White Body Fan comprises two large semi-circular sheets of fabric strengthened and supported by spokes made out of metal and wood. These two fabric wings are designed to be strapped to the arms of a female performer, who is able to control their movement: when her arms are down the wings are reduced to folded triangles, when her arms are raised they open to form two half circles. The performer can also bring the two wings forward and together to enclose her body and face.
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.
While the performance of White Body Fan could be said to assimilate the characteristics of humans and birds, the artist has stressed the importance of her fans (and comparable cocoon works) as a means of communication, helping her deal with the feelings of isolation arising from her long convalescence. As Horn has explained:
Looking back at my 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 of the performance.
(Quoted in Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum 1993, p.16.)
White Body Fan appears in Horn’s 1973 film Performances II as Körperfächer.
Ida Gianelli (ed.), Rebecca Horn: Diving through Buster’s Bedroom, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles 1990, pp.40–1.
Germano Celant, Nancy Spector, Giuliana Bruno et al., Rebecca Horn, exhibition catalogue, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 1993, no.12 (see also no.105).
Armin Zweite, Katharina Schmidt, Doris von Drathen and others, Rebecca Horn: Drawings, Sculptures, Installations, Films 1964–2006, Ostfildern 2006, pl.35.