Mexico City

View of “Roni Horn,” 2018. Photo: Omar Luis Olguín.

View of “Roni Horn,” 2018. Photo: Omar Luis Olguín.

Roni Horn

A pair of serene yet stern portraits welcomed the viewer into Kurimanzutto’s airy space—the same short gray hair, white T-shirt, focused blue eyes, and flat, contented smile were duplicated in two, possibly identical, white-framed images. Portraying Roni Horn, these photographs demanded to be observed and analyzed; they asked for a deliberation: Were they really identical? Was every hair, freckle and shadow in the exact same place? More important, can two objects ever be absolutely identical while remaining distinct? This question of sameness and difference, and of the possibility of stability through time, lingered over the exhibition.

This was Horn’s first solo show in Mexico, and although it was not a retrospective, it did document some of her lasting obsessions—literature, duplicates, glass—and included some of her best-known works. The aforementioned portraits constitute the diptych Dead Owl v.3, 2014–15, the third in a sequence that follows the photographic pair Dead Owl, 1997, portraying taxidermied white owls, and Dead Owl v.2, 2009, an earlier twosome of wide-eyed Roni Horns. The act of pairing carried on in the contiguous space, where the multipart a.k.a, 2008–2009, was spread across the walls. That work comprises four sets of six images each, paired off to juxtapose different moments in Horn’s life: moody teen versus smiley child, seasoned artist versus frizzy-haired student, girlish floppy hairdo versus dark, broody stare. The snapshots evince the artist’s natural chameleonic abilities and seem pierced by a sense of fleetingness, capturing continual change behind the same pair of intense eyes. 

Critics generally focus on the theme of fluidity in Horn’s work. The fascination with water and weather that manifests, in several of her projects—Still Water (The River Thames, for Example), 1999; Library of Water, 2007; You Are the Weather, 1994–95—has become emblematic of her oeuvre, and the transience of those subjects has been turned into the preferred metaphor for deciphering her practice. Yet such readings tend to ignore the poetic rigor of Horn’s conceptual explorations. Viewing her pieces is more cerebral than physical, like reading a challenging, engaging text. She demands comparison, analogy, cross-referencing. There’s an erudition evident in her selection of quotes from Haruki Murakami and Javier Marías to title her heavy cast-glass pieces—in this show, Untitled (“But the boomerang that returns is not the same one I threw.”) and Untitled (“Even the most indelible things are of fixed duration, just like the things that leave no trace or never even happen.”), both 2013–17. And there’s a fastidiousness to her selection of lines from Emily Dickinson to embed in aluminum sticks for her “White Dickinson” series, 2006–10, here casually leaning against gallery walls, for instance, White Dickinson THE STARS ARE NOT HEREDITARY, 2006–2008.

Water and the weather are both deeply unstable, but that has never stopped humans from trying to apprehend them and fix them in some kind of knowledge. In the big, round, hyperreflective surfaces of her cast-glass works, Horn stills the flow of water but is also quick to remind us that glass is actually a liquid, even though it won’t give in to our pressing fingers. In the “White Dickinson” works, she turns the fleeting enjoyment of a precisely worded sentence into modest but durable totems. In this way, Horn employs the exactitude of the meteorologist more than the capriciousness of the weather itself: Where others see transience and randomness, she sees text waiting to be read.

Gaby Cepeda