In Preparation I: Rebecca Horn’s Installation “Room of the Wounded Ape”

The artist Rebecca Horn (b. 1944) created the installation Raum des verwundeten Affen (Room of the Wounded Ape) for the exhibition project Die Endlichkeit der Freiheit (The Finitude of Freedom), which took place in East and West Berlin in fall 1990.

The state of Berlin acquired Raum des verwundeten Affen after the exhibition closed and entrusted it to the Nationalgalerie. This key piece in the collection of the Nationalgalerie was reinstalled for the first time in 1996 in the then newly opened Hamburger Bahnhof – Nationalgalerie der Gegenwart. It is an obvious choice for first exhibition in the new building at the Kulturforum.

The work comprised the first installation in the IN PREPARATION series. It was set up from 17 March to 25 May 2020 in the Kulturforum. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, it could not be shown to the public.

The Original Installation

On the Creation of the Installation in 1990

Together with author Heiner Müller and artist Jannis Kounellis, Horn developed the idea of a project focusing on the Berlin Wall in both halves of the divided city in 1986. In addition to Horn and Kounellis, nine internationally recognised artists participated in the exhibition in public spaces in East and West Berlin: Giovanno Anselmo, Barbara Bloom, Christian Boltanski, Hans Haacke, Ilya Kabakov, Via Lewandowsky, Mario Merz, Raffael Rheinsberg and Krzysztof Wodiczko. 

Rebecca Horn developed her kinetic installation in a boarded-up building on the western side of the wall in Stresemannstrasse, right by the “death strip” around Potsdamer Platz. She created an ambiguous experiential space that evokes conflicting emotions on the subject of the division and reunification of Germany: anxiety and loneliness, but also energy and new beginnings. The title Raum des verwundeten Affen was inspired by an incident in “The Strange Feast”, one of the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm.

Working with Found Objects

Typical of Horn’s site-specific installations are found objects that she combines with objects – often mechanical ones – that she builds herself. She found a paper guillotine from the 1920s on Stresemannstrasse and wired an electrical motor to it. From the ceiling hung three snake-like pairs of copper wires whose electrical charges created rhythmic lightning bolts. She put three piles of coal on the floor beneath them, which symbolised energy, friction and loss. Two metronomes ticked to opposite beats. A pair of binoculars and two round holes in the wall guided the visitors’ gaze from East to West. 

The guillotine and the lightning bolts did not start until someone entered the room. “The audience becomes an actor. The viewer’s participation and reactions make them part of the installation,” said Horn. The elements of the work are “melancholy actors in utter loneliness,” which only became animated through the audience.

 

How a Guillotine Became a Work of Kinetic Art

The exhibition Die Endlichkeit der Freiheit (Finitude of Freedom) was held in urban Berlin in the autumn of 1990. The subject was the Berlin Wall in both halves of the city. The artist Rebecca Horn developed the concept for the project together with the author Heiner Müller and artist Jannis Kounellis. Raum des verwundeten Affen (Room of the Wounded Ape), the installation by Rebecca Horn, was the only major artwork from the exhibition that ended up in a museum collection: in the Nationalgalerie. In 1996, the kinetic installation was restaged for the first time in a museum: for the opening of the Hamburger Bahnhof – Nationalgalerie der Gegenwart. Raum des verwundeten Affen has been planned for the new building at the Kulturforum as a symbolic commentary on the division and reunification of Germany.

 

Looking Over the Conservator’s Shoulder: Raum des verwundeten Affen

Rebecca Horn’s installation Raum des verwundeten Affen has been selected for the new museum building at the Kulturforum as a symbolic comment on the division and reunification of Germany. To this end, the installation was reassembled in spring 2020 to undergo conservation and restoration work. The public conservation of Raum des verwundeten Affen at the Kulturforum comprised the first stage of the In Preparation series, in which the Nationalgalerie offers the public a behind-the-scenes look at the preparations for the new museum building.

Public Conservation in the Kulturforum

When a kinetic work of art is restored, the main emphasis is placed on making it functional again. During the trial assembly of Raum des verwundeten Affen at the Kulturforum, the conservators and curators collaborated with Rebecca Horn’s studio to work on a third version of the installation that is based on the 1990 and 1996 versions. It was adapted to fit the spatial conditions in the new building at the Kulturforum.

The Installation

  1. snake-like copper elements with transformers whose electrical current and discharges create lightning bolts and arcs 
  2. a pair of binoculars
  3. motorised paper guillotine
  4. three piles of coal 
  5. metronome designed by the artist (another one in the room)

The work also includes two circular openings in the wall that are not shown here.

Rebecca Horn

Born in the Odenwald region in 1944, Rebecca Horn is a highly renowned contemporary artist. She works in almost all artistic media, from sculpture, drawing, poetry, and performance to photography, film and site-specific kinetic installations. Her works are rich in references to cultural history, literature and religion.

In the late 1960s, she was primarily interested in the human body and its relationship to space. She preferred to create sculptural objects and masks in soft materials like feathers or fabric. Like prostheses, they draw attention to specific bodily extremities and were shown in performances that were captured on film. 

She started making kinetic, mechanically controlled sculptures that exhibited similarities to human sensations and seemed to move magically in theatrical and spatial compositions. She often integrates materials from alchemy such as mercury, coal dust and mirrors into her technically precise works. Her examination of a specific place often starts with one of her poems – as with Raum des verwundeten Affen.

Rebecca Horn studied at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Hamburg, lived in New York City for several years, and has been a professor at Berlin University of the Arts since 1989.