Lisson Gallery, New York
19 January - 24 February 2018
Review by Grace Storey
This is the first show at Lisson Gallery by Californian artist Channa Horwitz and presents works from her seminal Sonkinotography series of permutational drawings, created from 1968 until her death in 2013, and evidenced the artist’s pursuit of freedom through the imposition of a fixed set of rules. In a note displayed inside a vitrine containing archival material bisecting the exhibition, Horwitz explains, ‘as an artist, I experience freedom through limitation and structure. It would appear that limitation and structure are dichotomies to freedom, but through experience, I have found them to be synonymous and the basics of freedom.’
Horwitz’s work was under-recognised during her lifetime, despite the parallels between her system-based approach and the conceptual practice of artists including Sol Le Witt, and also the generative technique of creating text employed by the Oulipo Group, whose members included Italo Calvino and Georges Perec. In 1968, Horwitz subimtted a proposal entitled Suspension of Vertical Beams Moving in Space, comprising eight moving beams suspended by magnetism, and lit at varying intensities, as part of LACMA’s ‘Art and Technology Program’ (1966 - 1971), which paired artists and engineers in order to realise collaborative projects. While her submission was unsuccessful—the resultant project included work by only 67 male artists, including Claes Oldenberg, Richard Serra and Andy Warhol—Horwitz’s proposed kinetic sculpture, in its attempt to describe the movement of the beams graphically with the system of eight, formed the basis of the Sonakinotography series.
Sonakinotography, meaning ‘sound’ (sona), ‘motion’ (kineto) and notation (graphy) was a system devised by Horwitz in order to explore, through two dimensions, the possibility of a fourth (time), through the implementation of a rigorous system of numbers, symbols and colours. She writes, ‘I had a knowledge of classical visual compositions and I could compose two of three dimensionally, as in painting or sculpture, but I had no ability to compose in the fourth dimension, time. I could not conceive of how a choreographer or a musical composer could compose time… I devised a system that would allow me to see time visually. I felt I could use a graph as the basis for the visual description of time. I gave the graph a value: each square became one beat or pulse in time. I chose to use eight entities that I named instruments. With eight instruments, each having a duration in time equal to its number, I proceeded to create compositions.’
In 1969, Horwitz’s early compositions were dismissed by a critic of the Los Angeles Times as ‘Pretty Notations by Valley Housewife.’ Her meticulously executed drawings are visually seductive; their diagrammatic appearance is evocative of sequential structures: film strips, textile patterns and sheet music. Yet beyond their aesthetic, the works also function as scores, with a latent capacity that can be activated through music, dance, poetry or performance.
At Lisson Gallery, this potential is referenced through a video showreel at the entrance to the exhibition, featuring documentation of Haroon Mirza’s light and sound installation A Chamber for Horowitz: Sonakinotgraphy Transcriptions in Surround Sound at Museum Tinguely in 2015, and Poem Opera: The Divided Person, eight variations on Sonakinatography, Composition III, performed in the context of Horwitz’s 2016 retrospective at Raven Row, London. While these presentations have much greater resonance when experienced first-hand, they are testament to the ways in which Horwitz’s structured compositions can be endlessly re-interpreted across both discipline and dimension.