The online editorial and curatorial project for systems, non-
Channa Horwitz at Raven Row, London
10 March to 1 May 2016
A review by Mark Liebenrood
©Copyright Patrick Morrissey and Clive Hancock All rights reserved.
Channa Horwitz worked with a set of highly restricted means throughout her career.
Apparently basing her extensive use of the digits 1–8 on the structure of eight-
In the Language Series, black forms are superimposed on orange grids that resemble
sections of pre-
Although the Language Series is chromatically restrained, later works are far more
colourful. Canon is an astonishingly complex painting based upon the traversal of
a unit of graph paper by a single line at all possible angles (a monochrome variation
from this series is illustrated below). The digits 1–8 are each assigned a colour
and the composition begins with single green lines, one colour at a time being superimposed
as the painting develops across sixteen vertical units from left to right, building
to a dazzling crescendo of eight overlaid colours at the centre before enacting a
Part of the pleasure of this kind of work is purely intellectual: approaching a drawing like a visual puzzle, trying to discern the system of rules that produced it. Canon and the Language Series are quite readily decoded, but the conceptual foundations of many of Horwitz’s Sonakinatography works are often far harder to discern (the word is the artist’s own coinage, meaning ‘sound – motion – notation’).
Often read from top to bottom, left to right, these intricate paintings appear more like musical scores than anything else. Each row represents a rhythmic beat, with the numbers 1–8 again each assigned a separate colour and a rhythmic interval. Some of these scores are simply repetitive, others bewilderingly complex. The longest pattern, Sonakinatography II, lasts for almost four thousand beats. Each system seems to be explored in such a way as to yet again exhaust its possibilities. I’m reminded here of the English art of change ringing for church bells, which similarly employs a fixed set of tones and mathematical systems of permutation, annotated in vertical diagrams of numbers and interwoven coloured lines.
Exhibition view, Channa Horwitz. Works from the series Sonakinatography, 1970–2011, photo by Marcus J. Leith
The overwhelming sense of much of Horwitz’s work, then, is that of annotations for performance, rather than independent art works. Indeed, in a corner of the gallery a performance space has been set up, entitled Displacement. Like a sculptural version of one of the Language Series paintings, a set of black blocks occupies an orange grid, ready to be repositioned (or ‘activated’) at will by curious visitors or yoga practitioners.
This installation, with its allowance of performative freedom, makes a break from
Channa Horwitz, Sonakinatography Composition XVII, 1987-
This is an elegantly presented show, and some of the work is visually stunning on
its own terms. But just as reading a musical score is no substitute for the performance,
I often found myself wanting to experience in another medium – sound or light – what
many of the more diagrammatic works were hinting at. And although some performances
have been staged in the gallery, the lack of self-
Channa Horwitz, Canon 6 Variation II, 1982 Ink on Mylar. Courtesy Collection Oehmen, Germany, photo by Timo Ohler
Channa Horwitz, 8 Expanded, Variation I and 8 Expanded, Variation II, 1981. Ink on graph Mylar. Courtesy the Estate of Channa Horwitz, photo by Marcus J. Leith