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
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
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.

    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Farewell, my lovely

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

    Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

    The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

    Commonwealth Games 2014

    Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
    Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

    Jack Pitt-Brooke

    Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
    How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game