Roni Horn Installation view at Tate Modern, 2009 (To Place, nine volumes, 1990-2006) A visitor looks at artworks in vitrines

Roni Horn
Installation view at Tate Modern, 2009 (To Place, nine volumes, 1990–2006)
Courtesy Roni Horn and Hauser & Wirth Zürich London
Photo © Tate

Books are an essential part of Horn’s practice; some of them are displayed in the café area outside the exhibition. Horn uses books in a different way to her more public works. ‘The book is an intimate form, it mostly engages the individual individually. I can think of no other form so inherently private,’ she has said. Each one is carefully sequenced and designed, and Horn is as concerned with the tactility of the books as with their images. Many of her titles refer to publications that organise and categorise information – for instance Dictionary of Water and Index Cixous, and she has also called To Place an ‘encyclopaedia’. However, true to her belief that ‘things don’t have fixed identities’, her books loosen the definitive capacity of these bibliographic forms. A single photographic subject might recur through a publication, but there is neither a fixed sense of order nor a particular narrative progression. Instead readers navigate the books according to their wishes. For Horn, the arrangement of images in some of the books amounts to a proposal for ‘a language without words.’

However, words and wordplay also feature throughout Horn’s work, in her titles, in the pairs of homonyms scattered across her drawings, and in the footnotes she wrote for her Thames project. This project also resulted in the sound piece Saying Water 2001, which can be heard on the balcony looking over the river. As Horn reads her reflections on water and the Thames, words and phrases and vocal tones repeat, producing rhythms and musical patterns, sometimes song, sometimes lament and sometimes rant. Horn’s voice flows like the subject she addresses. Like water, one can enter the stream of words at any point, and in this installation, for the first time, watch the river flow while listening.

Horn’s wordplay and her interests in dissolving structures of categorisation come together in the new publication Roni Horn aka Roni Horn, which she has made on the occasion of this exhibition. Like many of her works, it is a paired object. One part is a catalogue of the exhibition, the other a ‘Subject Index’ with alphabetically arranged entries on Horn’s works and the concepts that recur in her practice. The entries are supplied by thirty different writers as well as Horn herself, offering a range of perspectives rather than a monolithic voice. Horn frequently inserts connective references between one subject and another, sending the reader around the book and her practice, linking her ideas in surprising and often humorous ways, and showing the fluidity of her thought.