External Reflection. Rebecca Horn
Galeria Pelaires presentsExternal Reflection, a monographic exhibition devoted to the work of Rebecca Horn (Michelstadt, 24 March 1944). It is a collection of 12 pieceswith works from 1997 (Madame Bovary) to the present day (Erinnerung an Donald, Remembrance of Donald, 2020). This exhibition brings to light some of Rebecca Horn's main interests as an artist: memory, the body, mechanisation and spirituality.
"Most people live in a small prison in their mind." Rebecca Horn.
"...] Though the bush was engulfed in flames, it didn't burn up. Exodus 3:2.
Fire is tactile.
When children experience fire for the first time, probably when staring at their first birthday candle, it is a common reflex for them to stretch out their hand to explore it in the same way as they do with the rest of their environment at that early age. If we don't stop them, they will burn themselves. And they will remember that moment forever, they will have discovered a light that hurts.
Moses also wanted to get closer to the Burning Bush. Moses' face was radiant after his encounter with Yahweh. This was the manifestation of an inner change as profound as the one attributed to this vision in the Bible. From that moment on, he became a spokesman for the divine, a medium who had seen the afterlife and was to serve as a bridge between the two worlds.
The gesture of stretching out creates a bridge between our inner perception and the outside. It is a probe, sent from the depths to discover what is on the other side and return that information. We cannot know without exposing ourselves. It is an act of vulnerability.
By stretching out our arms we also define a volume that we can influence, where our body can create and destroy, set the space limits and claim it back.
Rebecca Horn's spirituality is no secret: "You have to believe in something." Nor is her interest in the body. Being confined to bed for a year in her youth after accidentally inhaling fibreglass dust made her more aware of her limitations and possibilities. She devoted her time to sewing, drawing, to whatever her convalescence allowed.
From that moment on, her creations became extensions of herself: body sculptures. Devices that complement the mechanics of her body; drawings that become fingerprints and lengthen as much as she does.
The tongues of mechanised copper fire from Brennender Busch (Burning Bush), 2001, spread in all directions, seeking out the spectator. This fire —like the biblical fire— is a fire that neither burns nor dies out. It is the link with divinity, the means to unveil a mystery, a complex idea.
As Horn has always made clear, neither this nor the rest of her robots are simple objects.
In some cases they are tools with which to improve her body, also understood as a machine. Arm Extensions, 1968; Pencil Mask, 1972; Finger Gloves, 1972… all of them are extensions of herself. Finger Gloves, a piece featuring long arm-like fingers, allows for enhanced awareness through touch while also keeping the distance.
"They are made of such a light material that I can move my fingers effortlessly. I can feel, touch and grasp, and yet I keep a certain distance from the things I touch."
"In my first works you can see a kind of shell."
The hand that is stretching out to touch is also stretching out to stop intruders. Stretch out-touch-bump-block.
In other cases, the robots have a life of their own to narrate and embody an idea, a situation, a moment frozen in time that repeats itself over and over (though not endlessly, "[My works] rest, reflect, wait"). The artist has a large repertoire of narrative symbols: Erinnerung an Donald (Remembrance of Donald), Verbotenes Spiel (Forbidden Game).
At times she also adopts esoteric concepts. Die Jungfraeuliche Empfaengnis (The Conception of Virgin Mary), with the neatness and mathematical perfection of the seashell and its thematic connection with Brennender Busch, the flame that penetrates but does not harm. Creation without punishment.
All of them are a reflection of their creator, who reveals herself to the viewer.
This happens even with the most immediate thing: drawing. Coloured pencils are still one of her favourite mediums. The abstraction in which she feels so comfortable is free from the censorship that comes with the concrete.
Born a year before the end of World War II in Germany, she still remembers the rejection that the rest of the world felt for her native language. She found in drawing the way to express herself and escape this situation.
"I didn't have to draw in German, French or English. I could just draw."
In this way, drawing became a border of her own self, protecting her from confrontation. Her bodyworks, in which she explores the limits of her corporeality —the lines extend as far as the length of her arms— are a representation of how far her comfort can go.
Horn's works are in this separating line, between what is alien and what is our own. They question us when we do the same with them. They open the door to our inner self while revealing that of their creator. It is a mutual reflection, subtle and vulnerable.
Héctor San José, Madrid, May 2022