Home Magazine An Island Zombie. Roni Horn's latest book

Profound, enigmatic, ethereal, minimal - as a song by Icelandic indie-rock band Sigur Rós - the latest book of the stellar American artist Roni Horn, Island Zombie, is inspired by the surroundings of Iceland - the entrance to the center of the earthaccording to Jules Vernes. The icelandic ocean, the light, “the emptiness, the frequency of white, the possibility of infinity, and the mystery” lie at the heart of Horn’s oeuvre.

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Roni Horn (b. 1955, New York City) is a contemporary visual artist and refined writer whose books include Another Water (2000), This is me, this is you (2002) and Weather Reports You (2007). Horn’s book Roni Horn aka Roni Horn was the title of the most comprehensive overview of her work ever organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art and Tate Modern, in 2009.


Inside Island Zombie.


The books - To Place, Bluff Life (1990) strongly influenced by the singular geography, geology, climate and culture of Iceland - were selected as some of the most important photo books in history, since Ed Ruscha’s 1960’s books and Bernd and Hilla Becher’s publications.

Island Zombie (Princeton University Press, 2020) is a reflection on the complex beauty of a vast and fabulous place, on the power of solitude in the natural world, within a persistent exploration of the mutable nature of art.

Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson said "Roni Horn has defined Iceland for me. Few know the country as well as Horn does and her work has taught me how to look at and feel this place.


Roni Horn, Thicket No. 1, 1989-1990, Aluminium and plastic, Object: 51 × 1623 × 1222 mm, 250kg, Tate Collection, © Roni Horn, courtesy Hauser & Wirth, London.


Horn’s first venture to Island was in 1975, at the age of nineteenth. In the spring of 1979, she made return. It was a solitary, demanding and slow journey. With a modified dirt bike, a tent and cook stove. But these difficulties didn’t stop her. “I returned to Island with migratory insistence and regularity. The necessity of it was part of me. Iceland was the only place I went without cause, just to be there”, Horn writes in the introduction of Iceland Zombie. Iceland took indeed possession of her. She was a soul possessed by isolated and wild and delicate forces, who analyses the immense beauty of a place constantly changing and the sensuality encapsulated in the crystalline, perpetual form of water.


Roni Horn, Untitled, glass objects, Nasher Sculpture Center, 2007. 


Pieced together from decades of illustrated essays, the interviews, poetic reflections, vignettes and episodes in Island Zombie also informed the drawings, sculpture and photographic work that Horn was producing in the 90s. Several Horn’s public artworks, including You Are the Weather-Munich (1996–97) and Some Thames (2000) mimic natural Icelandic elements, such as the basalt formation, the geysers, lava fields and the geothermal pools. The Library of Water (2007) - a long-terminstallationand community Center in Iceland - is made up of water collected from localglaciers.



Installation view Roni Horn “You are the Weather” at the Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel, 2020; artworks © Roni Horn. Photographs by Mark Niedermann.


Roni Horn, Vatnasafn / Library of water, 24 glass columns containing water, 2007 Commissioned and produced by Artangel with The Town of Stykkishólmur, The Ministry of Education, Science and Culture, The Ministry of Communications and the Icelandic Parliament.


Island Zombieis concerned with the temporality of landscape, the delight of discovering “nowhere”, the change ability of the life of a place with inclement weather - the sky, the wind and the light at its center. The cold blood of Iceland; Falling trees make sound; Where the earth is hot; Mirror, desert, mirror are some of Island Zombie’s poetic chapter’s. 

In Horn’s artistic practice, identity - both individual and geographic - and time are not a fixed and monolithic concept, but variable and multi-faceted. The crucial concepts of doubling, mutability, and androgyny are central to understanding her approach to the genres of portraiture and landscape, the complex relationship between object and subject.   

Island Zombieis an astonishing act of meditation and, especially these days, a re-oxygenating guidebook. 

As a migrant diarist, Horn struggles to be present and to really see.


Cover image: The hardcover of Island Zombie: Iceland Writings, 256 pages, 43 color and 8 black-and-white illustrations, Princeton University Press, December 1 2020.

Written by Petra Chiodi

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