‘I think in terms of syntax if not quite of grammar; of phrasing, leitmotif, chorus – the tools of language structures – which then take a visual form in the work’ (R. Horn, quoted in Roni Horn, London 2000, p.22)
Roni Horn’s Clowd and Cloun (Gray) (2000-2001) captures the key tenets of Roni Horn’s practice in a subtle and powerful group of photographs. Three clowns and three clouds: the clowns with exaggerated features in white and dark red, by turns grinning, shocked and sad, but their expressions blurred almost beyond schematic recognition; the clouds heavy and leaden, smeared across steel-grey heavens. Both trios are of the exact same subject, shot three times in quick succession. As with much of Horn’s work, the focus is set on changeability, our eyes searching for the smallest differences between each iteration of cloud and clown. Her title’s lexical sleight of hand in turn alerts us to the significance of her pairing these subjects, and how they might relate to one another. In fact, the title ‘started as a misunderstanding of [the Stephen Sondheim song] “Send in the Clowns” … I did a poll, and a lot of people thought it was “Send in the Clouds.” So I wasn’t alone.’ The switched spellings, she says, offer ‘this wonderful crisscross of identity’ (R. Horn, quoted in J. L. Belcove, ‘Roni Horn,’ W Magazine, November 2009). The clown’s emotive turbulence seems to reflect the unrest of the skies: the ‘pathetic fallacy’ of linking human feelings to the actions of the elements. This is an idea previously explored by Horn in her series You are the Weather (1994-95), which featured 100 photographs of the same young woman staring from different bodies of water in Iceland, a country whose unstable climate and landscape have been an ongoing source of inspiration. Fascinated by doubling, natural phenomena and the ambiguities of identity and emotion, Horn presents a richly poetic vision, all the more commanding for its quiet restraint.