The magic of shop windows in East Berlin: “The Peacock Machine” by Rebecca Horn

Now standing still and stiff, the “peacock machine,” a lustrous silver object with pointed feathers, but without the frilled, silky, shimmering bird feathers. The aluminum rivets are erected like organ tubes – or rather, like rosettes. Defensive or aggressive, directed toward Leipziger Strasse, the surrounding office and apartment buildings and endless traffic, toward frantic passers-by who don’t even look at this strange, machine-threatening object.

Once, for Documenta 7, in 1882, this “peacock machine” stood on a small island in Karlsaue in Kassel, surrounded by a small neoclassical temple. It was designed, built and built by Rebecca Horn, who was born in Odenwald in 1944 and was a professor at the Berlin University of the Arts for many years. She is one of the most extraordinary, versatile and experimental artists of her generation.

The century had a major – and hugely feminine – influence on 20th and 21st century sculpture. The charm, the force, but also the provocation by paradoxes that emerge from their surreally rotating kinetic structures, emanate from opposite signals: aggressive and affectionate, sensual and painful, ironic and poetic. Clicking mechanics drive our imaginations, feelings, and thoughts.

VG Bildkunst / Bonn 2022 / Gallery Th. Schulte / Stefan Haehnel

A peacock stares out of the imposing shop window of the Schulte Gallery.

Despite the abstraction, it represents the life cycle of the subtle choreography of the machine, sensual despite the abstraction, the crossing of the material to the spiritual: the infinite thought of the moving quills has a meditative effect. This slows down, leads to binges. In subconscious spaces outside the everyday world. Horn always creates her own symbolically charged universe in which reality fuses with fantasy. Her sculptures begin somewhere between Surrealism, Fluxus, and Joseph Beuys. She once described American comedian of the silent film era Buster Keaton as a huge inspiration to her. The deceptive, the absurdity of existence and everyday life are its themes – as well as myths and fairy tales.

Sadness and sarcasm

And in spite of all the gloom, but also the irony in fixtures and objects, it sometimes seems to float. Opposites play a role: hard versus soft, steel versus spring, aggressive versus tenderness, pleasure versus pain. Horn tries to solve this problem with hair. With body extensions like the aluminum limbs of her “peacock machine,” she gropes her way into the always unfriendly world.

Optical illusions?  Fred Sandbacks:

Fred Sandback / Gallery Th. Schulte

Optical illusions? Fred Sandbacks: “Untitled” (a cultural study, three-part composition), 2002-2010 (detail)

Then, at the back of the gallery, we meet international minimalist Fred Sandback, from New York (1943-2003). A quiet artist who has never caused much unnecessary fuss about himself, using mostly simple materials. The starting point was space, he wandered through the designated space, got to know him, and entered into a dialogue with him. It wasn’t about measurement, but about experience. His assistants pulled the strings to exact specifications. The optical illusion is perfect: when I look at it, I imagine that there is a pane of glass in the selected fields in black and white, as in a window. But beware! I certainly do not want to oppose that. However, this is exactly how it works. In fact, I can put my finger on it – there is only air.

“Even skeptics have to admit that seeing gives us broader access to reality than touch or hearing,” Sandback wrote of his work. “The way we perceive our environment is (…) a mental act that is completed only in the cognitive achievement of recognition (…) The process of recognition requires experience and knowledge.”

Sandback means the triad of senses: vision, touch, and hearing. His filament sculptures encompass the space, giving it rhythm and structure. It draws attention to the bulk of the room in the first place. Such artistic experiences with our perception. One reflects: Is the space inside the geometric figures different from the space outside? What is inside the lines and what is outside them? It appears as if space is condensed within the confines of a sculpture. The void becomes tangible. This minimalist was the master of contradiction. Rebecca Horn is presented with her boyfriend.

Thomas Schulte Gallery, Charlottenster. August 24 to 27, from Tuesday to Saturday. 12 pm – 6 pm

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