Rebecca Horn

Keeping Those Legs from Touching Each Other

1974–5

On display at Tate Modern

Original title
Die untreuen Beine festhalten
Medium
Fabric and magnets
Dimensions
Displayed: 270 x 952 x 305 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased with assistance from Tate Members 2002
Reference
T07853

Summary

Keeping Those Legs from Touching Each Other consists of two matching garments, designed to be worn by two performers. Each garment is made from white bandage-like straps, which pass around the waist and hips and down one leg. On one of the performers the straps are attached around the left leg, on the other, around the right. Affixed to the outer side of each leg strap is a powerful magnet, such that a vertical row of magnets runs down the outside leg of each performer. Moving side by side, the two performers must attempt to stay apart despite the magnets repeatedly pulling their legs together with a loud clacking sound.

In Keeping Those Legs from Touching Each Other Horn engages with the legacies of surrealism, especially the examination of desire elaborated by the French poets André Breton and Paul Éluard in their 1930 surrealist publication L’Immaculée Conception. ‘Die untreuen Beine’ in the original German title of Horn’s work translates into English as ‘the unfaithful legs’, and relates to Breton and Éluard’s notion of ‘les jambes infidèles’. Art historian Giuliana Bruno has interpreted this work as the presentation of desire as an involuntary sickness, the white bandages of the leg straps further emphasising this link with the medicinal (Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum 1993, pp.89–90).

Emerging onto the art scene in the late 1960s, the German artist Rebecca 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.

Keeping Those Legs from Touching Each Other appears in Horn’s 1974–5 film Berlin – Übungen in neun Stücken: Berlin Exercises – Dreaming Underwater.

Further reading
Ida Gianelli (ed.), Rebecca Horn: Diving through Buster’s Bedroom, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles 1990, p.48.
Germano Celant, Nancy Spector, Giuliana Bruno and others, Rebecca Horn, exhibition catalogue, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 1993, no.21 (see also no.115).
Carl Haenlein (ed.), Rebecca Horn: The Glance of Infinity, Zürich 1997, p.75.

Lucy Watling
August 2012