Will o’ the Wisps of the Warriors

Joachim Sartorius


Rebecca Horn’s art presents us with a succession of unsettling allegories of human existence. One of the most versatile and inventive artists of our time, she works across a range of media, including sculpture, installation, performance, painting, film and poetry. Over the last four decades she has produced a highly complex oeuvre that is grounded in and bound together by an ongoing meditation on metaphysical issues and a deep existential desire.


It is the desire to fathom the nature of man, his powers of perception, his capacity for suffering and his ways of dealing with beauty, death and mourning. By sharpening our senses, Rebecca Horn teaches us who we are. Even in her earliest works, this desire to comprehend mankind is accompanied by a world-related longing – a yearning to push the boundaries of experience, to extend one’s own being, one’s own body, to the point where it brushes up against the world and the cosmos.


Set behind golden basins, these sculptural signs with their human dimensions reveal the self in the mirror and cast flecks of light like wandering souls around the high vaulted space. These sculptures are each crowned by a skull: the cast-iron model of one of the capuzzelle (‘little heads’) Rebecca Horn came across in the catacombs of San Gaudioso in Naples while conducting research for her installation Spiriti di Madreperla. In late 2002, 333 of these skulls pushed their way through the paving stones of the Piazza del Plebiscito, linking the world of the dead and their ritualistic veneration to the 77 shimmering mother-of-pearl halos that hovered above the square in the midnight-blue sky. The capuzzelle have accompanied Rebecca Horn for many years and to many different locations – Berlin, New Delhi, Maribow, Moscow and Palma - Mallorca. The installation in La Llotja was the culmination of this long journey, over the course of which the capuzzelle have evolved into beings – symbols not only of our individual confrontation with death, but also of a life-extending force, as protecting spirits similar to a wall around the earth’s glowing core, and now Zürich is watching it.


If there are three features which are particularly characteristic of Rebecca Horn’s art – the interaction with the place in which it is situated, the auratic space it generates through dialogue with the viewer, and the reuse of sculptural objects as part of an almost alchemical process – here in Zürich, all three of these are implemented in an artistic idiom that is both highly distinctive and truly memorable. What are we – we who feed on great mysteries – without the dead? The intersection of vertical and horizontal lines, combined with the rotating mirrors in the centre and the revolving mirrors in front of the skulls, create a magical space of sacred beauty that captures the notion of salvation in a flitting yet beguilingly complex image.

Translated from German by Jacqueline Todd