Roni Horn

The Liquid Element

“Water is everything,” said Thales of Miletus in about 600 B.C. While in the Christian tradition earth and dust are constitutive parts of life, the classical Greek natural philosopher believed he had found the origin and goal of all existence in the liquid.

Roni Horn is familiar with Thales’ tradition and in her photographs she takes up his suggestion that water is the endpoint of all existence. For in addition to commentaries from literature and everyday life, not to mention personal observations, police reports filed by the London Metropolitan Police form the main point of departure for Roni Horn’s water pictures. She spent two years sifting through police files on corpses found in the Thames or along the river embankment, documents that then served as inspiration for her work. Starting with her personal associations with the deeds in question, Horn then constructed fictitious scenarios of the fatal occurrences. At the London Tate Modern fragments of these stories along with the artist’s observations and thoughts are presented in a text line that supplements each water picture.

Yet Roni Horn’s pictures also speak without this commentary. Some of them present the threatening side of the river, others by contrast tend to have a soothing effect on the beholder. All the water pictures have a shared perspective: the “limitless photos” fix the surface structure of the water in close-up and multiply it beyond the edges of the picture such that it becomes infinite. However, the photographs could hardly differ more: depending on the weather and the time of day, silent waters become a raging sea, and a clear river becomes a sullied pond. Nevertheless, Roni Horn’s water pictures all have one thing in common: each photograph tells a story about the Thames.

Biographical information

1955

born in New York

1975

Bachelor of Fine Arts at Rhode Island School of Design, Providence

1978

Master of Fine Arts from Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut

lives and works in New York