My dream is to renovate my bathroom and put in wall-to-wall showering. In the middle, I’d have a huge, bubbling jacuzzi that takes up most of the floor space, with a sauna option operational via a toe button. Tropical plants would surround me, a robot would bring me drinks, and there I’d sit, sniffing steam and slowly wrinkling away. I think I could be happy.
I was reminded of my fantasy bathroom when I visited the Roni Horn exhibition at Fundació Miró. Roni Horn may have the name of a jazz musician but she is a famous artist who is fascinated by the natural environment and our relationship with it, how we try to control it and how like it we are. The title of the show, ‘Everything was Sleeping as if The Universe Were a Mistake‘, is a line from ‘The Book of Disquiet’ by the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa, who seems more keen to pass his feelings of unease on to us, than to clarify them in language. And I guess this is what Roni Horn does too; her pared-down style beckons you in but keeps its distance. Best known, (to me, anyway), for long-term, on-site art projects, such as the Library of Water*, a temporary exhibition of her work isn’t easy to get to grips with.
Water is one of her ‘neuroses’, she says, and water is a running theme in this show… except it never runs. Ever present, ever absent, it’s pinned down in language, in drawings, under numbers or behind glass.
At the entrance, there are two big photos of white owls. The name of the piece is Dead Owl (1997); are both owls dead or just one of them? The taxidermist has dried out one (or both) of the owls, sucked the water right out of it to preserve it forever! Unsettling.
In the room behind, water is all around – but only by implication. In You are the Weather, Part 2, 2011, a woman immersed in Icelandic spa water is seen only from the neck up and viewed at head height, as if the room were the pool and we were in it, too. She stares at us like the owls do while droplets trickle from her ears and clump glassily on her eyelashes. This photo is repeated dozens of times around the room, yet each is subtly different. At times she seems serious or pensive, at times she’s almost smiling. Evolution is not progressive but cyclical, her face can be read any way round, from one end of the room or the other, or starting in the middle… Circled by her rippling moods we splash about in our own.
In these big Miró rooms, space takes centre stage, while the art stuff surrounds. It slides down walls in transparent tubes, on which bits of poems (by Emily Dickinson) are sometimes written backwards, in mirror language (White Dickinson 2006-10). It blobs across the floor in big gummy pools, acid-green, like massive Fruit Gums filled with saliva (Untitled, 2012-13). It presents itself as ‘scientific’ photographs, in Still Water (The River Thames for Example, (1999), the dark surface of the River Thames, slick and crinkly like the bruised skin of cold custard, is punctured with teeny numbers, as if those ripples were hills and their topography were being measured. In Her, Her, Her, and Her (2002), a myriad of doors open on to the long tiled corridor of a locker room, in each cubicle a mirror reflects the wall opposite, in an intricate network in infinite repetition like when you look at a plant through a microscope.
When you’re looking at nature you find what you wanna find, says Horn; you inevitably try to understand it by trying to control it, by making it more like yourself. And look where that’s getting us!
Roni Horn ‘Everything Was Sleeping as if the Universe Were a Mistake’ is at Fundació Miró in Barcelona until 28th September 2014.
I pinched all the images from google and they’re all copyright Roni Horn.
* The Library of Water, commissioned by Artangel, is a multifunctional art/social/environmental feat of engineering, located in a remote spot in Iceland. It’s cool. Click a link for more info.