The experience of walking past a storefront window is familiar to us all. We are meant to admire the goods on display behind the window, but we can be equally aware of the glass itself: dirt, fingerprints, or scratches can draw attention away from the interior of the store and to the surface of the plane that separates us from it. In addition, we may notice a reflection of ourselves or of other passersby, so that the windows come to serve as mirrors. These overlapping perspectives are not particularly difficult to interpret—we instinctively sort out the three and focus on the one we want. Sabine Hornig’s photographs capture the nuances of these layers, but compress them into a single image. We are challenged to distinguish between the commercial space, the surface of the window and its frame (the dividing line between interior and exterior), and the reflected streetscape. Hornig’s interest in these layers of space is not limited to the image itself: even more important are the reflection of the real (gallery) space on the surface of her images and the role that we, as viewers, play in complicating the interpretation of her work.
For Projects 78, Hornig bisects a sloping gallery at MoMA QNS with a wall, into which she has inset four glass panels bearing nearly life-size images of empty windows of abandoned Berlin storefronts. Although the space itself—an enclosed overhanging ramp—is on an incline, the images are perfectly level, so the viewer’s perspective and his or her relationship to the images changes as they walk along the installation. The images are printed as transparencies, and as they are mounted on glass the viewer can see through them—just as one would see through a storefront window—and can see other viewers on the opposite side of the wall. Hornig’s installation perfectly divides the space so that each side mirrors the other, making it possible for a viewer looking through one of the “windows” to perceive the other side as a reflection. The framing edges of Hornig’s transparencies coincide precisely with the frames surrounding the windows captured in the images. The result is a trompe l’oeil effect: the original storefront window frames, which appear to be holding the transparencies in place, are in fact only illustrative of structural support.
Hornig’s installation at MoMA QNS is meant to be encountered in an ambulatory fashion: there is no single, stationary point where a viewer should stand. Although the images are not linked to one another in a narrative progression, they were taken on a single street in the center of Berlin; an attentive viewer will notice that the reflections in some of them repeat, so that encountering the installation in sequence parallels the experience of walking along a street before a series of stores. Sabine Hornig takes the familiar experience of walking past storefront windows and renders it less familiar.
Sabine Hornig (German, born 1964) lives in Berlin with her husband, Johannes Schütz, and their one-year-old daughter, Lila. She received her B.A. and M.F.A. from the Hochschule der Künste in Berlin. Hornig was winner of several awards, including the Karl Schmidt-Rottluff Stipendium in 1998, and from 1999 through 2000, she was a participating artist in the P.S.1 International Studio Program, New York. Hornig’s work has been featured in several solo exhibitions, most recently in New York (Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, 2002); Berlin (Galerie Barbara Thumm, 2000; Wiensowski & Harbord, 1998); and Malmö, Sweden (Malmö Konstmuseet, 1996).
Sarah Hermanson Meister, Associate Curator, Department of Photography.