Rebecca Horn combines performances, drawings, poems, photographs, stage sets, paintings, immersive art, and animated sculptures. The human body, specifically the body of woman, became the central tool in her work. The body is related to objects or instruments, and this is why she often measures the papers on which she draws according to the length of her own arms. Also in her paintings, pencil-marked focal points correspond to her own body’s center and often remain visible in the final piece. In works such as “Im Schatten des Scherzos” (“In the Shadow of Pain”) the lower edge of the painting often takes shape through the implied silhouette of a landscape.
Born in Germany, Horn studied at the College of Fine Arts in Hamburg in 1964. She was working with polystyrene and got very sick having developed lung poisoning due to fiberglass inhalation. She had to withdraw from school and spent a year in total isolation in a sanatorium. Her recovery was made even more painful because of the death of both of her parents during this time.
Horn was an independent artist in in Hamburg from 1968-1971. She studied at St. Martin’s School of Art in London from 1971-1972, lived and worked in West Berlin from 1973-1975, and in New York City from 1976-1980. After spending several years in New York, Horn now lives and works primarily in Berlin as well as in Paris. She has been a guest lecturer at California Art Institute in Los Angeles, University of California at San Diego, and professor at Hochschule der Kunste in Berlin.
Horn is an important international performance artist and has created objects that were adapted to the body: extra-long gloves, masks made of feathers, and fans designed to extend the length of the body. Horn joined together prosthetic uniforms with extensions of face, hands, mouths and sculptural installations. A major example is her 1970 hallmark work “Einhorn” (“Unicorn”), a performance piece where a female figure, extended by a rod, wanders the room taking measurements of the space. Since 1970 most of her works have been filmed and since 1972 were documented in video.
In her immersive art, she made a room sculpture in 1976 “ Die Chinesische Verlobte,” (“The Chinese Fiancee”) which consisted of a small room with six entrances which would enclose a visitor in darkness. The person would be released only when the doors suddenly opened. She suffered lung damage from working with polyester and had to spend time in a sanatorium. She photographed her own actions and turned them into a video documentation. Her body sculptures appeared in the 1978 “The Dancing Partner” and in her first feature film, “Buster’s Bedroom,” 1990. Some of the props in these films ended up as autonomous works of art.
Some of her seminal kinetic installations from the 1990s are “Chor der Heuschrecen” (Choir of Locusts) 1991, “Der Turm der Namenloen” 1994, and “Bee’s Planetary Map” 1998.
“Chor der Heuschrecken” was a sculptural choreography which connected two spaces – and later, two places – in a landscape-like manner. This would later define her work. So too would the insect, negotiating liminal positions between life and death.
Her “Der Turm der Namenlosen” continues themes of flight and uprootedness in a work that incorporates space and musical forms. Horn dedicated this piece to the thousands of Bosnian refugees who arrived in Vienna in the early-to-mid 1990s. Many of them would use their own musical instruments to express trauma. This piece has a spiral of interlocking fruit- picking ladders, crowding upwards towards the gallery’s ceiling. Seeming to climb the ladders’ rungs, nine violins begin to play a wild polyphony at intervals of three and a half minutes. The symbolic power of musical instruments became a central leitmotif in her work and can be seen in her “Concert for Buchenwald,” a sculptural composition on permanent installation in Weimar since 1999.
This leitmotif of the insect as in the earlier “Chor der Heuschrecken” continued in her “Bee’s Planetary Map.” A site-specific work it captures the transformative power of bees. It was conceived during the height of the Balkans War, which displaced million of people, turning them into refugees. This work deals with themes of dislocation, uprootedness, and fractured movement. There are empty beehives in the space with the haunting buzz of a wandering swarm of bees. Yellow light, the color of honey, streams from suspended baskets, which is reflected off round, rotating mirrors and projected onto the walls and ceiling. Every two-and-a-half minutes a stone falls from the ceiling and shatters one of the mirrors.
Horn’s work has been shown in dozens of group exhibitions and individual exhibitions in European capitals, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Her work is in the public collections of museums in Germany; Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum; New York’s Guggenheim Museum, Museum of Modern Art, and Anthology Film Archives; London’s Tate Gallery; Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, among others.