“I play with logical structure as one plays a game. The rules are determined beforehand and then the drawing is allowed to emerge as it is governed by those rules.” Channa Horwitz
Channa Horwitz’s second exhibition with Lisson Gallery, entitled ‘Rules of the Game’, highlights the LA-based artist’s fascination with capturing space, movement and time through structure, line and pattern – an investigation she pursued resolutely from the 1960s until her death in 2013. Featuring a selection of drawings in ink, casein and coloured pencil alongside book works, studies and a number of ambitious, rarely seen multipart works on paper, the exhibition highlights Horwitz’s rigorous conceptual structures and self-determined rules. The show is the first in London since her critically acclaimed survey at Raven Row in 2016 and coincides with a major solo exhibition at MUSAC in León, Spain, which runs until 26 May.
Horwitz was an artist who worked largely outside of the art world canon, despite her lasting friendship with Sol LeWitt and her studies at CalArts in the early1970s alongside peers Allan Kaprow and John Baldessari. She chose to pursue her own, distinct language through logical systems and contended that the fewer choices she allowed herself, the more she could discover. Early on in her practice, she reduced all of her choices for subject to the circle and the square, and her choices of colour to black and white. From here she created a multitude of complex and intricate drawings, paintings, moving sculptures and performances, but all within the rules she had established for herself. This reduction allowed her to achieve creative freedom; using these artistic rules as the creative conduit for the expansion of her ideas.
The exhibition will present a survey of Horwitz’s oeuvre, showcasing a selection of works that sat at the core of her practice. A classic piece from Horwitz’s Sonakinatography series (based on the Greek words for sound, motion, notation), developed in the 1960s, will be on display alongside works from her later bodies of work such as Levels, Slices, Variation and Inversion on a Rhythm, Flowings and Canons. On the surface, these series appear mathematical and computer-generated – disciplines objective by nature – yet all of the artist’s algorithms were entirely self-established and self-generated, resolutely hand-made and non-technological. Rather than mystifying her methodology, Horwitz carefully documented the rules which governed each work, often including these as a small cipher visible within the drawing. She also wrote extensively about her systems and how they each progressed from one another and the exhibition will include a book work and excerpts from her writings which have not been seen in the UK before.
On view will be Sonakinatography, Composition 5, 1973, which she later called And Then There Were None. This was part of her Sonakinatography Expanded series which explored movement across a horizontal plane. “I started to play with black squares on graph paper, moving all of the squares in units rather than as individuals… playing graphically with motion in time.” Horwitz took this investigation beyond the page, animating the work via a limited edition flip book and film projection, both of which are on display here.
For Horwitz’s next series, Four Levels, she explored a more dimensional progression of units, expanding her black squares over several levels and morphing her forms from squares into cubes before contracting in reverse, as determined by her self-generated system of rules. These works progressed in dimension, constructing and deconstructing through four levels which were sometimes as wide as the one presented here which is almost 5 metres. Fascinated with the concept that “with miniaturization comes complexity” the artist reduced these wide Four Levels works to their essence and came up with subsequent bodies of work presented here including To the Top.
As Horwitz’s ideas developed so too did the scope and scale of her explorations. In her series Slices she began dissecting her forms horizontally and vertically to break down their structural composition, comparing her investigations to the slicing of a loaf of bread. She sliced from side to middle, top to bottom, and front to back, coming up with visually diverse works that were based on the same linear logic. From here, she expanded her compositions into large, multipart pieces called Variation and Inversion on a Rhythm, two of which are presented for the first time in the UK. There is an evident sense of logic and play visible within these works in which the evolution of her forms can be traced along the horizontal, vertical and diagonal axes. Horwitz found that “if chance plays out long enough, it will become structure”, signifying that behind the appearance of chance or chaos is a hidden order.
The final section of the exhibition focuses on Horwitz’s Canon works, in which she intensified the layering and multiplication of her algorithms to create dense matrixes over 12 levels. These works, executed in both black ink and coloured casein represent the culmination of her explorations into rhythm and pattern, and showcase her exquisite draughtsmanship.
Alongside Channa Horwitz’s exhibition, Lisson Gallery will present A Chamber for Horwitz; Sonakinatography Transcriptions in Surround Sound (2015) by Haroon Mirza. By translating one of Horwitz’s Sonakinatography compositions into an audio-visual environment, Mirza created an immersive multi-sensory installation as an homage to the artist.