American artist Roni Horn (born 1955), based in New York, became familiar to an international audience in the 1980s through her minimalist sculptures and installations. Her sculptures are best described in binary terms – fragility and mass, proximity and distance, identity and separation – which in juxtaposition make the subtle interplay of two equivalent dimensions tangible.
Roni Horn’s photo installations, which since the early 1990s have constituted an independent component of her work, bear witness to the fundamental significance of Iceland in the artist’s thinking and experience. Since her first visit to the island in 1975, Iceland has represented a correlate to her urbane New York home in the context of her artistic output.
The artist’s existential affinity with the Icelandic environment and way of life is documented in her long-term book project To Place, the first volume of which appeared in 1990. Each book – the encyclopedic work so far comprises seven volumes – presents the visual dénouement of her exploration of a particular aspect of the Icelandic environment, recorded in minute detail by cartographer and tracker Roni Horn.
The gallery will host the 1998 photo installation Pi, which comprises 45 photographs from Arctic Circles (1998), the most recent volume of To Place, and taken close to the Arctic Circle in the most northerly regions of Iceland, Melrakkasletta and Grimsey. The title refers to the mathematical constant pi, which represents the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter – infinite in both rational and metaphysical terms.
The photographs are hung in series, analogous to an architectural frieze, surrounding the observer like an all-enveloping sculpture. Images of landscapes, ocean views, seabirds, (empty) birds’ nests, stuffed animals, people and their living spaces evoke a topography of day-to-day phenomena in an even flow. The otherwise hidden or invisible binary relations and environmental interdependencies revealed to the perceptive observer can be read as manifest metaphors of universal life situations: images of eider ducks and their (empty) nests with down feathers collected, cleaned and sold by an aging couple, Hildur and Björn Björnsson, in return for protecting the breeding grounds from attack by predators. In juxtaposition to this panorama of arctic life, grainy TV portraits of protagonists of American soap opera The Guiding Light represent an established, fictitious alternative world, broadcast daily and thus a constant feature of the lives of the Björnssons (and many other Icelanders too).
As always with Roni Horn, however, the key lies in the complexity and equality of the excerpts of life she shows. In juxtaposing equivalent, equally-weighted levels of reality, the artist avoids both one-sided emphasis and definitive statements. In her work, reality does not appear as a conclusive entity, but rather as an infinite complex of perceptual variations which, focused on specific objects, has to remain fragmented, denoting an individual selection. At the same time, the complex special relations, and interplay of individual sequences put together to create a whole, open up space for the observer’s own memories and mental associations.
In this sense, Pi can be viewed as part of Roni Horn’s exploration of the relationship between identity and place, which revolves around both the specific identity of a particular place and the subjective perception and experience of the artist in a specially-chosen environment. At the same time, the photo installation Pi constitutes one of an infinite number of spaces which are simultaneously authentic and real, reflecting the complex metaphors of infinity and cyclical recurrence suggested by the two titles Pi and Arctic Circles.
The photo exhibit Pi (1998) was first shown in 1998 at the Sydney Biennale, and in 1999 was exhibited at the Matthew Marks Gallery, New York, the Jablonka Gallery, Cologne, and the State Gallery of Modern Art, Munich