Art with Glass

Appreciates working closely with SCHOTT: Roni Horn during inspection of a glassy artwork at the company’s corporate headquarters in Mainz (Germany). (Photo: SCHOTT/T. Bauer)
Dr. Hans-Peter Schwanke

Complex Glass Artworks of Great Depth

Roni Horn’s sculptures are characterized by perfection and precision. One of the world’s leading contemporary artists, she combines these properties inherent in glass with its transparency and plasticity to form sensitive reflections.

”I love the clarity, as well as the fragility of the material”, is how American Roni Horn explains her affinity to glass. One of the highlights from among her thirty years of work is a recently finished, long-term installation in Iceland. Inside the former library in the fishing town of Stykkishólmur she has created a »Vatnasafn/Library of Water«, including a work of art made of glass, water and light, entitled »Water, Selected«. In the library’s large hall, the original bookshelves have been replaced by seemingly randomly placed glass pillars which reach up to the ceiling. These in turn contain melted samples taken from the country’s 24 most important glaciers, such that the pillars resemble huge test tubes.

The 2.90-meter high columns are 300 millimeters in diameter and are made of Duran® borosilicate glass 3.3 from schott, which is particularly resistant to chemicals and thermal shock. The tubes are hermetically sealed by welded glass plates at both ends, so as to prevent algae forming, and are designed to withstand the pressure and weight of 260 kilograms of water. They were transported by ship to Iceland, where they were filled with the glacier water using a sterile hose. Visitors to the installation walk through the labyrinth of glass tubes almost as if passing between the crevasses of a glacier. The water inside ranges from perfectly clear to milky, and from a greenish color to light brown. Yet the columns are at their most attractive when they allow a view of the natural world beyond: Just like looking at a reflection in a concave mirror, the panorama vista from this raised standpoint – with its harbor, sea, houses and sky – appears distorted and strange. In addition, the silhouettes of the people walking past serve to animate this surreal, dreamlike scene, while the images change according to the weather conditions.

This close alignment with nature is rounded oV by a literary element: Like a kind of meteorological diagram, words in Icelandic and English embedded into the beige rubber floor reflect the constantly changing light that activates Horn’s water documentation. She associates the adjectives with the weather and the water: Bitter, wild, wet, soft, stormy, sunny. The eVect of the installation is a political and ecological statement, in response to the unchecked global warming. Thus, the residue floating in the water signifies the melting of the glaciers. In this way, Horn regards her library as something final, as many of her material sources will soon have vanished. She has copied the landscape inside the building as if using glass totem poles, so as to allow for quiet reflection on one’s own train of thought.
In a former library building overlooking the town harbor of Stykkishólmur, Iceland (above), Horn has created the long-term installation »VATNASAFN/Library of Water«. The sculpture »Water, Selected« shows 24 glass columns, which have been filled with water collected from major Icelandic glaciers. (Photo at the top: VATNASAFN/Library of Water, Photo below: Artangel)
The artist, who lives and works in New York, has been a frequent visitor to Iceland since 1975, using the country’s isolation and natural landscapes as a kind of open-air studio and central source of inspiration. It is here that she studies the flow of nature and draws analogies between inner and outer worlds. These, in turn, find their way into her sculptures, photographs, drawings and books. In all her chosen media, she concentrates on a particularly delicate grammar of punctuation. Directly linked to the cyclic relationship between man and creation, she confronts her audience with interactive works of art that release an incredible energy on closer inspection – despite their cube-like regularity.

Minimalism free of pathos

Alongside the installation »my oz, an exhibition« held in Reykjavik exhibited more of Horn’s works, including a new paired glass sculpture. These are two blocks measuring 1.3 by one by 0.75 meters, cast from amber glass produced by schott, and sand-blasted on five sides, which Horn has entitled »Untitled (… in a wilderness not big enough for a decent billiard-room)«. The sculpture on display in New York’s Guggenheim Museum »Untitled (Flannery)« is also composed of two pieces – identical blocks cast from blue schott glass, which resemble transparent fountains of light with an amazing depth of reflection. Blue, as the color of the cosmos as well as that of infinite fantasy, produces a state of melancholy. With its varying incidence of light, this condition leads to depths that circulate in metaphysical and psychological spheres. The two-piece work »Untitled (Yes)« is from 2001 and once again comprises two blocks illuminated by daylight, one made of colorless clear glass, the second one deep black. Only the top sides are fire polished. The surface of the colorless block is slightly curved, producing a tension that conveys the optically illuminated and magnified floor upwards, while that of the black block is recessed a little and appears to be flowing.

Roni Horn’s sculptures avoid dramatic gestures, focusing instead on the essentials. She creates a minimalism free of pathos, at once simple and complicated, while demanding the viewer’s active participation. The observer has to be prepared to accept lasting discoveries. And, by way of a dialog, duplicates are used to test relationships and changes, while diVerences and identities are exposed.

Roni Horn began using optical glass from schott in her first works of art while she was still studying. Using technical assistance from schott and her own sophisticated ingenuity, she transforms dull, cold glass blanks into profound works of art. Their archaic, unpretentious rationality prevents any distraction from the stimulating, subtly hidden messages. Her work is deciphered by way of a penetrating aesthetic experience.
Additional informations
Biography Roni Horn