Roni Horn, Tate Modern, London


Big ideas create little of interest

Tate Modern is currently hosting two exhibitions on its fourth floor. At the eastern end, film clips show us scenes of turbulence – the flourish of bayonets, the teeming of people. These raw images are announcing the revolutionary ferment of Russian Constructivism.

Walk to the other end, and it feels, by contrast, as if you are entering some calm, sequestered, almost monastic place. This is a mid-career survey of work by the American artist Roni Horn. Most of it is quiet, understated, cerebral and, it has to be said, rather dull. What is the problem here? Horn is too captivated by the thoughts that provoked her work into being in the first place. She writes about these in the captions that accompany many pieces. The captions are probing, interesting and always well expressed. The work itself often feels like a pale afterthought.

Take her drawings, of which there are many scattered throughout the show. Generally speaking, Horn is not interested in making drawings of particular objects, but in the idea of drawing as a mode of thinking two-dimensionally, a way of charting her mental processes. Her lines are always going for a walk, in the famous phrase of Paul Klee. If they knew their destination, they probably wouldn't have set out in the first place. These are drawings that seem to be exploring the nature of what it is to draw.

They usually consist of two kinds of marks. One, in colour, looks as if it is moving towards some kind of ghostly, stuttery representation of some part of the human form. But then, when we get closer, we find that these coloured marks have been embedded in a kind of grid system of pale pencil marks, suggestive of something more schematic and architectural. This description makes them sound much more interesting than they look.

In the third gallery, a solid copper cone lies on its side on the floor. You wonder about it – then pass on. In the next gallery, another copper cone, seemingly identical to the first, is lying on its side on the floor. Why two? What excites the artist – she tells us so herself – is the nature of memory, how it plays its tricks upon us. Is the first cone identical to the second? Can we even hope to remember each one in sufficient detail for us to be sure that the first cone is or is not identical to the second? That is the conundrum that never ceases to fascinate Horn – the slippery nature of memory; and the equally slippery nature of reality, and how what we believe we remember may not in fact be quite what we have seen or experienced at all.

Well, this is undeniably true – reality may indeed change from one minute to the next. Your reality, like your crime scene, may be different from mine. But the fact is, these cones are not terribly interesting, except in so far as they provoke the thoughts described.

The exhibition does have moments of genuine visual allure. A sequence of photographs of the Thames almost fills – glug – one gallery, which appropriately overlooks the river itself. Under exploration here is the nature of water and how it lacks a stable nature, and is forever changing. We never stare at – or step into – the same river twice. The photos are an arresting documentation of this. As you look from one to another, you notice that, at a certain moment, by a certain light, the Thames is pocked, at another speckled. Then it seems covered by a thin film of plastic. Each photo has an extended caption, with numbered points. The artist lays out for us, in exhausting detail, what she thinks about water. Here is the 29th point she makes about one photo: "What are you thinking about? Are you paying attention to the numbers? Maybe you won't read all of these numbers." How true.

To 25 May (020-7887 8888)

Arts and Entertainment
Kathy (Sally Lindsay) in Ordinary Lies
tvReview: The seemingly dull Kathy proves her life is anything but a snoozefest
Arts and Entertainment

Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boy

Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig in a scene from ‘Spectre’, released in the UK on 23 October

Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap

Arts and Entertainment

Poldark review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Brayben is nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Carole King in Beautiful

Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

    War with Isis

    Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
    Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

    A spring in your step?

    Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

    Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
    Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

    Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

    For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
    Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

    Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

    As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
    The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

    UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

    Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

    Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
    Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

    Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

    If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
    10 best compact cameras

    A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

    If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
    Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

    Paul Scholes column

    Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
    Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
    Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?