Roni Horn, “Saying Water”
You stand back and see the photograph from some distance and have that visual experience. Then you move in on the photograph to see the detail and at that point you start to see the numbers floating in the water and you’re able to read the footnotes. In this moment you’re going from a horizontal to a vertical view. In going vertical, it’s like going into a well, going into something. And in this case the footnotes provided a precise metaphor of entering that space in a vertical sense. That’s how I was thinking of Still Water – what happens when you can just stand there and effectively go into deep space.
I began writing the notes for Still Water a year before I started photographing the Thames... Much of it was written as reverie, my reverie, evolving quickly into a manic, obsessive, endless flow of consciousness, and finally becoming a litany with chorus-like elements... I wrote these notes in the solitude of myself but I did so anticipating your arrival. A triangle is formed between you, me (the voice in the footnotes) and the photographs. All three elements are inextricably bound together in the act of experiencing the work.
– Roni Horn
Saying Water (2001) belongs to a body of work which, in its entirety, constitutes a true ode to water, an intense and personal investigation through its many contents, meanings, and metaphors. As a complex, changeable element on which life depends, water determines the weather conditions in which we live, it is the substance that makes up the majority of our body and, at the same time, has a fundamental impact on identity and imagination. As the artist writes, “We cannot talk about water without talking about ourselves.”
Horn began collecting the reflections on water we hear the 1990s. They are phrases conceived by the artist herself or quotations of various kinds – for example, from the poems of Emily Dickinson, from a novel by William Faulkner, from a film by Michelangelo Antonioni, and from the songs of Aretha Franklin. We also find them in another fundamental, earlier work, the suite of fifteen photographs Still Water (The River Thames, for Example) (1997–99). Each image depicts a small portion of the surface of the Thames, all characterized by different colors and light, by the water’s particular ripples. As we get closer, we enter a second, deeper level and recognize a series of small numbers on the surface of the river. In each print, the numerical characters direct our gaze towards the lower margin, which is populated by a number of footnotes.
Unpredictable, changeable, and unruly, water has inspired the work of many artists, from the classical to the contemporary. From the late 1990s through the present, it has been the subject of recurrent reflections in Galleria Raffaella Cortese’s exhibition program.
Its symbolism unites the spiritual life of countless civilizations: It symbolizes rebirth and purification, it is fruitful nourishment and an emblem of the feminine principle, but also a potential source of danger for existence and is in turn threatened by mankind.
In the tiny Aedicula Raffaella Cortese in Albisola Superiore, a stone's throw from the Ligurian sea and the Sansobbia stream, at 6 o’clock each evening, a light turns on and passers-by are invited to stop and listen to the voice of Roni Horn in Saying Water. You can sit on “Halte,” a bench designed by young designer Thibault Malavieille, and lose yourself in the most intimate thoughts about water.
Aedicula Raffaella Cortese, Albisola Superiore (SV)
18 Jan – 16 Mar 2023