Roni Horn: Art Institute of Chicago

Article excerpt

An extensive iteration of Roni Horn's encyclopedic project to photograph the Thames, staged at the Art Institute of Chicago, saw the artist partner her own signature fluidity with the solidity of the modernist canon. Curated by James Rondeau, this remarkable exhibition, "Some Thames," consisted of seventy-seven framed photographs installed throughout twenty-five galleries devoted to the museum's permanent collection of modern and contemporary art, as well as in its corridors, stairwells, lobbies, offices, and library.

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The footnotes that Horn employs in her work usually provide textual counter-points, but in Saying Water, 1999-, a monologue that she performed at the exhibition's opening, literary allusions became discursive. Dressed in black jacket and pants, she assumed the mannered cadence of a poet, showing slides and interrogating her work, her viewers, and herself. Emphasizing in her poses the androgyny of her name, her self-conscious attitude shifted to become by turns conversational, anecdotal, and seductive. Paired with the non-narrative structure of her photography, chains of quotations linked figures as disparate as Emily Dickinson, Hank Williams, and Martin Heidegger. These accumulations reiterated a desire for transparency in the face of opaque mundane experience. "Water is the master verb," stated Horn, "an act of perpetual relation."

Horn's attention to what she characterizes in her accompanying text as "the minuscule," the "aberration that is rare formation," accounts for the work's haunting presence. If we accept Horn's larger project as a sustained meditation on identity, then our task is equally charged by its endless variability. We followed the unexpected contingencies of "Some Thames" like a treasure map. The identification of Monet with water may be cliched, yet as we viewed Horn's photograph next to Matisse's Interior at Nice, 1919-20, a sunny seascape reverted to what it actually consists of, a slice of blue paint. …