Roni Horn

Thicket No. 1

1989–90

Artist
Roni Horn born 1955
Medium
Aluminium and plastic
Dimensions
Object: 51 x 1623 x 1222 mm, 250kg
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by Janet Wolfson de Botton 1996
Reference
T07178

Not on display

Summary

Thicket No. 1 is a large solid aluminium alloy sculpture that is installed directly on the floor. Its very flat rectangular form is 51 mm thick and has dark purplish-blue text inlaid horizontally along two of its edges. Both sections of the text are written entirely in capital letters that are the exact height of the edge on which they appear, with one reading ‘TO SEE A LANDSCAPE AS IT IS’ and the other ‘WHEN I AM NOT THERE’. Together these phrases form a complete sentence that can be read sequentially across two adjacent sides of the sculpture. The depth of the inlaid letters, which is approximately 45 mm, can be seen from the top of the sculpture, since the upper part of each character is visible running flush with the aluminium surface. When exhibited, the sides displaying text are always positioned facing away from the entrance to the gallery space. Thicket No. 1 has a shiny surface, although ever since its making it has featured many small scratches and imperfections and more have accrued over time.

This work was made by the American artist Roni Horn during 1989 and 1990, when she was living and working in New York. The metal slab is made from 6061 aluminium alloy and was produced by a manufacturer, who milled and machine-finished the edges. The letters are solid plastic inserts, placed inside holes made in the slab. The work is always installed parallel to the gallery walls and at a minimum of 8 feet (2.44 metres) away from them, and is displayed on a perfectly flat surface. The sentence featured in this work was taken from Gravity and Grace, a compendium of notes written by the French philosopher and activist Simone Weil (1909–1943), which first published in 1947. In 1990 Horn made a similar work called Thicket No. 2 (Tate T07179), which also features inlaid text and aluminium plates. The word ‘thicket’ featured in the title of both works could denote a dense area of bushes or trees, and although the reason for Horn’s use of the term is not clear, it could be seen to complement the work’s evocation of the landscape.

Like many of Horn’s works, Thicket No. 1 is designed to encourage close attention to the particularity of its materials as well as the spectator’s physical experience of the work (see also Gold Field 1980–2, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York). Since the text appears on the far side of the sculpture and runs across two edges, viewers must walk around the work to read it, emphasising their bodily involvement. The many small imperfections in the sculpture’s surface draw attention to its material properties and the physical thickness of the letters is also emphasised through their visible upper surfaces. In 1995, discussing her interest in inviting rich sensual engagement with her work, Horn stated: ‘I want to make sensible experience more present … I try to reach the viewer by addressing the bodily and not just the mental/nonphysical being. The viewer must take responsibility for being there, otherwise there is nothing there’ (Horn in Claudia Spinelli and Roni Horn, ‘Roni Horn’, Journal of Contemporary Art, 1995, http://www.jca-online.com/horn.html, accessed 30 June 2015).

The art historian Briony Fer has argued that Horn’s work often involves a ‘double action … at once invoking a solitary monologue, like a particularly intense inner-thought train, and at the same time a bodily sense of situation’ (Briony Fer, ‘Complete with Missing Parts’, in Roni Horn aka Roni Horn, exhibition catalogue, Tate Modern, London 2009, p.27). This can be seen in Thicket No. 1 through its emphasis on bodily experience on the one hand and its use of a short, reflective text on the other. However, whereas the work encourages physical engagement, the featured text refers to a mode of experience that could exclude the viewer’s presence. Simone Weil was a Christian mystic, and in her writing this sentence expresses a desire for ‘a perfect union of love between God and earth’, without the presence of the perceiver, which ‘disturb[s] the silence’ of creation (Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, London and New York 2003, p.42). Given the conflation in Thicket No. 1 of the cerebral practice of reading with the embodied quality of perception, the work could be seen to be critical of Weil’s approach, questioning whether the experience of which she wrote could actually exist since the viewer is always physically present during any moment of perception.

Further reading
Roni Horn, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Los Angeles 1990, unpaginated, reproduced.
Roni Horn and Thomas Kellein, Making Being Here Enough: Installations from 1980 to 1995, exhibition catalogue, Kunsthalle Basel, Basel 1995, reproduced pp.29–30.
Louise Neri, Lynne Cooke and Thierry de Duve, Roni Horn, London 2000, reproduced pp.108–9.

David Hodge
July 2015

Supported by Christie’s.

Display caption

Since 1989, Horn frequently has embedded texts in her sculptures. In this work, the top edges of letters can be seen on two sides of an aluminium slab. At first glance they resemble the calibrated forms of universal bar codes. When the viewer walks around the work the phrase 'to see a landscape as it is when I am not there' becomes legible. The line is from 'Gravity and Grace' by the French writer Simone Weil. Horn uses the phrase to remind us to look carefully at what we see, and to try to perceive the world without the filter of cultural preconceptions that may distort our vision.

Gallery label, September 2004

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