Los Angeles-based artist Channa Horwitz spent decades dedicated to developing a strict and complex pictorial language—one she continually explored, revised, and refined for over 40 years. Although she worked in relative obscurity for much of her career, the past year has witnessed a dramatic increase in international recognition. In 2012, Horwitz was included in the inaugural “Made in LA,” biennial at the Hammer Museum, and “Ghost in the Machine” at the New Museum in New York; this year, she took part in a three-person exhibition at the Kunsthalle Düsseldorf and the 55th Venice Biennale, and received a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship Award. The seemingly rediscovered artist had also recently opened a solo exhibition at François Ghebaly in Culver City when she passed away on April 29, at the age of 80.
Horwitz first attended art school in the 1950s for a single year before getting married and having children; she returned to study art in the 1960s. A pivotal moment occurred for Horwitz in 1968 when she submitted a design to LACMA’s Art and Technology exhibition. Still a student at the time, her proposal was a complex installation consisting of eight Plexiglas beams moving within a magnetic field, which corresponded with a choreographed display of colored lights. Though the proposal was not accepted, the design for the work was featured in the program—the only included work by a female artist.
That proposal would, however, have great impact on her artistic outlet; as Horwitz stated in a 2009 interview, “That’s how the notation of sound and motion started.” Beginning with simple notations to track time, she used graph paper to show time, as a means to “capture motion,” and began to create rules out of which Sonakinatography (sound-motion-notation) developed. For each series, Horwitz crafted a set of rules that dictated the motion of the lines or cubes on the paper, in what she called “beats,” sometimes sequentially and others in complicated overlapping patterns. Horwitz described the rules as her source of freedom, “The less choices I have, the more freedom I can have to experience those choices.”
Beyond her works on paper, Horwitz also collaborated with composers, dancers and performance artists—perhaps an influence of her activities with Allan Kaprow at CalArts, where she ultimately earned her BFA in 1972. In a journal where she documented the progression of her Sonakinatographic works, she explained, “I wanted to see if the color flows I had created would look as beautiful in motion or sound as it did on graph paper.”
For her recent solo show at François Ghebaly Gallery, the artist’s first three-dimensional installation, the gallery floor and walls were covered with a lively orange grid delineated into eight-by-eight sections. The installation gave three-dimensional form to an early series by Horwitz, while also queuing into the performance aspect of her many collaborations. Once inside, the viewer effectively acts as one of the artist’s “little squares” moving through the gridded space, through beats of time, and creating another measured performance.