Rebecca Horn
Trunk c.1967–9

Artwork details

Rebecca Horn born 1944
Date c.1967–9
Medium Fabric and metal
Dimensions Displayed: 120 x 1610 x 710 mm
Acquisition Purchased with assistance from Tate Members 2002


This large fabric approximation of an elephant’s trunk is designed to be strapped to the face of a performer, covering the mouth and nose such that only their eyes and the top of their head are visible. The trunk extends out from the face, down and out along the floor.

Trunk is one of Horn’s earliest body extension pieces. Other works incorporating prostheses include Arm Extensions 1968 (Tate T07857), Head Extension 1972 (Tate T07861), and Scratching Both Walls at Once 1974–5 (Tate T07846). While all these works seem to offer an improvement to human capability, the results are often debilitating or grotesque, serving only to highlight the fragility and helplessness of the human body.

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.

The ideas set out in Trunk were further developed by Horn in her 1969–70 drawing Untitled (Tate T12791).

Further reading
Germano Celant, Nancy Spector, Giuliana Bruno and others, Rebecca Horn, exhibition catalogue, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 1993.
Steven Henry Madoff, ‘Hinge Life’, in Marion Ackermann and Hans Werner Holzwarth (eds.), Rebecca Horn: Moon Mirror, Site Specific Installations 1982–2005, exhibition catalogue, Kunstmuseum Stuttgart, Stuttgart 2005, pp.23–40.
Armin Zweite, Katharina Schmidt, Doris von Drathen and others, Rebecca Horn: Drawings, Sculptures, Installations, Films 1964–2006, Ostfildern 2006, pl.19.

Lucy Watling
August 2012

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