Rebecca Horn

Performances I

1972

On display at Tate Modern

Artist
Rebecca Horn born 1944
Medium
Film, 16mm, shown as video, colour
Dimensions
None
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by the artist 2000
Reference
T07622

Summary

Performances I 1972 is a nineteen-minute colour film shown as video consisting of a collection of performance works enacted for the camera. The performances focus on interventions on the human body, using paint, hair or garment-like sculptures worn by a performer, and are set against a neutral background or an otherwise deserted outdoor location. Most actions are performed by single individuals, and never are any performed by more than three people. Each of the segments that comprise Performances I is introduced by a title card bearing the individual title of each performance in German, in white characters on black. Throughout, a repetitive choir of chanting voices serves as the soundtrack. The title of the whole film as announced on the opening title card is Performances. The number was added to the official title of the work after Horn released Performances II in 1973 as a companion to this first compilation (Tate T07623). A second card announces the date as ‘1970 – 1972’, indicating the period over which the segments were filmed.

The first five performances included in the compilation feature naked bodies as the bases for simple stop-motion animations, reminiscent of the special effects employed in the early years of cinema. In ‘Red Limbs’ (‘Rote Glieder’), the arms and legs of a performer gradually become covered in red paint. In ‘Blue-Blue-Blue’ (‘Blau-Blau-Blau’) an increasing number of blue dots appears all over a female body. ‘Red Breast’ (‘Rotbrust’) sees areas of red cover the face and bust of a performer following a growing symmetrical pattern. In ‘Black Expansion’ (‘Zunehmendes Schwarz’), the back of a body appears to gradually disappear into the dark background as black paint is applied to its edges, expanding towards the centre until only a thin slice of skin remains visible. ‘Growing Hair / Bad Dream’ (‘Wachsende Haar / Albtraum’) uses hair instead of paint to achieve a similar effect: pubic hair appears to grow all the way to the chest of a female body, cut out of the frame at the thighs and neck.

The second half of Performances I introduces what Horn calls her ‘body-sculptures’, objects made out of fabric, metal, wood and sometimes feathers, designed to be worn and used in performative actions. In ‘Black Cockfeathers’ (‘Hahnengefieder’), two feathery wings envelop the torso of a male performer, who opens them slightly in a fluttering motion by pulling hand-held strings (see Tate T07859). A woman’s hands are also seen caressing the feathers. ‘Head Balance’ (‘Balancestab’), set in a grassy field, features a male performer attempting to balance a long white pole horizontally on top of his head, held in place at its centre with headbands. In ‘Shoulder Extensions’ (‘Schwarze Hörner’), a male performer wears elongated black structures strapped to his shoulders and across his chest. As he walks through a rocky landscape, the two horns swing back and forth, following his movements (see Tate T07860). In ‘Feather Instrument’ (‘Federkleid’), rows of white feathers mounted on horizontal rods cover the front and back of a naked male body, and are individually controlled via strings by female participants. As these participants pull the strings, the feathers lift, revealing strips of the body underneath (see Tate T07848).

Following a serious lung condition, Horn spent most of 1968–9 bedridden and in isolation. During this period of convalescence she started a series of pencil sketches (see Tate T12783T12791) depicting pseudo-medical and prosthetic apparatuses concerned with the body and its vulnerability. She had already started to explore these themes as a student at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Hamburg, where she had been enrolled since 1964. Horn then started producing these objects as hand-sewn sculptures which she could create while still in bed, some incorporating feathers given to her by a friend in Hamburg. As she later recorded: ‘I eventually reorganized them to make a wing, which grew until it covered the whole body … I could caress somebody with this wing, or somebody could be held inside it, becoming a bird-person’ (Horn interviewed by Germano Celant in Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum 1993, p.17). These ‘body-sculptures’ were meant to be worn and used as props in intimate actions. In 1970 Horn started filming herself and a small circle of collaborators performing while wearing the body-sculptures. Some of these early films were collected in 1972 as Performances I (the film gives camera credits to artist K.P. Brehmer, who had started teaching at Hamburg’s Hochschule für Bildende Künste in 1971).

Several versions of Performances I are known to exist. The version in Tate’s collection was donated by the artist in 2000, before it was re-released in DVD format in 2003 with a new soundtrack. The filmography published on the artist’s website and several catalogues list the film Simon-Sigmar 1971 as part of Performances I, but the Tate version does not include this. The title of this work has been published both as Performances I and Performances 1.

Further reading
Rebecca Horn, exhibition catalogue, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 1993.
Rebecca Horn: The Glance of Infinity, exhibition catalogue, Kestner Gesellschaft, Hanover 1997.
Rebecca Horn, exhibition catalogue, Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen, Stuttgart 2000.

Valentina Ravaglia
May 2016

Supported by Christie’s.

Display caption

‘Looking back at these first pieces you always see a kind of cocoon, which I used to protect myself. Like the fans where I can lock myself in, enclose myself, then open and integrate another person into an intimate ritual. This intimacy of feeling and communication was a central part in the performances.’

Gallery label, October 2016