Journal

The journal on portikus.de operates as an extension of the exhibitions at Portikus themselves. A wide spectrum of contributions including essays, interviews, fictional writing or photo- and video-contributions provide a closer look on artistic interests and reflect on topics that concern our society, politics and culture.

"Oh my god, this is another kind of code language!"

Amy Sillman, Bernard Vienat
2016-08-17

A Narrative for the Body: Shahryar Nashat’s Present Sore

Isla Leaver-Yap, Shahryar Nashat, Fabian Schöneich
2016-04-22

WE THE PEOPLE – Upholding Liberty

Cosima Anna Grosser
2017-04-25

The Body, the Pedestal

Marina Rüdiger
2016-05-31

H[gun shot]ow c[gun shot]an I f[gun shot]orget?

Lawrence Abu Hamdan
2016-04-19

Between Standstill and Movement

Malina Lauterbach, Maximilian Wahlich
2017-01-29

Eight square aluminium bars of different lengths lean – at regular intervals – on the white wall of Portikus. The smooth polished surface reflects the light and the surroundings, wrapping it in a silvery white shimmer. On each of the long sides of the bars, a verse of poem number 1695 by Emily Dickinson, “There is a Solitude of Space,” can be read in black, vinyl, sans serif capital letters:

THERE IS A SOLITUDE OF SPACE
A SOLITUDE OF SEA
A SOLITUDE OF DEATH, BUT THESE
SOCIETY SHALL BE
COMPARED WITH THAT PROFOUNDER SITE
THAT POLAR PRIVACY
A SOUL ADMITTED TO ITSELF—
FINITE INFINITY. 1

Roni Horn, When Dickinson Shut Her Eyes: No. 1695 (There is a Solitude of Space), 1993, Installation view, House of Commons, 03.12.2016–29.01.2017, Portikus, Frankfurt/Main, Foto: Helena Schlichting.



The words of the nineteenth-century poet, who as a teenager had already retreated to the house of her parents in Amherst, Massachusetts, and while living as a recluse wrote 1775 poems. Her lines are forced into the vertical by artist Roni Horn and resound modestly in the exhibition space. In the 1990s, the artist developed a series of sculptural works entitled When Dickinson Shut Her Eyes that are directly related to Emily Dickinson’s poetic work, embodying and re-“enacting” her poems. The works question the exchange between language, object, and viewer and, in their calm, uniform appearance, promote the extension of established patterns of thought.

Roni Horn’s industrially manufactured aluminium bars interlink text and objects in many ways. They line up alongside one another like lines of poetry cut out of a book. Their metallic surfaces reflect Portikus’ upper wall and ceiling segments while assuming the white colour of a paper background. Where the letters touch the edges, they continue as markings. They thus surround the shaft of the bar and convey the image of inflated letters made of deeply absorbed ink. Here the two-dimensional medium of writing surrounds the three-dimensional body of the individual sculptures. Thus, the work of Roni Horn shimmers between two correlations of text-become-object: On the one hand, the lengths of the lines determine the exact size of each single sculpture while the multi-perspective characters emerge from their background; on the other hand, they are bound and tied to the carrier, thereby underscoring their formal correlation and dependence.

Roni Horn, When Dickinson Shut Her Eyes: No. 1695 (There is a Solitude of Space), 1993, Installation view, House of Commons, 03.12.2016–29.01.2017, Portikus, Frankfurt/Main, Foto: Helena Schlichting.



Each bar is also a self-contained and closed object. However, one of the middle bars arouses curiosity. It is positioned so that the side with the writing is turned towards the gap between the objects making the line “SOCIETY SHALL BE” indecipherable from the front. Since at this point the communicative function of writing dissolves in favour of its graphic qualities, a tense relationship between the objectness and the textuality results. The gaps become associative open spaces. They open our view to the white wall behind them, and, like reading between lines, allow us to search for further levels of interpretation.

As viewers, we are challenged in a special way by the characteristic of the text-object-relation. The reading direction and the course of the letters are always vertically oriented, so that the bars form links in a literary-poetic chain; a series of sentences whose syntax is disturbed by the different orientation of the text. We are urged to read with a constant change of perspective: at times from the bottom to the top, then turned around, and then mirrored. In this way, the work breaks with our usual, static reading behaviour. To grasp the sentences in their completeness, our bodies are forced to move. Disagreement arises between distance and proximity. On the one hand, we physically adapt to the direction of the writing while reading, but at the same time this specific interaction alienates our reading flow.

Roni Horn materializes the words of Emily Dickinson and translates them into a physical experience. She confronts us with a static corporeality that demands that we move. While quietly pacing alongside the objects, the sentences mentally shape themselves into a whole, creating the projection surface for a variety of readings and perspectives on the work. Standstill and movement, language and form flow together to a spatial and temporal experience within which the units dissolve. The artist thus creates a situation in which associative mental play and physical motion connect.

Translated by Faith Ann Gibson

1 Thomas H. Johnson, The complete poems of Emily Dickinson, (London: Faber & Faber Limited) 1970, 691.

Textile as a medium of contemporary art

Olga Inozemtceva
2017-05-18