 mm, black-and-white, sound, 42 minutes.

Rebecca Horn, Berlin Exercises, 1974–75, 16 mm, black-and-white, sound, 42 minutes.

Rebecca Horn

Weserburg | Museum für Moderne Kunst

Rebecca Horn, Berlin Exercises, 1974–75, 16 mm, black-and-white, sound, 42 minutes.

Rebecca Horn’s recent exhibition occupied just a few rooms on the second floor of the Weserburg Museum of Modern Art and resulted in no catalogue. The show consisted largely of films and related material (stills, collage studies, models for props), organized around the theme of dance. The exhibition’s title, “Feathers Dancing on Shoulders,” cited one section of Horn’s film Berlin Exercises, 1974–75, the whole of which was on view along with Performances II, 1973. Of her feature-length films, Der Eintänzer (The Gigolo, 1978) which treats dance most extensively, was included (La Ferdinanda, 1981, and Buster’s Bedroom, 1990, were sometimes available as part of a supporting program). Yet this was no more a comprehensive treatment of the role of dance in Horn’s work than a complete survey of her cinematic endeavors.

Rather, the exhibition invited viewers to discover different strands in the artist’s career, often dance-related, but ramifying in many directions. I appreciated the light touch of the curator, Ingo Clauß, in granting, rather than any one definitive investigation, various glimpses into the mise en abyme of Horn’s eschatology; every new allusion to disability or Hollywood, any new feather, glove, or mirror harkens back (and forward) to others. We could begin to see, for example, how the apparatuses sported in filmed performances transformed in the 1990s into autonomous sculptures. For instance, the self-sufficiently powered Zen for an Eagle Wing, 1994, recalls the feathered shoulder piece manipulated by a performer in Feathers Dancing on Shoulders, 1975. The shoulder piece itself, now in the permanent collection of Tate Modern, did not make an appearance. Instead, we were privy to the mirrored gloves from Der Eintänzer and the Finger Gloves documented in a 1972 performance of the same name (one of Performances II), both presented with their tailor-made storage trunks, cousins of Duchamp’s valise. As objects in vitrines, these props and prostheses were reminders that the films are not the performances’ only afterlife. Seeing the gloves, with their impeccable craftsmanship, in conjunction with the films made vivid the way such modified everyday apparel has the capacity both to heighten and constrain our sensitivity to touch. Gloves can be literal and metaphorical conveyors of human attempts to establish interpersonal connections. Gloves, then, like dance, can produce a system that offers and shuts down intimacy.

Though far from exhaustive, the exhibition operated as a sort of retrospective, mapping Horn’s trajectory with a bare minimum of objects. Key to the success of this efficient strategy was a group of three works on the fourth floor, a mini-retrospective in its own right, covering the 1970s through the ’90s. Having registered the horrific role of the swing in Der Eintänzer (no spoilers), I proceeded to confront Dialogue of the Silver Swings, 1979/1992, a mechanized installation whose creation was spurred by that first feature-length film, and which then served as a prop in La Ferdinanda, and is now permanently installed at the Weserburg. Horn’s site-specific installations, an important aspect of her production since the 1980s, were presented via her recent documentary Moon Mirror Journey, 2011.

This apparently modest exhibition provided a model for a full-scale retrospective while demonstrating the challenge such a project would entail, especially considering how much Horn’s practice has expanded since her midcareer survey at the Guggenheim in New York in 1993. The Weserburg’s exhibition both exceeded my expectations and left me wanting more, without knowing how that more is to be had.

Bibiana Obler