Roni Horn, Tate Modern, London - Reviews - Art - The Independent

Roni Horn, Tate Modern, London

2.00

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
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman stars as the Time Lord's companion Clara in Doctor Who

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Time and time again: the popular daytime quiz has been a fixture on Channel 4 since 1982

TV
Arts and Entertainment

To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthday

books
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams is reportedly competing with Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss for a major role in True Detective

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sam Smith returned to the top spot with his album 'In The Lonely Hour'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Backshall is set to dance with Ola Jordan on Strictly Come Dancing. 'I have a friend who's a dancer and she said to me 'You want Ola because she's a fantastic dancer and she can make anyone look good' meaning 'even you'!' he said.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sting and Paul Simon on stage together at Carnegie Hall in New York

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week