New York

Channa Horwitz, Sonakinatography Composition # 9 0 To the Top diminished, 2011, casein on Mylar, 20 x 13 3/4".

Channa Horwitz, Sonakinatography Composition # 9 0 To the Top diminished, 2011, casein on Mylar, 20 x 13 3/4".

Channa Horwitz

Channa Horwitz, Sonakinatography Composition # 9 0 To the Top diminished, 2011, casein on Mylar, 20 x 13 3/4".

“I hope I didn’t lose you in this minutia,” concludes Channa Horwitz in a 2002 description she wrote of “Sonakinatography,” her method of graphic notation. This statement’s air of self-deprecation makes it easy to disregard, but I’d wager its inclusion warrants its significance. It was the Los Angeles artist’s intention not to lose anyone who might be inclined to engage the series of polychromatic scores she produced for five decades, from 1968 until just before she died in 2013. She used an explicitly simple language to chart time and motion for any discipline that might find it useful, and over her lifetime Horwitz’s scores were activated, among others, by readers of poetry, choreographers, symphonic percussionists, a Moog player. Though rigorously conceived, her notation is stripped down to basic elements: the grid, the numbers 1 through 8, and color. By making her scores accessible, she opened up the scope of their potential, increasing the ways in which they might reflect various perceptual processes. Her approach found resonance in Antonin Artaud’s ethos, to produce the “power, not to define thoughts, but to cause thinking.”

A recent exhibition at Lisson Gallery centered on Horwitz’s 1968 proposal for the installation Suspension of Vertical Beams Moving in Space for curator Maurice Tuchman’s controversial 1971 “Art and Technology” exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Famously, her project was not accepted (to be the show’s only contribution by a woman) and never fabricated, and though her proposal was included in the exhibition catalogue, hers was the only artist portrait left off the cover. One wants to make something of the “postmedium” inclusiveness of Horwitz’s work in light of this exclusion, but to resist the temptation all the same. It’s as diminishing to the integrity of the work to attribute its power to the artist’s subjugation as it is redemptive to celebrate the work in spite of it. Nevertheless, Horwitz’s notation for the project led to the development of the “Sonakinatography” series, 1968–2012, of ink, colored pencil, or casein scores on graph paper or Mylar. Twenty-three framed examples of these were included at the gallery, alongside a vitrine of related ephemera, and a single monitor playing documentation of several performances of the artist’s work from 2015 and 2016. It made sense for Lisson to return to Horwitz’s “origin story” with the first exhibition of her work in New York—it wasn’t until just before the artist died that she began to garner widespread attention outside her native California.

Her approach was systematic: The numbers 1 through 8 are arranged, via mathematical operations, into numerical sequences, which are expressed as geometric patterns scaffolded by a grid. Each number corresponds to a color and to the duration of a beat. The color green represents one beat, for example, and red-violet represents four. In the work’s activation, each number also corresponds to a movement as expressed by an instrument, gesture, color, light, or sound. These scores take something of American experimentalists Morton Feldman—whose graphically scored series “Projections,” 1950–51, asks performers to choose a pitch and rhythm—and Earle Brown, whose near-inscrutable open forms are notated as fixed modules to be variously arranged by the conductor or performer. They set up a framework in which Horwitz shifted responsibility from her own decisions in order to surface the imbrication of chance and structure in all movement.

Aesthetically, Horwitz’s scores stand alone. Typically arranged in vertical columns, prismatic marks appear almost sculpturally wrought against the fragile orange and blue lines of graph paper. Within these columns, compositions cascade and crescendo, appearing variously like a Scandinavian knit pattern, an errantly vivid strand of DNA, or a beaded curtain. Her controlled geometries become rhapsodic, or totemic—feminine, perhaps. In the artist’s later series, she achieves something similar: In ink-on-Mylar works produced in the ’80s, marks affecting a moiré seemingly hum off their surfaces; and in the drawn installation Orange Grid, 2013, she set the indeterminacy of her own hand against the strictures of the grid. She seemed as invested in controlling and composing time as she did in asking time to continue challenging her. Rosalind Krauss once described the grid as representing a place where “everything else was declared to be past.” Horwitz’s grids ecstatically suggest good riddance.

Annie Godfrey Larmon