RONI HORN : This is Me, This is You

31 July - 13 September 2003

Abandoned, absorbed, acting, adolescent, adorable, angry, appalled, assertive, bad,beautiful, bejeweled, bereaved, bespectacled, bewildered, biting on a muffin, blase, blowing a balloon, boyish, camera-conscious, candid, capricious, charming, chewing gum, childish, comic, confiding, coquettish, couldnt-care-less, cross, cunning, cute, defiant determined, disdainful, dishevelled, dressed up, drinking from a straw, eating salad, emerging from the shower, expectant, facetious, facing you, falsely imploring, fat, fed up, feminine, flirtatious, frowning, giving you the look, glamorous, glum, graceful, graceless, grinning, grotesque, grown up, happy, here, hooded, horrified, immature, impassive, impish, in her role, ingenue, in  love, in the know, incredulous, inquiring, intelligent, ironic, Jewish mother, Jewish princess, lazy, long-haired, lost, lovely, loving, ludicrous, luscious, lush, lying in the bathtub, making faces, mature, mischievous, mistrustful, mocking, monkey, moody, morose, motherly, mute, mutinous, naive, natural, naughty, never giggling, obliging, oblivious, open, ordinary, out of her role, perplexed, playful, playing hide and seek, plump, pondering, posh, posing, pouting, preoccupied, present, pretending, pretty, proud, purposive, pushy, putting on an act, rarely caught unaware, relaxed, resilient, roguish, romantic, Sabra, sad, sceptical, seductive, self-confident, self-conscious, sensuous, serious, sexy, short-haired, shouting, shy, sly, smart, smiling, sorry, spontaneous, star, staring, street-wise, sweet’n’sour, sweet, talkative, there, tongue-in-cheek, tragic, triumphant, twisting her hair, ungrateful, upside down, vamp, versatile, vexed, wet, whimsical,wigged, withdrawn, womanly, yielding, zany.

 

The above list of adjectives is a poor attempt at describing the changing features and the range of expressions of Georgia Loy as she moves from childhood into full-blown adolescence in Roni Horn’s photographs, taken over a two year period, composing This is Me,This is You. Georgia Loy is the artist’s niece, and she contributed the title. The work exists both for the wall and as a book. The book comprises two times fifty paired images,the wall installation two times forty­ eight. The images in each pair were taken a few seconds apart. In the gallery setting, one set of images forms a grid on the wall of one room while the other hangs in a similar arrangement on the wall of another room. The images are paired by their identical placement on the two grids, respectively. At first glance you have the impression that you are presented with the same work shown twice. Once you have noticed the pairing, though, you find yourself spotting a particular photograph and keeping it in mind while running to the other room to check its counterpart, shuttling back and forth between the two rooms, again and again. The exercise is both exhilarating and frustrating, as if the artist had wanted you to enact in your body movements the fleeting difference between each two snapshots. Time becoming space. The book is actually two books glued together back to back, soft-covered and slipped into a simple casing, with the photos printed full-page on the right side of each double page, on pliable paper. The images are paired by their identical ordering in the two books, respectively. The resulting object is a familiar and yet baffling flipbook. There is no sense of chronology as you flip through the pages: the girl doesn’t grow older, her mood doesn’t evolve, her demeanour doesn’t follow a pattern. Nor is there any sense of before and after when you clumsily try to match the paired images, with a finger of either hand marking the page in either book. Thwarting the narrative is an important way to engage peoples interest, the artist has said. Indeed. Every photo of the girl is self-contained, and every single one is a beginning, like the first lines of Emily Dickinson’s poems which Roni Horn borrowed in Key and Cues. The photographs are more landscape than portrait. What the artist has said of Iceland befits the girl: Iceland is always becoming what it will be, and what it will be is not a fixed thing either. So here is Iceland: an act, not an object, a verb, never a noun. Georgia Loy is a verb. Trying to circumscribe a verb with the help of adjectives is a doomed endeavor.

 

Why not start all over again, from elsewhere? The girl is quite something. A strong personality, no doubt. And those eyes! Turquoise, now blue now green, dear as water yet enigmatically opaque, wide open most of the time, sparkling with intelligence and unbelievably receptive. More receptive, that is, than expressive, although they are expressive too. Georgia simply revels in the loving attention paid to her by her aunt. Her gaze innocently absorbs and knowingly reflects the fact nothing more than the mere fact, but one steeped in care and desire that she is being looked at through Roni Horn’s lens. Most of the pictures were taken with a flash, and when you photograph someone in close­ up with a flash, a white dot materializes in the pupils of your subject, mirroring the flash. I cannot help but see this dot as a metonym of Georgia’s gaze registering the artist’s and bouncing it back at the viewer. A comparison imposes itself with the gaze of Margrét Haraldsdóttir BIöndal in You Are the Weather – a work, it seems to me, to which This is Me,This is You offers a pendent. A chiasma of sorts links the two works. Whereas what do you want from me? is the one constant message which Margrét’s gaze seems to be addressing to the camera, in response to what is felt as an intense demand on the part of the artist. No such anxiety is perceptible in the eyes of Georgia. The affectionate  and intimate relation between sitter and photographer makes room for the conventional interplay of demand and response congenial to the art of portrait-making that You Are the Weather precisely rejects. The photographer begs the subject to supply an expression of what he or she thinks is his or her true self, and the subject complies with an expression which, translated in language, might read as: This is me, and I am this and that. So far so good: Georgia supplies the This is Me side of This is Me,This is You. But what about the This is You side? Assuming that you refers to the artist, then what is this? Where in the work is a self-portrait of the aunt made visible through the portraits of the niece? Where, if not in Georgia’s gaze, in its frankness, openness and receptivity, in the confidence it betrays, and in its address to the one it places behind the camera? It is palpable in the pictures that Georgia knows her aunt is an artist. She knows that the versatile images she projects of herself are not destined for the family album but are likely to land some day in a public setting. It is as though she had grasped and foreseen that her aunt Roni, as an artist, was bound to find her identity  in the eye of the beholder looking at her work.Wittingly or not, Georgia is addressing a viewer who is looking at Georgia looking at Roni looking at Georgia through her lens. Bedazzling.

 

I have argued elsewhere that the conceptual content of You Are the Weather is the shifting of the you from model to spectator. This is Me, This is You shifts the you from artist to spectator, via the models gaze, with the result that the triangle is completed when the you gets shifted back from spectator to artist. I, Georgia,  address you, Roni, and through you, the viewer. You, the viewer, witness Georgia busy drawing a likeness of Roni as a you, of the artist as addressee. This might explain why the photographs are more landscape than portrait, in spite of their playing with the conventions  of portraiture more than any other work Roni Horn has done. For landscape the Icelandic landscape especially has a unique status in Horn’s work. It places her in the world and gives her her identity. Iceland is a verb, and its action is to centre. To centre, or to place, is the verb that addresses the artist with the phrase: This is you. Landscape is, so to speak, the centring mold  from which a self-portrait in the second person is cast. The one piece that Horn thinks of as a self-portrait, in the true sense of a portrait in the first person, is a sculpture that ought to be centred but is not quite.  Entitled Asphere,it is a solid steel ball whose 13-inch diameter  has been expanded in one direction to the point where the distortion becomes barely perceptible. She calls it a homage to androgyny and, more often than not, hints at the idea that androgyny is a sense of identity  where the gendered subject the I as addresser  experiences itself as dependent on the point of view from which it is addressed with the engendered pronoun you. This is a highly original definition of (her) identity, for it points toward sexual difference not as something that divides humanity into men and women, nor as something that would split the self, but as an ambiguous dialectic of addresser and addressee that slightly distorts the selfs sphericity and, by implication, the horizon surrounding it.Whether you are the artist immersed in the Icelandic landscape or the gallery-goer surrounded by the artists work, the horizon is the circle that limits your sight and of which you are the center. With Roni Horn’s work, the burden of embodying the center is yours. Or, as she herself says: I throw the issue of self-identity back out to the viewer.

 

While circumscribing the viewer with a horizon-like frieze is one of Roni Horn’s familiar presentation devices meant to place the viewer at the center of the work, pairing identical objects is a device she uses to decenter the viewer, another way of introducing asphericity into the notion of identity. In the photo-installation Pi (of which the book version is entitled Arctic Circles), both devices come into play. The work is ruled, on the one hand, by the My-business-is-circumference adage (a sentence from Dickinson’s correspondence which the artist took over for how Dickinson stayed home), and on the other hand, by the Things-which-happen-again adage (the generic title for the twin forms placed in different rooms which the artist also calls Pair Objects). The gallery presentation of This is Me,This is You, however, doesn’t follow either adage strictly. It substitutes the frontal, quasi-confrontational structure of the grid for the frieze, and it insists on the sometimes imperceptible, sometimes conspicuous differences that set the paired images a few seconds apart.

It has affinities with the way the artist sometimes reproduces Pair Field, as a grid of 18 photographs, each being the portrait of one of eighteen solid copper or steel objects of equal volume and different shapes. When installed, the actual work duplicates the eighteen unique forms and scatters the two groups in two different rooms. Experiencing the work relies strongly on the sense of déjà-vu that you get upon entering the second room, thwarted by the fine-tuned differences in the arrangement of the forms on the floor and in the proportions of the rooms. You get the same sense of déjà-vu when you come upon the second grid of photos composing This is Me,This is You after having seen the first in the other room, until you discover that the paired images are not identical twins.The few seconds that separate them in the photo session render them aspherical with respect to one another. Irreversible time is crucial to the experience of both Pair Field and This is Me,This is You. But the latter work complicates the experience with a touch of fugitiveness having to do with the model in the photos, the mobility of her face, the expressiveness of her features, and the quasi­ photosensitive receptivity of her gaze under that of the artist. From the subtle interaction of two irreversibilities arises a dialectic, where difference acts as a measure of change, and change as a measure of identity  a paradox the artist expresses, rather enigmatically, with: The present is no longer fugitive because my future is in the present tense too.

 

There is no age in life of which it can be said better that the future is in the present tense than adolescence. But Roni Horn, who is no longer a teenager, speaks of her own future in that sentence. And of her own adult, androgynous identity. Like many other of her works, This is Me, This is You is a mirror for the unseen, and what remains unseen in this piece is herself. Starring Georgia Loy and Georgia Loy only, the work is an ingenuous, loving tribute to the girl’s engaging personality, her budding sexuality, and her freedom to become what she decides to become. The aunt has watched her niece go through differences that are a measure of change, and through changes that are a measure of identity, without in any way imposing on her the model of her own identity, and without superimposing her own world view on the images either, whether stylistically or otherwise. She simply gave Georgia the word, to say a hundred times over: This is Me. Yet, without This is You the work would not truly deserve its title. I have rarely seen a more tactful self-portrait dedicated, whats more, by Georgia: to Everyone.

 

-Thierry de Duve, December 2002