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.

Dickinson was a woman writing in the nineteenth century. While many of her poems are well-known to us today, she elected not to publish most of her poems during her lifetime (1930–1889).

Dickinson's work often responded to the natural environment, so one can find mention of the gardens and landscapes important to her, and to her fellow nineteen century Americans across her poems.

She never titled her poems, and today, we use the poems' first lines as titles.

For more information on Dickinson, you can go to her biography on the Academy of American Poets website.

We would love to hear how you have used Reading Resources. Please share feedback and student work here.

Exercise One (Adults)

Roni Horn makes artwork using Dickinson's poetry as an inspiration, guide, material, etc.

Open or download an image of the work "When Dickinson shut her eyes no. 562 [conjecturing a climate]".

1. Looking: write down at least five observations about what you see.

2. Reading: What do you read? What do you have to read? What is easiest to read and why? What is hardest to read and why?

3. Write one paragraph about your observations on looking vs. reading the image.

4. Looking over your writing, consider what Horn is doing in this artwork. Why does she reference Dickinson? How does she reference Dickinson? How does this artwork invite you, the viewer, to engage with Dickinson? How does the artwork define Dickinson?

Exercise Two (Adults)

Do some work with a Dickinson poem. We suggest "I heard a Fly buzz – when I died –" or "My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun".

1. Read the poem aloud at least twice. Mark the particular lines that stick out to you. You do not have to understand them; you can just like the way they sound. Follow the close reading guidance here

2. Write down some words, associations, and thoughts in response to the text. What does this poem bring to mind? What does it suggest to you?

3. Choose a line or a few lines which strike you as particularly complicated and draw them out, visualize them, with as much detail as possible. (We would love to see your visualizations—please send them to us here!)

4. What does the poem you chose put into question (about death and life?). What is strange about this poem? Does this strangeness make you want to read more Dickinson or does it push you away?

Reflection: After doing some close reading of Dickinson's poem, take a few moments to reflect on your work with it. What does her poem seem to be about? What are the moments which seem particularly difficult in this poem? How might they be important? What do you like about this poem? What makes this poem challenging to read or understand? What is strange about this poem?

Exercise Three (Adults)

Just as Horn uses Dickinson's work as a mirror, make your own sculptures using a writer, singer, artist, etc., choosing someone who is "like" a mirror to you.

After choosing this person, do some online research and select a few texts or quotes that speak to you in some fashion. How would you use these quotes as sculpture? You can use Horn's works (pictured above) as a model, or depart from her work with Dickinson entirely. What would your quotes look like? What materials would you use? What kind of font would you use?

First, sketch out what these sculptures would look like and how you would display them in a room—preferably the room of the library in which you are working! You can do something exactly like or similar to Horn, or you can choose something else.

Next, write an artist statement (two or three short paragraphs) describing your choices.

Further Learning (Adults)

For further learning, we suggest you pair these exercises with Reading Resources: Glenn Ligon, Activity Group 1: Reading is a Creative Act.


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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