© President and Fellows of Harvard College
Gallery Text

Often conceived for specific locations, Rebecca Horn’s new works build upon her past creations. She regularly returns to earlier performances and constructed objects, referencing, or even reworking, them in new works of art. As a result, she creates an ongoing web of associations that spans drawing, painting, sculpture, installation, poetry, and film.

Here, ink (“black rain”) sprays across the wall and over three open-and-closing books: Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet, Franz Kafka’s Amerika, and James Joyce’s Ulysses, all chosen by the artist for the way that they resonate in a university context. The resulting painting, in three dimensions, suggests large-scale gestural abstraction—typically associated with the physical action of the artist’s body and notions of subjective experience—yet created here by a machine. As stand-ins for the human body, Rebecca Horn’s machines dance, fly, get tired, rest, and nearly suffocate. “Consciousness” is regained only when the work is once again set in motion by the presence of the viewer (via motion detection). This installation seeks to achieve the artist’s long-standing goal of dissolving “barriers between passive spectators and active performers.”

Franz Kafka

“Alienation” and (self) “persecution”

are two key words connected to Kafka’s literary work.

They are essential for his stories

and novels in a very subversive way.

There is always humor

in the way he writes on the struggle of a person

who invents or faces an overpowering,

almost surreal and nightmarish situation

in order to solve it.

It seems increasingly in vain.

The momentum is Kafkaesque.

A provocation of timeless beauty.

Fernando Pessoa

Pessoa means “person” in the Portuguese language.

That’s one of the secrets of this great poet of Lisbon.

How many persons live in a single person?

Pessoa created more than 75 “personalities”

to answer the questions of “I”—Who am I?

Who speaks? Who dreams? Who lives my life?

The lives of his heteronyms—

as he called the personalities he invented—feels to be his life.

A synthesis of them.

As one of them said: “I have in me all the dreams of the world.”

James Joyce

How many thoughts and feelings pass through our mind?

The processes of an interior monologue of thinking

has a headword—Ulysses!

The appointments and encounters of Leopold Bloom in Dublin

in the course of an ordinary day: June 16th in 1904.

A single day is sufficient to show life’s complexities.

An Everyman becomes the microcosm of the world.

—Rebecca Horn, November 2014

Identification and Creation
Object Number
Rebecca Horn, German (Michelstadt, Germany born 1944)
Flying Books Under Black Rain Painting
Work Type
Persistent Link
Level 1, Room 1010, Prescott Street Entrance
View this object's location on our interactive map
Physical Descriptions
Glass funnel, black ink, three books, metal constructions, motors, and electronic devices
Dimensions vary with installation
Commissioned by the Busch-Reisinger Museum, Harvard Art Museums, 2014
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum, Purchased through the generosity of the German Friends of the Busch-Reisinger Museum and the Francis H. Burr Memorial Fund
© Rebecca Horn / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Accession Year
Object Number
Modern and Contemporary Art
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Publication History

Cate McQuaid, Contemporary art in the foreground at Harvard Art Museums, The Boston Globe (Boston, MA, November 1, 2014)

Suzanne Volmer, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Rebecca Horn, Sculpture, International Sculpture Center (June 2015), Vol. 34, No. 5, pp. 70-71, ill., (color)

Söke Dinkla, ed., Rebecca Horn: Hauchkörper als Lebenszyklus, exh. cat., Wienand Verlag (Cologne, Germany, 2017), p. 185, ill. (color)

Museum Tinguely, ed., Rebecca Horn: Body Fantasies, exh. cat., VfmK Verlag für modern Kunst (Vienna, 2019), pp. 116-117, ill. (color)

Exhibition History

32Q: 1010 Prescott Street Entrance, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 01/01/2050

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Modern and Contemporary Art at am_moderncontemporary@harvard.edu