Water is almost as ubiquitous in art as in life – dramatic seascapes, romantic lakes, powerful rivers, charming streams. These are common images for many reasons: they have strong natural appeal for the viewer and artist, they can demonstrate the technical superiority of the artist and have almost endless symbolic content. Thus, water has become an artistic cliché, which perhaps now only the most adventurous and self-confident (or the extremely naïve or unreflective) artists would utilise.
Roni Horn is an artist using a number of media including photography and water is amongst her most frequently addressed subjects. Judging by her work and a number of interviews, she certainly seems adventurous and self-confident and has added something new and interesting to the long history of water in art.
She explains what motivates her work on water in this fascinating monologue:- for Horn water embodies the type of contradictions that make a subject interesting to explore, particularly by using the technique of the photographic series: it is “everything and nothing”, every photo is “the same and different”. The Thames, which is featured in the photo series shown below, is the life of the city and yet its darkness seems to have a magnetic attraction, not least for suicides (Horn is perhaps following the role given to the Thames by Dickens in Our Mutual Friend).
Roni Horn from “Still Water (The River Thames for Example)” (1999).
Water gives form and function to the leaf: its presence is disguised in green and its departure signalled by yellows/reds and then brown. The connection of water to life and death that Roni Horn powerfully shows is therefore suggested by the autumn leaf. Leaves also echo water in the endless variety and underlying similarity of their surface. Heraclitus said you both do and do not enter the same river – this idea can be stretched to the autumn leaf where each differently captures the passing of the water of life.
Matthew Greenburgh, Leaf 8 (2015)