Skip to content
Contemporary Art Gallery

555 Nelson Street
Vancouver, Canada
Open from Tuesday to
Sunday 12 pm → 6 pm

Admission always free
13 Jul 18until16 Sep 18

Channa Horwitz

Progressions and Rhythms in Eight

Alvin Balkind and North Galleries

An abstract drawing on graph paper made of many intersecting colourful lines creating a diamond-like pattern on the top and bottom. Around the edge of the paper are handwritten notes and scribbles.

Channa Horwitz, 8th Level Discovered, 1982. Courtesy the Estate of Channa Horwitz

The Contemporary Art Gallery presents the first exhibition in Canada of work by Channa Horwitz (1932 – 2013). Comprising an overview of the artist’s practice, the exhibition includes drawings, artist’s books and archival materials selected from the major bodies of work produced since 1964.

Based in Los Angeles, Horwitz sought to direct her practice through the consideration of limitation and rules as a means to experience greater freedom and depth of exploration within her work. Fundamental to the artist’s thinking is a relationship of numerical sequence, line and systems developed through intensive and exhaustive drawings that characteristically operated within the boundaries of the grid and evolved to be structured on the number eight.

Presented in the North Gallery is a selection of works from Horwitz’ “Language Series.” In a vitrine, a collection of index cards are displayed, involving the various permutations or combinations of eight pictograms composed of squares and rectangles. These pictograms comprise an alphabet of sorts, grouping these images in twos and threes to create repetitive patterns determined by sequential numbering such as 1-2, 1-3, through to 1-8. As Horwitz stated at the time, “… I came to realize that if I wanted to experience freedom, I needed to reduce all of my choices down to the least amount. I chose a circle and a square to represent all shapes, and black and white to represent all colours.” Horwitz never took this further at the time, as was characteristic of moments throughout her career, until 2004 when she returned to produce several versions of her “Language Series” in drawn form and as ever more complex wall and room-scaled installations expanding two dimensions into three and four.

Developed on from this during the late 1960s, Horwitz quickly arrived upon a notation system to track movement and time visually which she termed “Sonakinatography” meaning sound – motion – notation. As seen in Sonakinatography Comp. 2 (1969), number sequences define structures which emerge diagrammatically and into colour with Sonakinatography Comp. 12 (2011, started 1980) and Sonakinatography Comp. 17 (2004, started 1987), through different permutations of a count of eight where eight colours are assigned to eight “entities” and given a corresponding duration of beats, 1 to 8. Through this system, she created a series of unique compositions, conceptually and visually complex graphic forms that progress linearly, which were also open to performative or installation interpretation. Displayed in vitrines alongside these drawings can be seen is photographic documentation of contemporary events such as At the Tone the Time will be (1969) and Poem/Opera, The Divided Person (1978) alongside their more recent choreographic iterations that utilize the drawings as scores for systems of movement, sound, light and gesture organized through correspondingly repeated sequences.

Often made using eight-to-the-inch graph paper for the “Sonakinatography” works, Horwitz subsequently used the number eight consistently, as she expanded and varied her original systems into new sequences and logically derived series’. Each new body of work evolved as a deepening inquiry and outgrowths of the prior series, while often returning to earlier thoughts to deliberate upon their development, resulting in works such as “To the Top,” “Variations and Inversion on a Rhythm,” “Eight,” “Canon Series,” “Moiré,” “Rhythm of Lines,” “Subliminal” and “Design” series, amongst others.

In the Balkind Gallery, To the Top Large to Small #1 (Variation #1) (1980) progresses the compositional structure of “Sonakinatography” from a line that grows into a square, to a point and then back down to a square, moving along the page while each in the sequence of eight play their part. Similarly, Variation and Inversion on a Rhythm 2-4 (1975) is one version from the sequence of this play between line and square. From the same year, the grid of large-scale drawings, Slices Top to Bottom, re-imagines the forms in To the Top as a three dimensional object that can be sliced through like a loaf of bread to reveal fragile cross-sections of the linear points that dictate its form.

The modestly scaled drawing, Color Angle Sequential Progressions (2005 – 2006) provides the key to further works in this room, where eight different angles are each assigned a specific colour, borrowed from the color and number vernacular of “Sonakinatography.” Rhythm of Lines 3-5 (1988) is one of many individual works that explores eight different angles of two different intersecting lines each assigned a specific color for the angle. The variance of intersecting angles determines what is being plotted, resulting in the subtle diversity of moiré patterns and compositions. Sampler (c. 1990) takes this further in diagrammatically describing one set of possible permutations from within the larger body of work.

Also presented is a small selection from the many works that make up the “Canon,” “Moiré" and “Design” series. Individual pieces such as Canon 10, 12345678 45678123 (1983), #1-#8 (circa 1983) and Triangle/Color (1982), expanding on this relationship of numerical sequence, line and system that was core to Horwitz’ practice. Works from these series are densely patterned, luminously colourful, exuding an exuberant playfulness that belies the meticulous control of their conception and making. Collectively they demonstrate a lifetime’s devotion to visually arresting and systematic, elaborate works that reveal the freedom present through supposed constraint and multiple levels of consciousness achieved through methodical and logical patterning.

Curated by Nigel Prince


Horwitz’s work was most recently included in Thinking Machines: Art and Design in the Computer Age, 1959-1989 on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York in 2018 and in 2013 a performance of Poem/Opera, The Divided Person took place on the High Line Park, New York. In 2016, The Museum of Modern Art, New York organized a solo presentation of acquired works, as part of the museum’s ongoing series titled “Inbox.” Horwitz’s work has been the subject of solo exhibitions at Lisson Gallery, New York and Ghebaly Gallery, Los Angeles (2018); Raven Row, London (2016); Kunst-Werke Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin and Air de Paris, Paris (2015); Brandenburgischer Kunstverein, Potsdam (2009); among others. Her work has been included in major group exhibitions at Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna (2016); Itaú Cultural, São Paulo (2015); Museum Tinguely, Basel (2015); Los Angeles County Museum of Art (2015); 2014 Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2014); the 55th Venice Biennale (2013); Kunsthalle Düsseldorf (2013); Hammer Museum of Art, Los Angeles (2012); Kunsthaus Dresden (2012); among others. Her work is included in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Hammer Museum of Art, Los Angeles; Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; among others. Horwitz received an Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1978, and was awarded a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship Grant in 2013, just before her death at the age of eighty.