Roni Horn explores death, rats and Emily Dickinson
American artist Roni Horn explores the inscrutability of death, optical perception and the poetry of Emily Dickinson at Château La Coste, Provence
‘A Rat Surrendered Here’ is a show about death, and doubles. The title is taken from Emily Dickinson’s poem of the same name in which a rat surrenders to the irresistibility of ignominious acts, only to be caught in an inevitable trap of punishment; ‘reluctantly resigned’ to temptation – a warning to all those afflicted with the human condition.
Back at Château La Coste, there are few actual rats to be found, but there are photographs of two deceased owls that prompt a double-take. A recurring theme throughout the show, Horn’s formal device of the paired image is related to the psychoanalytic concepts of ego-splitting and the uncanny.
Psychoanalytically speaking, the figure of the double – the doppelgänger in literature and film – is the ominous harbinger of death.
In a body of work spanning sculpture, photography, and drawing, death appears as both as literal fact, and as a philosophical inquiry into the darker caverns of the human mind. The experiential qualities of light, shadow, and reflection in Horn’s work link to the mutability of identity and, with it, the inscrutability of death.
In the photographic series, Still Water, 1999, water becomes a mirror. Horn’s subject, the River Thames, reflects the often-overcast skies above London. Yet in this work, it’s not just about what the river reflects, but what it has absorbed. Deeper still, Horn explores the darkness of the river’s history, one riddled with stories of suicide and crime.
Continuing Horn’s unique formula of minimalism-meets-language, the exhibition will premiere the ten-tonne glass installation, Water Double, v. 4, the latest in the acclaimed series she has worked on since the 1990s. It comprises two sculptures made from solid cast glass, each with an oculus that resembles a watery surface.
These pieces – that look as though they might swallow the gallery and viewer – are poetic studies of identity, fluidity and perception, themes that Horn’s work continually confronts to compelling effect. §