Thursday, June 29, 2006

Thicket No. 1

Tate Modern’s re-hang includes their Roni Horn piece, Thicket No. 1 (1989-90), an aluminium slab which incorporates a line from Simone Weil’s Gravity and Grace: ‘To see a landscape as it is when I’m not there’. What you first see is a minimalist object with some black bar-code markings on two sides. Inspection of these reveals the text on the sides of the slab, text which was there all along but not visible, like a landscape when you are not there. As Roni Horn has said in an interview with Jan Howard in 1994, “Thicket No. 1 gives the viewer an inkling of not being present. The contradiction lies in the instinctive weighing of that inkling against the reality, the certainty, of one’s physical presence in that same moment.”

Roni Horn also used this quotation in her book To Place – Book I: Bluff Life (1990) which featured drawings made at Dyrhólaey in Iceland. There she was trying “to be present and to be a part of a place without changing it” whilst knowing that “such a desire can only be thwarted”. It may be literally impossible, but somehow to see a landscape as it is when we are not there seems a valid motivation for landscape art in a world where our presence is increasingly felt everywhere.

[Incidentally, Thicket No. 1 was presented to Tate Modern by art collector Janet Wolfson de Botton, wife of the late Gilbert de Botton, the wealthy chairman of Global Asset Management, whose hobbies apparently included an attempt to ‘recreate the private library of the French philosopher Montaigne, tracking down and acquiring the books that were dispersed after his death in 1592’ (Paul Lewis in The New York Times, August 30, 2000, as mentioned here).]

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