Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Rebecca Horn: Bodylandscapes

Sunday afternoon at the Hayward Gallery to see its new exhibition Rebecca Horn - Bodylandscapes.

To be honest, we probably wouldn't have gone to this show except for a particular confluence of events: my mother offering to baby-sit, there being nothing worth seeing at the Clapham Picture House on Sunday and my wife having an annual membership to the Hayward Gallery. So off to the German avant-garde we went! The temptation to pursue the body metaphor and describe this exhibition of multimedia installations, performance pieces and drawings as "a bunch of arse" is childish and unfair but alas irresistible.

Actually some of the pieces are rather intriguing. The room of weird costumes - a unicorn headpiece, body-sized wing-like fan - are great. The blurb talks about the influence of surrealism, alchemy, esoterica but these seem like a Martian's attempts at fetishistic bondage gear. And why not?

Alas, it's mainly downhill from there. The installations are mainly mechanical pieces (not all of them working). There is a contrast between the solidity of the actual mechanics - gears, cranks, brakes, linkages, armatures - and the vacuous portentousness of the titles. Under no circumstances should you attempt to read the poetry on the walls. Maybe it is better in German.

One piece I quite like comprises a set of armatures hung with sheets of music. A crank lifts and raises the pages like wings. It's called Floating Souls (you see what I mean about the titles). Some of the music sheets are splashed with red or black ink and a raven's feather hangs from one of the armatures. Both of these (along with eggs, books and golden pointers) are what the Guide calls "recurring motifs", the technical term for shortage of ideas. It struck me as a rather teenage attitude: the repetitious drawing of symbols on your homework was supposed to imply hermeneutic wisdom, when all you were really doing was skulking in your bedroom. Also like teenagers, Horn often uses music (ethereal synthesised drones and overtone singing) to make her seem deep.

The worst offences are the drawings. Now that I have a four-year old I am more sceptical about the artistic merit of such scrawls and splashes. The major difference between the drawings of my son and Rebecca Horn is that hers are centred whereas Fred tends to start at the left-hand of the page and work rightwards. But I could take one of his drawings, give it a label like The Paradise Bird Pierces My Heart or The Burning Gardens Of Smyrna and you might think, 'Hey! I can almost see what the artist meant!" Art is whatever someone will buy.

Funnily enough, although I didn't like most of the work I find I have quite a lot to say about it. It certainly generated more conversation than popping over to the Joshua Reynolds exhibition at the Tate would have done. Makes you think, mmmm?



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