Rebecca Horn and the Re-Construction of the Real

Katya Lachowicz, April 2008 Rebecca Horn. Painting Machines 1988 (image 1). There is something futile about it. So many frames, trying to capture, to preserve, but the paint falls through. The frames are void. Gathered at the bottom of the wall, like bees having smelt the promise of nectar. They await their mark. Character, presence. Validation. Perhaps, the paint makes them worthy of existence? But in being disfunctional, almost disabled, frames without their canvases- they cannot capture. They are impotent. They cannot do what they are meant to do, and so the paint misses it’s mark, it splats onto the floor. Debris, waste material. Or is it? As though driven by some forward force, this is clearly not the end of the line. The gallery floor becomes the canvas for those disfunctional frames as though it were a camera- the potential image (paint) passing through the lens (frames) in order to reach its permanent fixture as an imprint on the negative (floor). In this case the camera has several points of capture, and several overlapping negative prints created by the blocking-out of the positive frames, defying its end, even defying it’s permanent fixture, the ‘images’ even seem to pass beyond the negative itself. The paint imprints on the floor have an ethereal quality to them, as though they soon will be absorbed, or seep through the cracks into the following room, another contained space. As though at once is will continue, but equally disappear from the viewer’s sight. The shadows of the frames projected on the wall behind, also seem to sink further into the background, beyond the paint flecks which force their way down like a veil, screening off the shadow dimension beyond. What dimension? What is behind the screen? There is a constant interplay between the three elements: frames, paint, shadows. The first is three dimensional, whereas the paint marks and shadows seem to shift between the second and third dimension. Is this a machine for self-replication? A broken body, or circuit trying to make-do with an alternative route? Are the three elements just endless reflections of one another? If so what are the implications?




Francis Bacon comes to mind: Studies after Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1950-3) (images 2-4) featuring a cube with its top façade exposed - a device for “seeing the image more

clearly”. The space, dark, a camera obscura, a room of endless mirrors enveloping a caged subject at its centre, as though it were under some sort of medical surveillance. Each attempt at capturing the Pope is increasingly deconstructed, pulled apart as though Bacon were trying to pull the three dimensional cube out from the flat painting. Trying to bring it into reality. But he fails. Similarly to Rebecca Horn, Bacon, obsessively repeats, shifts, deconstructs, to the point that the portraits become trapped spaces, cameras- zones for the mechanical re-construction of visual data. And indeed, Bacon uses what he labels using a photographic analogy, ‘shuttering’ (applying a veil/screen to his images). A word connoting multiple takes, a desperate attempt to capture the everfleeting image. 5. In Sketch for a Portrait of Lisa 1955 (image 5), considered by Bacon as his most successful use of ‘shuttering’, it is as though she is being constructed from the veil, as though she were made-up of millions of pixels. She is coming through the veil. She is at once being deconstructed and reconstructed. Broken into ‘multiple fragments..assembled under a new law’ as (Benjamin,1992 p.227). Bacon tries to re-construct Lisa, breaking her down into small fragments, and sowing the pieces back together again. He attempts to ‘intensify the realism’ (Harrison, 2005 p.102), but Lisa nevertheless remains a re-construction. Furthermore, in re-constructing, we inevitably lose something of the original. It is a re-construction. It is a re-presentation. In repeating we erase. And yet we remain convinced that in repeating something it becomes more real. Because in repetition we give it validity. We force it into being. In The Return of the Real Hal Foster discusses the Lacanian diagram of the gaze , where the renaissance ‘cone of vision’ is inverted and placed over an existing cone, with a screen in it’s centre. Lacan states that the act of seeing works two-fold. We are both the observers and the observed. A continuous state of surveillance. Perhaps even to the point where we become our own overseers. Moreover, the screen in the centre has the role of ‘taming the image’ mediating the object-gaze for the subject. The screen allows us to manipulate the image. Firstly, we can project an image of how we wish to be seen, and secondly we can choose what we see in return. The screen in both cases, prevents us from seeing the real. We live in our own virtual creations. It’s interesting to see that both sides of Lacan’s diagram are equal. Could it be that they are a reflection of each other? That the travelling lines of perception instead of ending at the geometral point, expand into a mirror image? The process of seeing turns into a series of interiorised refraction and reflections. Pure fiction. Perhaps like Narcissus, we are lost in the extended reflections of ourselves.


Mirrors play an important role in Rebecca Horn’s work. Take From Rooms meet in Mirrors (image 6) a performance piece dating 1974/75 as an example. Horn moves, covered in a range of fragmented mirrors; we cannot see her as one whole, nor can she see herself, rather she disappears into the reflections of the surrounding space that she carries on her body. The subject appears as object, and the object as subject. Here the two sides of Lacan’s diagram mirror each other. Horn is stripped off her identity, presented as an empty vehicle onto which images are projected. However, the mirror does not produce the real, rather, a warped, and reversed image. Returning to Walter Benjamin’s words, ‘multiple framents..assembled under a new law’, a true representation of the real is impossible. The facts are merely re-assembled. What we understand as 'authenticity' is not possible. 7. And so as Hal Foster points out, referring to Andy Warhol’s Death and Disaster series (image 7) , that Warhol repeats in an attempt to make the tragedy more real. To pierce through the protective screen. However, in repeating, he banalises reality, reduces it into numbness. The images become a mechanical re-production of an illusive representation. Further highlighted by the monotony of the screen-printing. ‘The real cannot be represented’ (Hal Foster p.144). Image-makers are constantly trying to break through the screen but fail. “I am a reflection photographing other reflections within reflections. It is a melancholy truth that I must always fail. To photograph reality is to photograph nothing.” Duane Michals, A Failed Attempt to photograph reality 1976. And yet there is still something poignant left in Warhols’ repetitions. Firstly the screen-printing process isn’t entirely mechanical. There are marks left where too much ink was pressed through the screen, there are breaks and slight variations in each print. Yes, he may be a ‘reflection photographing other reflections within reflections’ but each image reflected is slightly different. Perhaps like the image of the room reflected in Horn’s mirrors, the elements are re-assembled into different permutations. And it is these permutations that form the real. It through difference that we create the real. Because the real is about preservation. There is a very memorable quote from Skolimowski’s film ‘The Shout’ where one of the cricket players says ‘It’s always the same story, only, I change the sequence of events, the climaxes, because I like to keep things alive, I like to keep things alive’. Marc Augé argued that ‘everything proceeds as if space had been trapped by time, as if there were no history other than the last 48 hours of news’. It’s the same story, only the sequence of events change. It resonates well with George Orwell’s 1984, where the protagonist spends his day rewriting, reassembling newspaper articles at the ministry of truth. He uses Newspeak, a reduced vocabulary based on the permutation of a few words, designed to limit thought. However, once you start creating permutations, when you start to repeat a word, you add another meaning to it, another context. You loose control over it’s development. It is in a constant process of flux. Yes in repeating we erase, but more importantly, in repeating we change. Like reflections within a mirror, the meaning of the word can be warped and reversed. We do not repeat in order to go back, rather we repeat in order to go forward. So we return to the multiple frames and shutterings of Horn, Bacon, Warhol, and Lacan’s diagram

of the gaze. A mass of images, frames, overlays, reflections and inversions. Horn’s machine is built from a series of repetitions, transformations, propelling itself forward into continuity. On the surface, the paint falling through the frames seems futile, but in actual fact, the futility lies in our attempts to capture it and give it permanence. Because in doing so, the image dies. Our attempts at breaking through the screen into the ‘real’ are also futile. We ignore the fact that the real is not a fixed form, and likewise the screen too cannot just be ‘pierced into’. We draw up two dimensional diagrams, we overlay and invert the positions of the object and subject, however we forget the role of time, and change. We do not belong to this two dimensional world. Perhaps Lacan’s diagram should be expanded into the third dimension and once again overlaid to create a screen with an x,y,z axis? What is intriguing about Rebecca Horn’s Painting Machine, is that it re-enacts this process of seeing in a three dimensional form, placing the audience within the workings of the machine. Returning to cinema, ‘It is the interval between the two frames which is the important element of the articulation of meaning’ (Vertov, D. Manifesto 1984) And so we too stand on the boundary line, in the position of the ever changing screen, gazing upon change, the reconstruction of the real.

BIBLIOGRAPHY BOOKS Bachelard, G. (1969) The Poetics of Space. Boston: Beacon Press. Barthes, R. (1993) Camera Lucida, London: Vintage. Benjamin, W. (1992) The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. London: Fontana. Burgin, V. (1996) In/Different Spaces: Place and Memory in Visual Culture. University of California Press. Foster, H. (1996) The Return of the Real: Avant-Garde at the End of the Century, MIT Press. Harrison, M. (2005) In Camera Francis Bacon, Thames & Hudson. Sontag, S. (1979) On Photography, Penguin. Vertov, D. (1984) Kino-eye: The Writings of Dziga Vertov. University of California. EXHIBITION CATALOGUES Hayward Gallery (2005) Rebecca Horn Body Landscapes. London. ONLINE IMAGES Bacon, F. (1951) Studies after Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X [online image] Available from <> [Accessed 30 March 2008] Bacon, F. (1955) Portrait of Lisa [online image] Available from < shtml> [Accessed 30 March 2008] Bacon, F. (1953) Studies after Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X [online image] Available from <> [Accessed 30 March 2008] Bacon, F. (1953) Studies after Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X. (II). [Online Image] Available from <> [Accessed 30 March 2008] Horn, R. (1975) Rooms meet in Mirrors [online image] Available from [Accessed 30 March 2008] Velazquez, D. (1650) Innocent X [Online Image] Available from <> [Accessed 30 March 2008] Warhol, Andy. (1963) White Burning Car III. [Online Image] Available from <> [Accessed 30 March 2008] WORLD WIDE WEB Costenoble, A. (2005) The Affective Real in Minimalist Installation. [Internet] Available from <> [Accessed 30 March 2008] Furnari, R. (2002) Screen (2) [Internet] Available from <> [Accessed 10 March 2008] Lee, P. (2003) Eye and Gaze. [Internet] Available from <> [Accessed 10 March 2008]

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