Rebecca Horn: Mirrors and Ashes


Known for her performances and costumes focusing on the body, artist and director Rebecca Horn, born in Germany in 1944, works with various media and techniques: film, sculpture, installation, performance, drawing, photography… Horn’s works are inspired by the tension between reflective and absorbent surfaces: mirrors and ashes. This tension is resolved by the sounds that accompany her works: We both hear the voices of the works themselves (a result of the active nature of the works) and the music that accompanies them. After the screening of Moon Mirror Journey at Pera Museum, Hayden Chisholm, who composes music for Horn’s works, talked about her art and the close relationship between music and the works.

Moon Mirror Journey allows the viewer to have a closer look at Horn’s work and the creative process behind it. The film has a biographical tone but it is much more comprehensive than a biography. Showing sequences from the artist’s travels from Samarkand to New York, it allows us to follow the footsteps of her art, produced in different locations. These journeys are both physical and spiritual. “If it is a new place, Rebecca stays couple of months before producing a work there. In order to understand the energy of that area well, she first makes a deep analysis of its history,” states Chisholm. We can understand what Chisholm means if we look atSpiriti di Madreperla. Among the most impressive works of Horn,  it is a sculpture, light and voice installation which stayed at the Piazza Plebiscito in Naples for a year in 2002.

In the film, Horn talks about her weird relationship with Naples where she stayed for about three months. “Naples always scared me for some reason and I avoided visiting the city for a long time… In the end when I came to Naples for this project, I overcame this fear upon visiting the Catacombs,” she states. She believes that the energy gathered in these Catacombs affected the city in a negative way so she tried to reverse the situation with her installation at the Piazza Plebiscito.


Placed on the ground are 333 iron skulls, and 77 floating white fluorescent halos float above them in the air. Horn defines a new space between ground and sky at the Piazza. The skulls and the fluorescent halos remind us of binary codes like life-death, abstract-concrete, and body-soul.

Chisholm, who composed a polyphonic music for this project states that he doesn’t agree with Horn about the energy issue. He states “Rebecca frequently talks about the energy of a space; she often describes the different energies of places we go. However, I don’t think energy is something that we can talk about. Of course some spaces make us comfortable while others have a complicated feeling to them, but we can only experience the energy, it is not possible to verbalize these experiences.” The piece that Chisholm composed for this project was performed by a group of musicians in three different live performances. The recording of these performances then became part of the installation at the Piazza.

Another installation that Horn talks about in the film is Concert for Buchenwald (1999). She transformed a former tram depot in Weimar for this project, which is a contemporary take on Germany during World War II. For this project she placed glass panels in front of a 40 meter long wall. The space between the wall and the glass is transformed into a space to exhibit ashes. In front of this long ash wall is a cluster of old instruments placed on the track on the floor. The sound of the carriage that periodically crashes into the group of instruments completes the installation. Chisholm states that the sound of her installations complicates his work as a composer. “It is not easy to compose music for Rebecca’s work because her installations are active, thus they have their own voice. I have to create a music which can enhance the work without interfering it,” says Chisholm to explain the difficulty he has during the process.

Concert for Buchenwald is  a striking work. The mystical elements of Horn’s art are present in this transformed room. The perception of time is not monotone but multidimensional. The objects that remind us of death give birth to her works which are inspired by the energies of both the dead and the living. Horn’s works question common causations and lead the viewer away from conventional thoughts.

Ulya Soley, Project Assistant. 

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