The Peacock Machine
Rebecca Horn

The summer of 2022 marks the 40th anniversary of Rebecca Horn’s iconic work, Peacock Machine, following its unforgettable debut at documenta 7 in Kassel in 1982. In celebration of this occasion, Galerie Thomas Schulte will exhibit the Peacock Machine in the gallery’s corner space, recreating the small temple-like structure in which it was originally shown.

Exhibition The Peacock Machine
Artists Rebecca Horn
Date 11.06.22 - 20.08.22
Venue Galerie Thomas Schulte, Berlin
All images Courtesy Rebecca Horn and Galerie Thomas Schulte, Berlin. Photo: Stefan Haehnel.

In her poem, Horn writes of the Peacock Machine, “sparked by the cries of the courting male peacocks, a machine in the center of the eight-sided temple begins to stir and spreads its long metal feelers fan-like into the room, in deep concentration, startled as it brushes against the wall, soothed by the sound of the golden waterfall, the opened semicircular fan dips down to the floor protectively closing off the room” (Kassel, 1982)

Emerging from her performative work of the 1970’s, the early 1980’s saw body extensions, masks, feather robes and fans progressively being replaced by machine works. A year before the debut of the Peacock Machine, Horn developed a similar kinetic sculpture using real white peacock feathers for her feature film La Ferdinanda: Sonata for a Medici Villa. In fact, it was during filming in the Medici Villa Garden that this transition from performance to machine work was sparked. As Horn describes, watching the peacocks who lived in the garden, she observed that male peacocks develop their magnificent tail feathers throughout the year, only to display them in their full growth during the four- week mating season. By September, peacocks will have fully shed their feathers. It was the disappointment she felt after watching peacocks lose their feathers, which prompted Horn to construct her first peacock machine.

This marked the beginning of her particularly distinct method of machine production, typically involving large kinetic installations. From that point on, the works began to take on a life of their own, replacing though not necessarily imitating the human body. As Horn describes the machines “have a soul because they act, shake, tremble, faint, almost fall apart, and then come back to life again. They are not perfect machine (…) I’m interested in the soul of a thing, not the machine itself. I work closely with my technician, who actually builds the machines, but I know how they will look and function. It’s the story between the machine and its audience that interests me.”

While often constructed with technical precision using hard, cold materials, Horn‘s works – in concert with their temporal spacing and ritualistic movements – are emotive and sensual, often striking a balance between aggression and tenderness. In this way, Horn‘s bird and feather metaphor motif engenders a new form of visual poetry, legible in the Peacock Machine.

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