With the many approaches to sculpture that have come to occupy galleries in recent years, one may lose sight of the fact that sculpture is traditionally related to the presence of form in three-dimensional space. However, not all form is made to exist in the same way. Over the years, new materials and conceptual attitudes have helped to redefine and reinterpret the function of sculpture. This once inspired the artist Jasper Johns to proclaim Marcel Duchamp's first ready-made (1913) - "Bicycle Wheel on a Stool" - as the greatest sculpture of the twentieth century. Johns' statement further suggests that Duchamp's work not only existed in three-dimensional space but also transformed it. It was a sculpture that redefined what sculpture could be and how it could function apart from the world of utilitarian objects. While the ready-made did not function in the sense of furniture or appliances, it had a conceptual function, namely, as an object formed on the basis of other objects. In this case, a stool and bicycle wheel was combined in such a way so as to transform the viewer's experience into an optical event. Duchamp's ready-made was not a static sculpture, but a moving one. By spinning the bicycle wheel on top of the stool, one might envision space and time differently. By peering through the moving spokes of the wheel, the environment became an optical metaphor of modern times. Both alluring and profound, it encapsulated future mechanization as a phenomenon that was less about historical progress than instant disorientation.
I offer these comments as an introduction to the work of Linda Horn because I believe her sculpture is not only something to be understood in the formal sense as a three-dimensional presence (or absence, i.e. negative space) but something more environmental that relates directly to the space of the body. While industrial artifacts became the subject matter of Duchamp, Linda Horn's approach to the ready-made is more focused on the body as it exists in opposition to industry. In a recent series of work, she took oversized underwear, originally found in a thrift store, and soaked it in hydrocal to give the form solidity. She then repeated the process by creating multiple shapes to be placed either in modular vertical stacks or presented as biomorphic entities in relation to one another. In doing so, the undergarments lost some of their familiarity, but not entirely. The appearance shifted between the familiar and the unfamiliar. It changed from being a white garment that contained the body to a mysterious sign of ironic disembodiment. The space of the body was now perceived differently. Rather than being seen as confining, these corporeal shapes begin to open up and push outward, extending three-dimensional space through a renewed angle of vision. In these works, Horn reveals the material capacity for these ready-made under-garments to induce not merely a sense of a Pop surreality associated with Duchamp, Oldenburg, or Arp, but a kind of psychological body space where the imagination travels beyond physical identity into the interstices of environmental consciousness, into the flora and fauna of the planet, and into the metabolic structure of the human body. In addition to the white hydrocal garmentry - some free-floating in sections on the wall - Horn represents human appendages, including cast arms and legs, challenging the function of the body to persevere within a de-stabilized environment where the system of exchange once allocated between nature and economics has diminished to a point of no return. "Where do we go from here?" Horn appears to say. One might interpret her mutant heads, textile fragments, and distended body vestiges as signifiers of a negative transformation, a devolution, where the traces of eco-feminism have been left in the dust. To envision the distended spaces within these representational body shapes is to raise the moral question: Why have we deserted the future of the planet?
Since the beginning, Linda Horn's work has combined both the visionary and sensory aspects of sculpture. She is less an emerging artist than an emergent one - an artist who keeps developing and experimenting as she responds to personal experiences in her immediate space. While much of the art world appears to disdain this kind of approach - what might be called an intelligent sensitivity -- I believe Horn is correct in her pursuit as an artist. By accepting personal experience as the basis for the construction of forms, she wills her art as something capable of eliciting meaning. To accomplish this, she depends largely on the signifying process - as with her fake pigeons, her allegorical faces (reminiscent of the Italian sculptor Medrardo Rosso), and her specimens of laboratory insects that have been altered to appear as genetic mutations. To go against the odds of similitude in nature where bio-tech heralds the appearance of an unknown species, suggests a radical way of transforming reality, in fact, a form of oppositional mimicry. For example, while her fake insects precede the more recent works involving ready-made underwear, Horn is nevertheless setting the stage for a kind of recalcitrant examination of nature. In these seminal laboratory works, including her phantasmagorical pigeons, Horn deliberately projects a sense that everything is expected to look the same. Nature and the illusion of reality are on the same course, a dead-end course, where morality is no longer the issue. Her revengeful irony suggests that art has become a kind of simulacra bent on cataclysm, an obsolescent anthropology, an academic game bent on theorizing the last remnants of language to near extinction.
While I cannot help but find value in Horn's portrayal of reality as a logical course moving toward destruction I would also argue it is not entirely negative. In fact, Horn's metaphors are quite to the point. As the Enlightenment philosophers were unable to detach morality from aesthetics, I find the art of Linda Horn takes us to a similar place. Rather than repeating the past, she is bringing the past into the present, thus, revealing the gaps of consciousness that occur when we deduce form as purely formal and forget the environmental content that make us all live and breathe. Horn is suggesting that the art-life paradigm needs a renewed awareness if we are to survive in a world going in opposition to what human beings need for survival.
Robert C. Morgan is an international art critic, artist, curator, and lecturer. He is a Contributing Editor to Sculpture Magazine, Consulting Editor to the Brooklyn Rail, and a New York Correspondent to Art Press (Paris). Author of many books and essays, and recipient of many awards and fellowships, he is currently an Adjunct Professor in the Graduate Fine Art Department at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York.