My machines are not washing machines or cars. They have a human quality and they must change. They get nervous and must stop sometimes. If a machine stops, it doesnít mean itís broken. Itís just tired. The tragic or melancholic aspect of machines is very important to me. I donít want them to run forever. Itís part of their life that they must stop and faint.
There is something in me that denies the implication that is to be
found in the purely instrumentalist notion of the body that my body is external to myself. . . . I am operating as though I had forgotten that the body is mine. . . . I cannot quite treat myself as a term distinct from my body. . . . This is the reason why I cannot think of my death, but only of the standstill of that machine. . . . I cannot anticipate my death, that is, I cannot ask myself what will become of me when the machine is no longer working.
It is not that dancing has something of play in it or about it, rather that it is an integral part of play: the relationship is one of direct participation, almost of essential identity. Dancing is a particular and particularly perfect form of playing.
"Dance thou shalt!" he said. "Dance in thy red shoes till thou art pale and cold, till thy body shrivels to a skeleton! Dance from door, and wherever proud conceited children live, thou shalt knock at the door till they hear thee and fear thee! Dance, I command thee, dance!"
I have lived in a period of transition moving towards the emancipation of women. Then it became the womanís turn to seduce, entice and deceive the man -- Carmenís time.
If, as Salomé and Der Eintšnzer (1978) suggest, the gist and theme of Hornís art is dancing -- if it is a kind of translation of dancing into painterly and sculptural terms, of the energy and body involved in transient dance movements into more permanent terms (enduring mnemonic traces of dancing, as it were) -- then the question is this: What is the function and meaning of dancing for her, and what kind of dancing? Modern free-form dancing, it seems from the drawings. But then again, Hornís machines stand on their toes to dance, and their dance is carefully scripted and meticulously executed, suggesting that it is precise and classical in character -- a kind of ballet (however "on edge") -- as in Circle for Broken Landscape (1997) and Yin and Yang Drawing the Landscape (2004).
Hornís dancing, then, integrates opposites even as it remains self-contradictory, like her work as a whole. On the one side, the lurid, death-inspired dancing of Salomé -- anti-life, for all its vigor -- on the other side, the poignantly life-assertive, self-contained Glance of Infinity (1997), with its mirrors, traditional symbols of female vanity and beauty, and its transfusion of blood. Output and input -- an endless recycling of blood.
Blood is violently shed at the end of Salomeís dance -- her own as well as John the Baptistís -- and also at the end of the dances of her latter-day sister figures, among them such destructive, negative heroines as Bizetís Carmen and, presumably, Lola -- A New York Summer (1987), Hornís first painting machine. Is she an allusion to Lola Montez, "an Irish adventuress and ĎSpanishí dancer," as the Encyclopedia Britannica tells us, who "made a disastrous debut as a dancer in London in 1843," but whose "striking beauty. . . brought additional dancing engagements?" She danced in Munich in 1846, and became the mistress of Louis I, creating a "furor" because of her liberal and anti-Jesuit ideas, which "helped bring about the Kingís abdication" in 1848 -- suggesting that she was another destructive femme fatale. In contrast, in Les Amants (1991), as well as in Glance of Infinity, the machine figure is given a transfusion of blood in an effort to keep it alive, suggesting that it is a hopeful, positive, life-affirming and life-giving heroine, or wishes to be. Blood red, a symbol of life, strength and passion as well as suffering, death and weakness -- women proverbially go weak at the sight of blood -- appears in all its ambiguity and duplicity in many of Hornís works, where it often mingles with black, as in Kafka Cycle (1994), Broken Landscape (1997), Vol du nuit -- Saint-Exupéry (2000) and Black Swan, White Swan (2004).
The pages of the music score in Les Amants -- a rather bleak, violent work, even more so than Kafka Cycle and Broken Landscape -- suggests that the dance of death and the dance of life, or of hatred and love, are more or less equivalent for Horn: recklessly yet seamlessly fused, the way Freud said aggressive and sexual instincts must be for intercourse to be successful. Are Hornís works metaphoric representations of the primal scene -- the childís unconscious vision of the parentís intercourse as violent? And comic, as in Aristophanesí vision of the double-bodied monster that the gods split out of fear that it would attack them: The two bodies, whether male and male, female and female, or female and male, are forever trying to re-unite, and do so temporarily in urgent sexual intercourse. Is this, perhaps, the unconscious point of Hornís film Busterís Bedroom (1990), all the more so because it suggests identification with Buster Keaton and his physical and emotional problems?(3) Or are they an adultís expression of the despair and joy that mingle in the exchange and merger of passionate intercourse, as the ironically ecstatic Monster (1-4) (2000) suggests?
I am suggesting that sexuality is a deep subtext that informs virtually every aspect of Hornís art, and that it is inseparable from ambiguity about the body, experienced as both the site of trauma and the exclusive source of being. Hornís work is just as full of terror (terror of a catastrophic break in the feeling of continuity of being, what the psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott calls "unthinkable anxiety"(4)) as it is of sensuality. Sensual red is in endless conflict with traumatic black, even as they ecstatically entwine in an attempt to overcome the break between them.(5) Horn decisively experienced a break in 1968-69. At bottom, it was a break in the continuity of bodily being, that is, the body ego that is the first ego, as Freud said, and as such the foundation of all the later egos one develops. She was 24 at the time (Horn was born in 1944, almost at the end of the second world war, indeed, the year of the Allied invasion which ended with the destruction and total collapse of Germany one year later, a fact which may unconsciously contribute to the destructive tone and death obsession of much of her art), and Horn was still in the process of achieving an identity as both an artist and person (inseparable for her). The Hospital Drawings, produced during that period, while she was a hospital inpatient, are a direct testimony to that break, as their "unmediated exploration of [her] body"(6) -- not to say obsession with its female nature -- indicates.
Clearly, her sick body was threatened with destruction. Death was in the emotional air -- a situation brilliantly described in Thomas Mannís Magic Mountain (1924): Hornís sickness forced her back onto the magic mountain of her body. It was hardly a place of refuge. In the hospital, she discovered the difference between life and death -- it epitomized the break in the continuity of her existence that was her sickness, which had its unavoidable depressing effect on her -- and tried to imagine her own death (impossible to do, according to Freud) while holding on to life, and preserving it through her drawings. It was her creativity that sustained her in this life-threatening situation. Not only was the vulnerability of her body exposed, but so was the meaninglessness of its existence. It regained meaning by being re-created, with defiant curiosity, in the Hospital Drawings.
As one might expect, the book in Hornís Salomé is a copy of Oscar Wildeís play about the Biblical temptress. The same year, 1988, as she created Salomé, Horn produced The Hydra Forest, Performing Oscar Wilde -- the female artist as a hydra-headed seducer, one might say -- suggesting her preoccupation with the self-destructive author of the play about the self-destructive Salome. Hornís work invariably has a literary, "bookish" aspect. She herself is an author, often writing poetry to accompany her art -- a kind of score for her visual music, as it were. Her drawings are, in effect, "written" by her machines. Wildeís Salome was the basis for Richard Straussís opera about her (1905, first performed in Dresden, giving it a German connection, like Lola Montez, who became Countess of Landsfeld).
Salome is even more bewitching and vicious in Straussí opera than in Wildeís play. Ernest Gold writes: "Despite the fact that [Straussí] score lacks two indispensable and basic elements of music, namely the mystery of spiritual content and the warmth of genuine human feeling, it is nevertheless unmatched in its dramatic power and immediacy of effect."(7)
As Gustav Mahler suggested, Strauss "could never quite resist striking the pose of the Virtuoso Composer." Noting that Salome is "essentially a story of the clash between the world of physical pleasures and the world of the spirit," and that in Straussí opera the "atmosphere of sensuality [and] corrupt lustfulness" seem more important than the spirituality of Jokanaan and the Nazarenes, who are "curiously banal and lack real religious fervor,"(8) Golding suggests that Straussí "stereotyped" spirituality indicates his identification with Salome, "a body without a soul." Indeed, Golding argues that Straussí opera "is like an ingeniously designed and perfectly built mechanism," making "its effect with machine-like precision."(9) I am suggesting that there is an operatic dimension to Hornís works -- they are in effect so many arias by a virtuoso artist performing many roles, all of them expressing the conflict between the sensual and the spiritual, the well-regulated machine and the spontaneous drawing, each of which dances its own way while dancing with each other, as in the fatal dance between the sexual drive and sublime spirit in Wilde and Strauss. With the crucial difference, I want to emphasize, that the sexual drive of the machine -- for it is clearly driven, indeed, performs compulsively -- expresses itself in spiritual drawings, indeed, discharges its sexuality and aggression in drawings that, for all their erotic and thanatopic immediacy, have a luminosity that extends beyond their demiurgic power.
But do these ironically spiritual drawings convey the warmth of genuine human feeling that Golding misses in Strauss? Again the same year, 1988, in which Horn makes her Wilde works, she -- not a machine -- makes such drawings as Two in One (2) and (3), which convey a certain tenderness -- a graceful tenderness as well as a voluptuous sensuality in the bodily curves. I think a similar lyric tenderness and empathic warmth are evident in the "El Calvario" drawings of 2003 and 2004, Zwischenzustand, Der brennenden Gšrten von Smyrna 1922 and Saint Sebastian, among other drawings of 2004, whatever their morbid import. They all deal with martyrdom and the miracle of faith, leaving one emotionally stuck, in a kind of limbo of uncertainty, between hell and heaven, emotional death and spiritual resurrection. The blazing luminosity, at once immanent and transcendent, of Hornís white paper -- she has an uncanny knack of bringing out the cosmic implications of its emptiness -- suggests abandonment in an emotional void as well as the fullness of "oceanic experience," with its ecstatic merger with the infinite that Freud regarded as emotionally regression to a state of undifferentiated being.
Thereís an obvious narrative -- and I dare say religious as well as sexual -- import to Hornís drawings. The content may be implicit, but it is directly evoked by their titles. Horn is perhaps better described as an abstract symbolist than an abstract expressionist. Hornís relatively formal Yin and Yang Drawing the Landscape -- an ancient structure of opposition, a sexual and religious composition in one, the Yin and the Yang fitting together yet separate, the dividing line between them clearly marked, suggesting a precariously balanced convergence of radically different forces -- makes this abundantly clear. Yin and Yang combine -- dance together -- to form the dramatic landscape of love, but they retain their individual identities. However "technically" reconciled, they remain irreconcilable. Rendered in hard-edged modernist terms -- as distinct from the driven, even manic look of the gestural Salomé -- the Yin and Yang landscape is explicitly dialectical in character. Hornís visual thinking is at once poignant and exciting, melancholy and manic. The tense difference between black and white is as resolved and unresolved as the tense difference between machine and drawing. Horn has made dialectical undecidability -- not to say dialectical instability -- an esthetic virtue.
The ironically intimate relationship between Hornís constructed machines and her expressionist drawings suggests the obsoleteness -- not to say erroneousness -- of T. W. Adornoís argument that construction and expression must remain autonomous if they are to be convincing esthetically.(10) Adorno regarded their difference as quintessentially modern, suggesting that Hornís bold integration of machine Construction and personal Expression is postmodern in import. Already in modernism Adornoís argument was refuted by Surrealism, with its expressive machines, for example, in the early imagery of Max Ernst, where the machines not only have personality but different genders. But Hornís painting machines -- expression-creating constructions, one might say -- are more profoundly surreal than any traditional modern surrealist work, for they convey, with a confident directness, the contradiction between the "living machine" and "open system" models of man, as Ludwig von Bertalanffy called them.(11) The absurdity of Hornís painting machines -- each is in effect a kind of Gordian knot, esthetically uniting philosophically incommensurate ideas of human nature -- suggests that there is no solution to what is finally an existential problem, indeed, a crossroads of identity, each road leading to a different sense of self.
If a dead machine can express itself -- if it can convey its inner aliveness in a vital drawing -- then the autonomy of both Construction and Expression is an illusion. But is it? Horn brings their difference into question but she never denies it. Her machine and drawing are physically different but spiritually "coordinate." Each becomes the otherís raison díetre in an arranged marriage. They co-exist in uneasy reciprocity, forming a single identity and consciousness, suggesting that they lack purpose -- blindly function -- in isolation. (Hornís machines are often attached to the wall, while the drawings or paintings they make are on the floor. Is Horn sardonically emulating Jackson Pollockís famous "breakthrough" of painting on canvas placed on the floor, thus supposedly overcoming the pull of gravity of painterly gestures made on a canvas attached to the wall? One scholar has suggested as much, ignoring the fact that Pollock flung the paint down on the canvas, thus subjecting it to the pull of gravity. Certainly Pollock looks like a painting machine -- an awkwardly dancing painting machine -- in the film made of him at work. He may be projecting the energy of his body in his gestures, but there is a systematic quality to his performance that suggests that he is a programmed machine -- however unprogrammed and chaotic his all-over paintings look.)
I suggest that machine and drawing converge because they both allude to different aspects of bodily movement: Body is the bedrock of Hornís art, as I have emphasized. She is engaged in what Novalis called a "philosophical romance with the body." The machine-body dances the romantic drawing, sometimes with visceral force, sometimes in a predetermined routine. In the pencil drawings for Der Eintšnzer, the body is a streamlined ghost -- a kind of mechanical outline, suggesting that Hornís machines are "reduced" bodies like those in Duchampís Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (1917-23). Indeed, there is an uncanny resemblance between them: Hornís bodies take their place in the century-old history of the avant-garde equation of body and machine -- particularly womanís body, as Huysmans, the Symbolist inaugurator of the equation, makes clear.(12) Woman as a mechanical doll -- a deceptive, fascinating machine -- has been a theme of romantic art at least since E. T. A. Hoffmannís Olympia. One may recall that in Jacques Offenbachís Les Contes díHoffmann (1881), the poet hero Hoffmann suffers misfortune at the hands of three women, the mechanical doll Olympia, the courtesan Giuletta (he loses his image -- soul -- in the mirror in her room), and the singer Antonia, who dies in his arms, weakened by excessive singing. Can we say that Horn identifies with all three -- the rejecting machine woman, the seductive woman (the tempestuous Salome, Carmen, Lola, with their strong sexual desire and ruthless, all-consuming passion) and the tender lover?
Olympia is a mechanical work of art, who sings when she is wound up, Giuletta is an artist in love, who sings ecstatically, and Antonia is a tender-hearted singer. All make music and dance. And all have power over the poet Hoffmann: His desire for them is abject submission to their power. Woman is in control in Wildeís play and the operas of Strauss and Hoffmann. One cannot help but recall Hornís early performances: "her partners. . .† become participants in her clearly charted routines." She allows them "barely any autonomy; they are given almost no freedom."(13) They are, in effect, her slaves, as Hoffmann became enslaved to Olympia, Giuletta and Antonia. All are peculiarly one-dimensional, in contrast to Hoffmann, who shows his multidimensionality by his love for each in turn, however futile it turns out to be. Olympia is smashed to pieces -- irreparably damaged -- and Antonia dies from her artistic exertions, while Giuletta ecstatically sails away with another transient lover. But Horn shows her multidimensionality by making sturdy machines, all completely under control, and thus ironically masculine, and seemingly fickle, uncontrollably emotional, and thus ironically feminine drawings. Hornís androgynous painting-machines are simultaneously closed and open systems, a paradox compounded by the fact that each gesture they make is a self-reflexive automatist response -- a programmed unconscious feedback, as it were -- to the gesture that "provoked" it. Unlike Hoffmann, Olympia, Giuletta and Antonia, Horn has the ability to creatively integrate incompatible systems -- closed automatic and open organic systems, the former necessary to survive as a body, the latter necessary to be a self, what von Bertalanffy calls "an active personality system."
The female body as anonymous automaton, not to say mindless mannequin -- a peculiarly sinister simulation of a human being, because it is so convincing, because we are taken in by its deception -- is a commonplace of the avant-garde representation of woman. The modernization of her appearance that occurred in early 20th century avant-garde art was accompanied by a supposedly enlightened view of sexual intercourse. It too was modernized: It was no longer the physical confirmation of the love that united two souls in a singular harmony, but a mechanical relationship between two soulless machines. Lautreamontís famous metaphor of an umbrella and sewing machine in indifferent association is the modern model. It is not exactly the "harmonious mix-up" that the psychoanalyst Michael Balint said was the ideal result of emotional reciprocity and sexual intimacy. The traditional model is Paolo and Francesca, who were united forever in love -- a limbo from Danteís point of view, but the only heaven they needed from theirs. United in soul and body, each mirrored -- worshipped?, adored? -- the soul of the other by making physical love.
It may be intellectually progressive to conceive of human beings as soulless machines -- a scientific step forward from the religious conception of them as an unstable compound of mortal body and immortal soul created by God -- but it is inaccurate, as von Bertalanffy argues. If human beings are closed systems, mechanically regulated in a passive equilibrium, they lack the active emotionality and creativity characteristic of a dynamically open system. There is no "dynamic interchange of componentsí"(14) -- of soul as well as body, simultaneously and inseparably -- in mechanical functioning, and thus none of the emotional disequilibrium and physical stress that catalyze creativity, if they do not dead-end in madness and misery. As von Bertalanffy writes, "stress is not only a danger to life to be controlled and neutralized by adaptive mechanisms; it also creates higher life." If life, after disequilibrating stress, "had simply returned to the so-called homeostatic equilibrium, it would never have progressed beyond the amoeba, which is after all the best adapted creature in the world -- it has survived billions of years from the primeval ocean to the present day. Michelangelo. . . should have gone in the wool trade, thus sparing himself lifelong anguish although leaving the Sistine Chapel unadorned."(15)
It is worth noting that von Bertalanffy refers to a male artist: Woman continues to bear the onus of homeostatic equilibrium. She continues to be regarded as a closed system, a machine, perhaps with a mystery -- the womb (the ghost in the machine, which man is eager to usurp for the purposes of his own creativity) -- but fundamentally passive rather than creatively dynamic. Crucially, Horn counteracts this masculinist view with the rebellious traces of female bodiliness in her kinetic drawings. "Life is not a comfortable settling down in pre-ordained grooves of being: At its best, it is élan vital, inexorably driven towards a higher form of existence" -- the very definition of the work of art, as von Bertalanffyís reference to Michelangelo and the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel suggests. The relentless generation and dynamic expression of élan vital, with its highly charged atmosphere of stress and disequilibrium, from which creative impulses emerge like lightning Ė ironically, by the homeostatically equilibrated female body machine perversely celebrated by such misogynist male avant-garde artists as Duchamp and Picabia -- becomes the prime goal of Hornís art from the 1980s onwards. Chymische Hochzeit (1981) -- in my opinion another Duchamp-inspired work, as its alchemical import implies -- is perhaps the last significant figure image before the painting machines and expressionist drawings take over.
But then the idea of art-making as alchemy -- and the relationship between man and woman as alchemically transforming both (hopefully turning the prima materia of sexuality into the ultima materia of spirituality) -- is another familiar avant-garde idea, climactically in Joseph Beuysí art. His "psychoanalytic actions," as he called his shamanistic performances, repeat, in mythopoetic form, the process of healing he claimed to have experienced when he was wounded, in body and spirit, during the second world war -- a major break in Germanyís continuity of being, just as a physical wound and narcissistic injury (often correlate) are breaks in the continuity of the selfís being.
Beuysí performances have clearly influenced Horn. She also is concerned to re-unite body and soul in an artistic-rhetorical identity. Can Hornís painting-machines be said to be shamans, in that their performances of their body are meant to be self-healing -- can they regenerate the élan vital Horn lost during her sickness? It is clearly visible in the paintings they make. Even the union of Yin and Yang is meant to regenerate élan vital. The élan vital of her hand-made drawings is self-evident, suggesting that her body has recovered sufficiently to directly express its élan vital. If Beuysí works are "social sculpture," as he called them, then Hornís are psychological sculpture. In short, Horn unites the poles of modern thinking about the body: It is a machine-like puppet -- perhaps more like Schlemmerís Bauhaus robot figures than Beuysí mythologized persona, which also has its predictable routines -- with an expressionist genii in it, conveying, in distilled form, the élan vital that animates it, confirming that it is more than a machine. We can never escape the antithesis of machine and vital drawing in Hornís art -- the dichotomy between rigid ego and rootless id, or intellectual expression and instinctive expression, to use Duchampís distinction. He separated and elevated the former over the latter, but Horn shows that it is impossible to separate them. The loss of one at the expense of the other is a creative disaster for both. Nor can we escape their synthesis, however forced -- yet inevitable -- it may seem.
Hornís machines and drawings are clearly self-symbols. They are expressions of the same traumatized body ego, as I have suggested -- a body ego defensively split into bad machine and good drawing parts. Machines and drawings are obviously different, but the difference between the impersonal technologic of the former and expressive illogic of the latter collapses in Hornís painting machines, where they converge to enact Hornís unconscious sense of her body. They are contradictory perspectives on and responses to the same problematic body. The drawings are reparative in import, however violent they often seem, the machines are corpses, however active they may be: the existential issue -- the issue that haunts all of Hornís production -- is how well, working together, they restore her sense of bodily wholeness. Is élan vital the same as harmonious wholeness of being? A machine is not exactly a free spirit, suggesting that it may be a so-called influencing machine, going through the motions of being "creative." Is it truly spontaneous, or is it compulsive?
On the one hand: the hardworking, sober, dutiful machine, with its programmed movement, always following the rules, like any well-made construction, obediently repetitive, a sort of assembly line robot, outwardly animated, inwardly inert. A labor-saving invention, the machine ceaselessly accomplishes, without fatigue and suffering, tasks that would bore and exhaust human beings to perform repeatedly. Or, if not emotionally deadening and intellectually incapacitating, such marching in place -- such abject redundancy -- would drive them mad, thus hindering their development into full-fledged, self-knowing human beings. People who spend their lives attending to machines, and thus implicitly identify with them, become incapable of actualizing themselves. They become incapable of "peak experiences" or "acute identity experiences," as the psychologist Abraham Maslow calls them -- consummate moments of being, consciousness, creativity and individuality.(16) Such extraordinary moments of self-conscious being transcend the ordinary sense of merely existing, a taking of existence for granted harboring feelings of unfulfillment, personal inadequacy and, worse yet, the secret resentment towards being that comes from not seriously being.
On the other hand: Hornís unpremeditated, free-spirited drawings, alive with visual excitement and expressive power. They can be interpreted as improvised peak experiences -- consummate but unstable moments of self-actualization. They are self-assertive but not self-integrative: Their relentless flux -- the sense of being in constant process, ambiguously centrifugal and centripetal -- implies uncertain hovering between disintegration and integration. Hornís linear gestures pull apart -- disperse and scatter -- even as they seem to converge towards a singular, invisible shape, outwardly formless but inwardly coherent, a sort of dynamic body landscape. The gestures are magnetically drawn to each other but never firmly bond: Attraction-repulsion -- love-hate -- is the emotional order of the day. The drawings are alive with color, especially an intense, startling red, as noted. Seductive and bloody, delirious and transgressive, ecstatic and menacing, this meteoric red moves with erratic, explosive force, forming, with the black gestures that usually accompany it, a confrontational surface suggestive of emotional depth by reason of its churning energy.
Colors have always evoked and symbolized emotions -- no amount of scientific understanding can dispel their emotional spell. Hornís mercurial drawings, with their vivid redness -- particularly evident in Venus (1988) -- embody her female identity. They convey female desire -- the eros of being female, a charismatic female, personified by the femme fatales already mentioned. Their devastating effect on men is suggested by the Munch epigraph and the story of Salomé. She and Carmen are ancient bacchantes -- the females possessed by Dionysus that Euripedes describes as ruthlessly destructive and socially rebellious -- in modern form. Do the drawings in the "Barcelona Cycle" (1991) show the modern bacchante in all her self-destructive glory? Not only are Hornís drawings enactments meant to repair the damage done to her body ego but, less consciously, they attempt to repair the damage done by male desire. Their forceful assertion of female desire counteracts, annihilates and replaces male desire. The red rose that Carmen wears at her waist and the veils that drape Saloméís naked body confirm her seductive presence even as they declare her independence from the men she seduces. Carmen and Salomé use their bodies to liberate their souls from the men who desire to possess them body and soul. Their own desire signals their dependence on men even as it asserts their independence. Tragically, they gain their independence only in death. However unwittingly, Carmen and Salomé use men as the instruments of their own destruction. Hornís drawings are about the emancipation of female desire, and thus female freedom. But from a male point of view -- the point of view of Munch, Offenbach, Strauss, Wilde -- this freedom is destructive wildness. Horn seems to have internalized this idea, perhaps because of the fear of death aroused by her sickness. It is implicit in the seemingly uncontrolled, passionate gestures of her drawings, however much they also express her triumphant desire. Her Venus dances immodestly, spending her élan vital in orgasmic self-creation. But the self that results remains elusive.
For me, Hornís signature work -- the work that epitomizes her view of dancing as creativity at its most dynamic, and as such the consummate expression of female desire and élan vital -- is her 1988 Painting Machine. It is perhaps the most abstractly convincing representation of her body ego -- her most revealing self-portrait. The painting machine is positioned on the wall just below the ceiling. A pair of womanís red shoes are also attached to the wall and suspended just above the ground. The machine has two cups -- two breasts, as it were, for they are assertively convex. But they are also concave containers, and as such symbols of the vagina. The cups are also the hands that fling the paint on the wall. The cups are a dream condensation of the essentials of Hornís identity -- her sexuality and her creativity. The red shoes allude to Hans Christian Andersonís fairytale about a "sinful" -- Andersonís word -- adolescent girl who likes to dance. Dance symbolizes the sexual intercourse the virgin girl has not experienced. But of course she is dancing with herself with masturbatory intensity -- certainly not with innocence.
In 1948, Andersonís fairytale was made into a film about a ballerina trapped in a conflict between love and career -- life and art. Her way out was to commit suicide. The red shoes have been understood by the feminist psychoanalyst Susan Kavaler-Adler as a symbol of womanís addictive narcissistic creativity.(17) It culminates in manic intensity -- the manic intensity of the virginal ballerinaís narcissistic dancing. For all its originality, it becomes a self-destructive performance. It is as though the ballerina wanted to keep her body for herself, rather than completely give it -- and with it her soul -- to her two male lovers, the impresario who supports her art and the composer who loves her for beauty. They both work for her -- the latter composes the music for the ballet in which the former chooses her to star -- but she is the instrument of their ambition. Both are deeply engaged with her, but for their own narcissistic reasons. Their desire for success -- fame and fortune -- seems greater than their sexual desire for the ballerina. The composer represents her own sexual desire, and the impresario represents her own desire for success -- material and social as well as artistic and spiritual success. Both gaze on her with manipulative admiration, but they are blind to her individuality -- her personal needs and independent identity. Her glorious dancing defiantly asserts it: It demonstrates her self-love, the most satisfying, consummate kind of love -- for the composer and impresario as well as herself. Dancing is thus self-creation, self-recognition, self-sufficiency, all confirming and sustained by self-love, all the love a woman -- anyone -- needs. The film, like the fairytale, is above all a study in the failure of object relations, as the psychoanalysts call it.
In Hornís work, streaks of blood red color drip down the wall towards the floor, forming an abstract expressionistic work in ironic process, that is, a painterly automatist drawing more or less randomly improvised. But the paint is pulled down by gravity, and thus heads in one direction however much it spatters in all directions. (Is Horn thinking of Duchampís Three Standard Stoppages (1913-14), an ironic "instinctive" painting made of threads that is at the same time an "intellectual" (conceptual) painting, to refer again to his distinction?) Hornís painting -- clearly a mock wall painting -- "moves" as long as the machine moves, implying that it can never be completed. The machine, while not in perpetual motion, can be turned on again and again, indicating its inexhaustible energy.
Where is Hornís body? It is lost in action. It is not generated -- re-generated? -- by the action of painting, perhaps because the action is machine-generated rather than hand-generated. Hornís body literally liquidates in the process of expressing itself. It is exhausted into invisibility, as it were. As noted, in both Andersonís fairytale and the film, the ballerina dances to her death. In the fairytale, her legs are cut off and she does lonely penance for her sin of narcissism. In the film, she disappears from sight by jumping off a bridge onto railroad tracks. But the red shoes keep dancing, carrying her exhausted, spiritless body along with them. As Anderson wrote, "the executioner chopped off her feet with the red shoes on" -- punishment for her narcissistic creativity, not tolerated by man because it is a sign of womanís independence, and thus something she must be made to feel guilty about -- "and the shoes danced away with the little feet in them over the fields into the depths of the forest." The shoes embody her perfectionism. In the film, the impresario and the composer are Pygmalions working together -- they bond with each other more completely than they bond with the ballerina, who is as much the medium of their creative relationship as the object of their devoted attention -- to create a perfect work of female art, in effect a version of Offenbachís Olympia. Their mechanical ballerina dances whenever they wind her up. They have sacrificed her soul as well as body to the cause of art.
The dancing red shoes represent creativity for its own sake, creativity as an end in itself -- an automatic, self-generating process, autonomously moving with unflagging energy. It is completely indifferent to the human beings it is supposed to serve. It even dispenses with the human artist, who is its vulnerable vehicle: the ballerina -- like the impresario and composer -- is no more than its instrument. She is the mortal means to immortal art. Once the automatist genii of eternal élan vital has escaped from the human body, it can never be put back into it: The body is discarded. Initially a necessary condition for creativity, it is not a sufficient condition: Creativity continues to flourish without it. It has its own inhuman dynamic, ambiguously devilish and divine, and thus beside the human point.†
Hornís paradoxical painting machine also has important social and art-historical meanings. The properly functioning machine represents German obedience and conformity -- according to the psychoanalyst Alexander Mitscherlich, a major cause of Germanyís problems(18) -- if also its legendary technological perfectionism. In contrast, the seemingly formless, clearly conflicted drawings convey German romanticism. There is storm and stress urgency as well as a rhapsodic quality to Hornís drawings. They have a certain affinity with German literary romanticism, particularly its mystical and ironical strands(19), and both the utopian and anxious sides of pre-World War I German Expressionism as well as the nationalistic, if self-critical, narcissism of post-World War II German Neo-Expressionism. Hornís painting machine also conveys the fear of going mad -- of being mad? -- evident in the deepest Romanticism and Expressionism. The painting machine, after all, is a somewhat mad invention -- a sort of creative monster. These literary and visual undertones are reinforced by the storm and stress aspect of European art informal and American Abstract Expressionism. Hornís drawings may even have something of Wagner in them: Each line of color can be regarded as a leitmotif, and each drawing an abstract version of Liebestod. (Let us recall that Kandinsky was inspired to make the first abstract expressionist paintings by listening to Wagnerís music, among other acknowledged influences.)
I am arguing that Hornís drawings are a climactic statement of German romanticism, and more broadly of gestural romanticism. They encapsulate its formal history and emotional intensity. In sharp contrast, her machines epitomize German technologism and emotional rigidity. Thus her painting-machine links instrumental reason and corporeal impulsiveness in an ironical healing of the split in the German psyche. The irony is compounded by the fact that the machine follows rules -- behaves predictably, like a good academician, reifying art into correctness -- while the drawings are incorrect and unpredictable, for they seem to conform to no rules, indeed, they look unruly. It is the difference between inflexible secondary process, whose rules must be unthinkingly followed to make social sense and communicate intelligibly, and the absurd fluidity, not to say tragicomic lawlessness, of primary process. They dance together in Hornís painting-machine, bizarrely in tandem -- at odds with one another, yet inseparable.
The wild lyricism of the drawings conveys what the art historian Meyer Schapiro famously called the "inner freedom" of the avant-garde artist, for him radically explicit in Abstract Expressionism. They also reveal Hornís sensitivity to and mastery of the material of her medium. They even seem "pure," in Clement Greenbergís sense; their literary and romantic associations fall away in the deftness of their execution. But the machines, with their peculiarly epic grandeur, tell a story -- a story of sexuality and suffering, and also the story of making art. They are thus impure. The machine is also an example of what the art historian and psychoanalyst Anton Ehrenzweig called gestalt art, while the drawings are superb instances of non-gestalt art. The former is concerned with "finished" forms, recognizable however playfully manipulated. The latter are indecipherable, adding to their emotional intensity and uncanniness. The non-gestalt drawings are primordially expressive, the gestalt machines are socially intelligent and reliable. Do the latter give Horn the sense of security the former eschew?
Are the gestures in the drawings radioactive traces of what the psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion famously called beta elements? Do the machines perform the alpha function that turns them into works of art?(20) If so, the machine represents the socially sane self, the drawings its insane core. The machine manages the unmanageable gestures, whipping them into esthetic shape. It in effect metabolizes raw emotional experience, transforming it into expressive art. Or does Hornís art-creating machine reverse the alpha function, releasing beta elements into the world? Do the drawings have the "punch" that the machines lack?(21) In the psychoanalyst D. W. Winnicottís terms, Horn seems to oscillate between objective machine and subjective drawing, suggesting a permanent state of paradoxical transitionality.(22)
It seems to me that this transitional dilemma -- this precarious hovering or uncertain suspension between objective and subjective experiences of self -- is the basic existential issue of Hornís bodylandscapes, and more broadly of contemporary female body art, a context in which Hornís bodylandscapes must be understood. "A landscape must be felt like a body," Novalis remarked(23), and every body is experienced as a distant landscape as well as an internal possession. It is seen from a distance and objectified with no loss of subjective meaning. Viewing oneís body from a certain intellectual distance gives one the perspective necessary to gain insight into its subjective meaning, indeed, distill that meaning into
objective art. Hornís work belongs to the modern tradition of Austro-German "body art." It can be traced back to the BrŁckeís obsession with health and sickness, symbolically understood as the unavoidable conflict between nature and society -- the primitive body, emblematic of authenticity, and the modern city, emblematic of inauthenticity -- in modernity. There is a direct line of descent from the healthy outdoor nudes and unhealthy urban figures of Kirchner and Heckel to Hornís dual body consciousness. Sickness and health are also her major concerns -- and, in her early work, nakedness and clothing, both ambivalently necessary.
In the second half of the 20th century, this tortured body consciousness developed into body performance art. The sense of tortured body consciousness remains alive and well in many male performance artists, perhaps most prominently Herman Nitsch and Rudolf Schwarzkogler, but the most adventurous and innovative examples of body performance art are by such American women artists -- all feminists -- as Mary Beth Edelson and Carolee Schneeman. Hornís work is important from a female body performance point of view because she fuses the pessimistic European masculinist consciousness of the body in general with the optimistic American feminist consciousness of the female body. Horn combines the postmodern feminist idealization of the physically concrete female body with the modern masculinist awareness that the male body -- and with it manliness -- is under siege and has in fact been subverted by the modern machine, which is more manly and more consistently potent.
Hence the avant-garde male artistís tortured sense of body. All the more so because, as I think, he unconsciously realized that insofar as the female body was the machine he consciously represented it as -- in effect projecting his own fear of becoming a machine onto it -- it was inherently superior to his body, just as genderless machines are. This idea seems confirmed by the fact that such artists as Duchamp and Picabia idolized the female machine body even as they degraded it by regarding it as machine, suggesting their profound ambivalence about it, as well as about the machine. Horn de-idealized the female body the feminists idealized -- and with that de-ideologized it -- by investing it with the avant-garde masculinist awareness that it was at existential risk and an absurd machine. It was at existential risk -- psychically dead and powerless -- because it was a machine, even though the reified sense of body implicit in the machine makes it seem all-powerful. Like all bodies, the female body had become problematic and thus peculiarly "sick" existentially in modernity. This is reinforced by Hornís experience of her own bodyís sickness. It left her with a general sense that the body is inwardly sick, however healthy it looks on the outside. And that the body has to become an impersonal machine to survive.
My point can be made by comparing Breast Extension (1970) and St. Sebastian (2004) -- an early performance piece and a later action drawing. They are in effect the alpha and omega of Hornís art. They seem to be worlds apart, stylistically and conceptually, but they engage the same issue, if from different psychosomatic perspectives: The body as a
mechanical thing in the world and what the existential psychoanalyst Ludwig Binswanger calls "bodily existing or existing-in-the-body," which, as he argues, is the most fundamental "game of existence with itself."(24) Such a game is clearly evident in the playful traces that evoke the body and wounds -- martyrdom -- of St. Sebastian, just as the mechanical thingness of the body is clearly evident in the prosthetic aspect of Breast Extension. (Does the dunce cap that extends the breast also indicate shame at its smallness -- the humiliation of having a female body, corrected, as it were, by the phallic prosthesis, in effect a denial that woman is a castrated man, as Freud suggested?)
The conflict between two visions of the female body is a constant of Hornís art. On the one hand there are the early drawings, in which the female body is constrained by clothing -- even the straitjacket of a corset in a 1968 drawing, torturing the body the way an "iron maiden" does -- so that it functions and looks like a mannequin. The mannequin is an indifferent female machine body conveying the internal inhibition and external control of female desire as well as the standardizing of female beauty and identity. It is a sex machine -- if not exactly Bellmerís sadistic version of one -- in all but name, if only meant for scopophiliac pleasure. On the other hand, there is the unconstrained, emotionally naked Venus, flinging all erotic caution to the linear winds. She begins her exhibitionist flight in an early incarnation as a female butterfly -- the stereotyped idea of woman as a charming, superficial, vulnerable creature. Horn works through such stereotypes, finally arriving at her ironical vision of liberated woman -- strong (and masculine) as a machine, yet creatively full of élan vital and femininity.
The flight runs into problems, as the black feathers of the singularly brilliant Paradieswitwe (1975) suggest, but the female body finally soars unrestrainedly in the "uncorseted" later drawings. (The feathers are symbols of Icarian love, as Horn implies in an interview.) Venus and La Perla (1992) -- an ironical reprise of the corset drawing? -- open the way. The cycle of drawings Horn made in the 1990s, including the "Barcelona Cycle" and the "Tailleur du Coeur" cycle (1996) convey free emotional flight. If the corset is a symbol of inhibition, then these drawings are expressionistically exhibitionistic. I think the point is made clearly by the rigid character of the red and black lines in the corset drawing and their fluid, forthright character in the later drawings. The liberated lines, emblematic of released feelings -- what Freud called "strangulated feeling" is gone -- resurrect the body entombed in the coffin of the corset. The red thread of a line that begins at the breasts and descends to the vagina, and splits to outline the labia, in the 1968 corset image, has become the meandering lines, often swooping and sweeping in erotic curves and effusive drips, typical of the Bodylandscapes of 2003-2004.
Finally, I want to suggest that Hornís drawings are a version of what Winnicott famously called the "squiggle game."(25) Her drawings are squiggle games of body ego reconstruction and self-communication. Her painting machines epitomize what the psychoanalyst Donald Meltzer called the "esthetic conflict" between the outside, "available to the senses, and the enigmatic inside which must be construed by creative imagination."(26) From the outside, the human body seems like a machine. Hornís drawings creatively construe its enigmatic inside -- express the vital forces that drive the machine. She became aware of the enigmatic inside of her body when it became sick on the inside, even as her sickness indicated that her body was a kind of machine that could be repaired by medical tinkering. Sartre has written: "So far as the physicians have any experience with my body, it was with my body in the midst of the world and as it is for others. My body as it is for me does not appear in the midst of the world."(27) Hornís sick body was a malfunctioning machine to her physicians, a worldly thing that had to be repaired in a worldly way. In contrast, her body as it elusively exists in her drawings is her body as it exists for herself -- a site of spontaneous gesture and personalized idea, to use Winnicottís terms.
Ironically, her body art only came into its creative own through the traumatic sickness that threatened her with death. The trauma split her consciousness of her body. Thus, Hornís drawings convey the True creative bodily Self that feels alive, real and fully human, while her machines ironically embody the False compliant traumatized Self that feels dead, unreal and unhuman, to use another Winnicott distinction.(28)
As he said, the two must learn to work together -- the split between them must be overcome from within -- if the Self is to become whole, as Hornís painting machine is, however ambiguously. For while the compliant machine and the creative drawings are linked -- while the former makes the latter -- they are not seamlessly unified. Indeed, Hornís painting machines sometimes seem to be experiencing a breakdown.
DONALD KUSPIT is professor of art history and philosophy at SUNY Stony Brook and A.D. White professor at large at Cornell University.
† (1) Gabriel Marcel, "Metaphysical Journal," The Philosophy of the Body: Rejections of Cartesian Dualism, ed. Stuart F. Spicker (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1970), pp. 208, 211, 216