Rebecca Horn

Mechanical Body Fan

1973–4

On display at Tate Modern

Original title
Mechanischer Körperfächer
Medium
Fabric and metal
Dimensions
Overall: 2803 x 2700 x 37 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased with assistance from Tate Members 2002
Reference
T07851

Summary

Mechanical Body Fan consists of a metal frame, designed to be placed over the shoulders of a female performer, which extends down her front and back, and is held in pace by straps passing around her waist and between her legs. Axels attached to this frame extend at right angles to her body in front and behind her, onto which are attached two fabric wings. When the performer is at rest, the wings hang down, but by shifting her weight, the performer can swing or fully rotate each of these fabric fans so that, viewed from either side, they form an infinite number of shapes between a half and a full circle. As the artist explains:

The fan is adjusted to the proportions and dimensions of my body ... head and shoulders are the centre, the axel of the circular movements ... one half of the fan rotates in front of my body, the other behind my body. My body becomes the fixed axel of the rotational movements. Through the slow rotation of the two fan halves, parts of my body become visible, others become hidden. In the constantly changing angle of the circle the two fan halves spin faster, closing to form a transparent circle.
(Quoted in Haenelin 1997, pp.60–1.)

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.

Mechanical Body Fan relates to the 1970 preparatory drawing Fan (Tate T12789).

Further reading
Germano Celant, Nancy Spector, Giuliana Bruno and others, Rebecca Horn, exhibition catalogue, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 1993, no.13.
Carl Haenlein (ed.), Rebecca Horn: The Glance of Infinity, Zürich 1997, p.60–1.

Lucy Watling
August 2012