Finger Gloves, by the German artist Rebecca Horn, consists of two black prostheses, each with five thin, rigid, metre-long ‘fingers’ made out of wood and fabric. Each prosthesis is designed to be worn on the hand of a performer, attached to the wrists with black straps. The performer’s fingers control the fingers of the prostheses, as Horn has explained:
The finger gloves are made from such a light material, that I can move my fingers without effort. I feel, touch, grasp with them, yet keep a certain distance from the objects that I touch. The lever action of the lengthened fingers intensifies the sense of touch in the hand. I feel myself touching, see myself grasping, and control the distance between myself and the objects.
(Quoted in Haenlein 1997, p.58.)
Developed from preparatory drawings (Untitled 1968–9, Tate T12784, and Untitled 1968–9, Tate T12785), Finger Gloves forms part of Horn’s series of bodily extension pieces. Other works from this series offer prosthetic enlargements for the face (Trunk 1967–9, Tate T07855), the arms (Arm Extensions 1968, Tate T07857), and the head (Head Extension 1972, Tate T07861). While these works seem like tools for improving human capability, the resulting effects are often debilitating or grotesque, serving only to draw attention to the limitations of the wearer’s body.
Emerging onto the art scene in the late 1960s, Horn was part of a generation of artists whose work challenged the institutions, forces and structures that governed not only the art world but society at large. In art this meant a renewed critical focus on the human body, contesting the commodification of art objects by foregrounding the individual. This focus on the human body took on a particular personal resonance for Horn, who was confined to hospitals and sanatoria for much of her early twenties after suffering from severe lung poisoning while working unprotected with polyester and fibreglass at Hamburg’s Academy of the Arts.
Horn has made work in a variety of media throughout her career, from drawing to installation, writing to filmmaking. Yet it is with her sculptural constructions for the body that she has undertaken the most systematic investigation of individual subjectivity. Her bodily extensions, for example, draw attention to the human need for interaction and control while also pointing to the futility of ambitions to overcome natural limitations. Similarly, her constructions, despite their medical imagery, are deliberately clumsy and functionless, while other works attest to the unacknowledged affinities between humans, animals and machines.
Finger Gloves appears in Horn’s 1972 film Performances II as Handschuhfinger. Horn later developed her use of finger extensions in her 1974–5 piece Scratching Both Walls at Once (Tate T07846).
Germano Celant, Nancy Spector, Giuliana Bruno et al., Rebecca Horn, exhibition catalogue, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 1993, no.8 (see also no.106).
Carl Haenlein (ed.), Rebecca Horn: The Glance of Infinity, Zürich 1997, p.58.
Armin Zweite, Katharina Schmidt, Doris von Drathen and others, Rebecca Horn: Drawings, Sculptures, Installations, Films 1964–2006, Ostfildern 2006, pl.27.