Rebecca Horn

Performances II

1973

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On display at Tate Modern

Artist
Rebecca Horn born 1944
Medium
Film, 16mm, shown as video, colour and sound
Dimensions
None
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by the artist 2000
Reference
T07623

Summary

Performances II 1972 is a thirty-five 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 feathers, hair and 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 one or two people, with the exception of ‘Head Extension’, which has five participants. Each of the segments that comprise Performances II is introduced by a title card bearing the individual title of each performance in German and its year of realisation, in white characters on black. The soundtrack consists of occasional ambient sounds, although it is mostly silent.

‘Unicorn’ (‘Einhorn’) 1970 features a female performer walking along a tree-lined path and across a field wearing nothing but a harness of white fabric straps, culminating at the top in a long white horn (see Tate T07842). In ‘Head Extension’ (‘Kopf-Extension’) 1972, a male performer is fitted with a five-metre long black cone, terminating in a vest which covers his head and secures the structure to his torso. Unable to see, and precariously balancing the enormous cone on his shoulders, he is guided across a field by four people holding ropes connected to the top of the structure (see Tate T07861). In ‘White Body Fan’ (‘Weißer Körperfächer’) 1972, a woman (the artist) stands in an arid landscape wearing two vast semi-circular membranes attached to her sides on her legs and arms. Using her legs as a static pivot, she extends and swings these white sails with gliding arm movements, occasionally enclosing her whole body like a shell (see Tate T07844). In ‘Finger Gloves’ (‘Handschuhfinger’) 1972, a female performer (again the artist) is seen wearing black gloves with extremely elongated fingers, with which she touches the floor and the bare back and hair of a person lying face down (see Tate T07845). ‘Feather Finger’ (‘Federfinger’) 1972 consists of close-ups of a hand with feathers attached to each finger with a ring, with which the wearer caresses her arm and torso.

In ‘Gavin’ 1971, the camera turns 360 degrees around the bust of a man wearing an afro hairstyle, which is revealed to cover the whole head, with no front or back. In ‘Cockfeather Mask’ (‘Hahnenmaske’) 1973 the artist wears a mask featuring rows of feathers running from the top of her head to her chin across the central axis of her face. She is seen frontally, passing her fingers through the black feathers, and then in profile, using this fan shape to caress the face of a male performer, brushing it from side to side but unable to get her mouth close to his skin (see Tate T07849). ‘Pencil Mask’ (‘Bleistiftmaske’) 1972 shows the artist wearing a mask made out of green strips of fabric arranged in a grid, with a pencil mounted like a spike at each point where the strips cross (see Tate T07847). Horn is seen frontally, touching an invisible surface with the tip of the pencils, then she turns towards a white vertical surface and proceeds to brush against it repeatedly, drawing layer after layer of lines as the pencils are dragged from side to side. In ‘Cockatoo Mask’ (‘Kakadu-Maske’) 1973, a woman (possibly the artist) wears a mask consisting of two wings of white feathers which cover her face entirely (see Tate T07850). Another woman opens the mask and puts her face between the wings, which hug the back of her head, holding it inside in a close face-to-face proximity which remains hidden to the viewer.

This second compilation of performance works, made after Performances I 1972 (Tate T07622), features a number of Horn’s ground-breaking ‘body-sculptures’; masks and prosthetic appendages she designed for herself and her collaborators to wear and use as props in intimate actions, exploring and enhancing sensory relationships with the surrounding space and with other people. Performances II includes footage of a work that had previously been released as a stand-alone short film, Unicorn 1970, which the curator Harald Szeeman selected for inclusion in the exhibition documenta 5 at Kassel in 1972. ‘Head Extension’ was also performed in Kassel’s Auepark as part of the same exhibition. This was Horn’s first major exhibition appearance, which launched her career internationally. The same year, Horn moved to New York, where she continued to record her performances with body-sculptures: Pencil Mask 1972 and Finger Gloves 1972 were filmed in her New York studio.

Horn explained the idea behind her early performances in an interview with Italian critic and curator Germano Celant:

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.
(Horn in Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum 1993, p.16.)

Several versions of Performances II 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 title of the work has been published as both Performances II and Performances 2. However, the title card which appears in the film reads Performances II.

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