On the Record: Roni Horn

Roni Horn is an internationally acclaimed artist who has had solo shows at the Tate Modern in London, the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Whitney in New York. She participated in the Venice Biennale twice. Horn was in town to critique student work and conduct a question and answer session. Before the crit, the Review shared a coffee with the artist at the Oberlin Market.

Jimmy Hagan, Arts Editor

You’re going to be doing a critique this afternoon. As art students, we do critiques all the time. Do you have any advice for students on how to critique their peers?

I’m not really good with advice but the way I like to run critiques focuses on the experience of the audience. I like to encourage the audience to speak about what their experience of the work is. I like to restrict the author of the work so that it’s not a [situation] where the creative individual is basically standing up and saying what they did. It’s really more about letting the work speak for itself. … In a setting like a college, it’s a really great opportunity for an artist to have an audience with no agenda other than to develop knowledge. You will never have it again once you get out. … It’s going to be a much more interested, versus disinterested, audience. When I was in college, crits were the most interesting thing to me, because you could distinguish what you thought you did from what you actually did.

You studied at the Rhode Island School of Design and then got a masters at Yale. Did you find that studying art in college was helpful or just confusing? I don’t think I respond to either one of those options. … I don’t think I needed to go to college to get where I am. For me it was more about buying time before I went out into that cruel, cruel world and really made a go of it. Let me ask you a question: What percentage of the kids in the art department will go on to have careers in the arts?

I think the first part of that question is, what percent will actually attempt a career. But there are a lot of people who are doing successful work already. What’s your area of study?

I do Art History. I also do English. I was reading an interview from 1995 you gave to Claudia Spinelli from the Journal of Contemporary Art. You were talking about Jules Verne and Iceland and how for Verne Journey to the Center of the Earth was fiction because he’d never been to Iceland. That made me think about whether or not Iceland holds some kind of mythic truth or meaning to you.

I don’t think it’s mythical, but it is a huge influence on my work. … In 1980 I had a major trip there … right after graduate school and it was a very profound experience for me. The thing about Jules Verne is that it’s not only fascinating that he invented this fiction but in my experience of that area of Iceland was that it was it was no fiction at all. It was so extraordinary in terms of geological formations. … I love the idea that Iceland is as good as a fiction. That it’s, you know, a beyond-the-imagination kind of thing.

Do you think it’s kind of site-specific experience or is it more of a mental state that you enter into? In Iceland there is a geologic reality. I think it’s a very, very young landscape and you see how things happen and it’s very graphic. It’s something, it’s something and I wouldn’t even attempt to describe the land formations. But then layered over that is the vegetation, which is exquisite because it’s all primary and secondary growth. And then there is this nature presence of awe because everything’s so extraordinary and it takes the place of religion…that’s where all the trolls and the giants are. It’s about awe. It’s about trying to understand or grasp the extraordinary experience you’re having.

How did you try to translate that kind of awe and experience into the physical world? … I feel like Iceland is an open air studio for me. You know, one artist might choose marble and I chose Iceland. It’s not specifically a medium, but like a substance to me.

I was doing some reading about a specific project you did that consisted of a series of close ups of a young girl — and, you know, she’s got freckles and very light hair. Can you tell me a little bit about that experience? It was an installation called, “You are the Weather.” Yeah. I worked with the model — we’ll call her a model for lack of a better word. We traveled around Iceland and I photographed her in hot water outside. [I wanted to capture] all of that energy in face and reflection in her face and everything going on around her. They were all closely cropped, eye contact type photographs. Then those are installed in a four-wall surround. 100 images looking in on the viewer. So, that was done in 1994, now recently I have decided to go back and do it again.

With the same model? With the same model. The new work is going to be called, well, I guess: “You are the Weather Part II.”

So, when is that going to be shown? Yeah, so I’ll be showing that in September in London. They have good music here. The Clash … I haven’t heard them in so long.

What else do you have on the horizon? Well immediately there’s a couple shows in Europe next month, in Venice in Hamburg. And then, I have a large project I’m working on in Norway — a commissioned work of a permanent … sculpture. It’s quite beautiful up there, but, you know, there’s nobody there. It’s my kind of place.