whitehot | January 2008, Rebecca Horne, Roebling Hall
Rebecca Horne, Paper Water Sink, 2007 color photograph courtesy Roebling Hall, New York
Rebecca Horne, The Corner of Your Eye
Roebling Hall, Chelsea, January 17–February 23
Rebecca Horne is a Brooklyn-based artist who has been showing her work around the city for nearly the last ten years. “The Corner of Your Eye,” however, is her first solo exhibition in New York City. It couldn’t be a better showing of her recent work.
The majority of photographs in the exhibition at Roebling Hall are seemingly typical still lifes that, upon closer inspection, reveal strange qualities that jar our immediate categorization of familiar phenomena. They are the things that catch the corner of our eye, making us linger for a second longer, throwing our confident assessment of the scene into distress: What is going on here?
In one exemplary photograph entitled, “Automatic Pitcher,” a pitcher stands upright with water pouring from the spout into a nearby glass. “Still Life with Pitcher and Glass,” we might call it, right? Yes, but then the pitcher isn’t tilted—so how is the water in fact flowing? (And there are no machines, so how would it flow “automatically”?) In another photograph, “Paper Water,” water streams from a kitchen faucet into a wine glass, making a similar movement as in the “Automatic Pitcher.” The eponymous “paper” in the photograph seems to refer to the synthetic blue in the dishes surrounding the glass—color that fills the otherwise ordinary scene with a cyan that resembles the glow of an iceberg. And, upon closer inspection, the water flowing from the faucet seems (only seems, for the precise construction of the scene—as in every scene in the exhibition—ultimately eludes us just enough that we will never know for sure) frozen, as if an icicle hangs from the tip of the faucet.
Rebecca Horne, Automatic Pitcher, 2007 color photograph courtesy Roebling Hall, New York
But how does this help us to interpret what’s going on in the “Automatic Pitcher”? Is it a piece of ice, or paper, or is it time-lapsed photography that creates the strange, liquid-like movement between spout and glass? We are left in wonder. The subtle and brilliant thing about Horne’s work is that you cannot uniformly apply some “trick” in order to understand each picture. Indeed, in that way, what she accomplishes in her photographs isn’t a “trick” of the eye at all, but rather the careful and seamless construction of an uncanny world. Meaning resonates through the overall effect created by her use of each individual material and photographic technique.
Rebecca Horne, Dancing Handkerchief , 2007 color photograph courtesy Roebling Hall, New York
But the obsessiveness on the part of the viewer with how the photograph is made belies an underlying question that one poses to oneself while looking at Horne’s photographs: “Is there some way that this scene is actually possible?” Or rather, one finds oneself valiantly making the assertion that there has to be some way this scene is actually possible.
And part of the reason one tries so desperately to make sense of the scenes she presents is precisely in their uncanniness; they otherwise seem to fit so nicely into a comfortable portrait of the furniture of our everyday lives. The linens, the tablecloths, the bowls, the pitchers—all of them remind me of hand-me-down objects that used to adorn my grandmother’s-then-mother’s kitchens and dining rooms. But Horne doesn’t focus on the nostalgia of these objects. Rather they fill the moods of the photographs with their sedated palate and faded threads. The objects feel like they are caught resting after certain moments of being held, used, and embodied.
And then, in their solitude, they dance.
Rebecca Horne, Salt Pile Bathtub, 2007 color photograph courtesy Roebling Hall, New York
The strange things we notice in the “corners” of the photographs give us a sense of wonder akin to that which surrounded the linens and pitchers of our youth. Horne does a skillful job of utilizing the camera and each of the individual objects in her photographs to create a protracted sense of magic that envelops the viewer and re-invites her back into the early afternoon of the imagination.
Noah Becker: Editor-in-Chief