Reading Resources — Roni Horn

These guides focus on identity as one of many important themes in Roni Horn’s work. Horn frequently addresses the fluid nature of identity, and the way identity is shaped by memory, time, place, and language. Her work does so by using repetition and simple forms that call for close attention—similar to that required by reading—while emphasizing the bodily and personal dimensions of this activity. Water and the weather are common figures in her work, offering metaphors for the ways in which things change while remaining the "same" over time.

This guide connects to the topics of other Reading Resources guides, helping you build a common path through your curriculum. For biographical information and key terms, please refer to Additional Materials.

Guiding Question

What do you see when you look at water?

How does our identity change and multiply in relation to our environment? How does the way in which we see ourself influence how we see others?

This "Guiding Question" focuses our inquiry into Roni Horn's work.

By thinking of water as a kind of reflection—a mirror or a photograph—Horn asks us to consider how our image of ourselves influences the way we see others, and vice-versa. Her work suggests that our identity takes shape through a process of looking, and images of others sometimes better depict certain aspects of who you are or who you hope to be.

Horn shows us that identity is not fixed, it is never only one thing. Rather, identity is doubled, tripled, and even contradictory. Key to her work is the idea of "repetition and difference": even when something is repeated, there is always an aspect of change. The "original" is never original since "copies" are, in some aspects, always new. She often explores this theme through forms of doubling, such as portraiture and self-portraiture.

Roni Horn's work looks at water as a mirror image and a moving substance that shows how our identity is neither singular nor stable. Instead, she suggests, our identity constantly changes in relation to our world. By showing us that our identity is connected to our surroundings, Horn also asks us to consider how our identity is shaped by our environment. Horn uses the weather as another important metaphor for identity, indicating how we change with the places in which we live, travel, and move.


The following exercises are structured to sequentially build on each other. We encourage you to consider how their learning objectives develop as you adapt these exercises to your teaching activities.

Activity Group 1: Identity and Difference

This activity set explores self-portraiture, or "selfies". How do you change across the various selfies you take? Can another person, a landscape or particular place, also represent "you"? Here, we ask you to consider how Horn's images change our conception of self-portraiture and personal identity.

Activity Group 2: Identity and Contexts

Water, for Horn, often works as a metaphor for identity. Water is a mirror-in-action, and continually changes as it reflects its surroundings. Similarly, our identities reflect our environment and those around us. This section explores Horns work with water, asking you to consider how our identities change in relation to different contexts.

Activity Group 3: Reading in Space and Time

Emily Dickinson's poetry frequently appears in Horn's work, and these exercises invite you to consider how Horn uses Dickinson as one of her doubles.

Additional Material

  1. Roni Horn's biography (by the Guggenheim Museum)
  2. Guide to Minimalism (The Art Story)
  3. The Case for Minimalism (video) (PBS: The Art Assignment)
  4. A thematic intro to Roni Horn's retrospective "Roni Horn aka Roni Horn" (Tate Modern, Feb 25—May 9, 2009)
  5. Vatnasafn / Library of Water (a project by Roni Horn)
  6. Interactive Prompts on Roni Horn (Art21 Learning Library)
  7. Student resource on artists and the weather (Tate Education)
  8. Additional information on Roni Horn (Hauser & Wirth)
  1. Lynne Cook, Exhibition brochure, Dia: Chelsea, October 17, 2001–June 16, 2002
  2. "Roni Horn with Jarrett Earnest," Brooklyn Rail, December 18, 2013
  3. Roni Horn, "The master chameleon: Water," Tate Etc. issue 10: Summer 2007, May 1 2007
  4. "Meet the Artist: Roni Horn," Hirshhorn Museum: Podcast, May 2, 2012
  5. "Roni Horn on Politics in Art," The Creative Independent, February 14, 2017
  6. Marjorie Miccucci, "Roni Horn and her Literary Doubles," Aware Women Artists, August 31, 2018
  7. Test Header
  8. "Roni Horn by Mimi Thompson," Bomb Magazine, July 1 1989
  9. Jeanette Winterson, "Roni Horn—Entering the Flow-World," March 6 2009

Reading Resources: Roni Horn was produced by Art Resources Transfer (A.R.T.) in collaboration with Wendy Tronrud (A.R.T. Education Consultant) in 2018–19.

A.R.T. acknowledges the invaluable generosity, assistance, and enthusiasm of all who contributed to Reading Resources production:

This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council.

We also thank:
National Endowment for the Arts
H.W. Wilson Foundation
Hauser & Wirth
Florence Derieux
Abby Merrick, Roni Horn Studio Manager
A.R.T. Board of Directors
and most specially, Roni Horn.

Web programming by Jeff Khonsary.
Copyright © Art Resources Transfer, Inc 2019.

All images are protected under copyright by the original rights holders.

A.R.T. is a 501(c)3 nonprofit.

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