Channa Horwitz laid the foundations of her distinctive formal language at an early stage and retained these artistic principles for more than fifty years until her death in 2013. From the early 1960s onwards, working at the peripheries of an art scene whose fashions left her relatively untouched, Horwitz produced an independent body of work that found expression in cycles of work and notations mostly in the form of drawings that followed the same basic rules and described reality through abstraction. Horwitz set out to create ‘a separate world of visual rhythm’ that would be equally valid in every art form. Her central concern was to grapple with space and time as an indivisible unity, a theme that seems increasingly topical given the growing relevance of the virtual.

This first institutional solo exhibition in Spain brings together Horwitz’ main groups of work and shows how she transposed her systems of signs into other genres such as painting, sculpture, installation and performance. The project focuses on the spatial and performative realisation of three key series: the Language Series (1964/2003–11), Sonakinatography (1968–2011) and her late creative period (after 1980).

The exhibition begins by introducing the basic principles of these series and follows them through increasingly complex and sophisticated elaborations, which are based consistently on the number eight and on a small set of instructions. As notations composed on standard graph paper, or as an abstract language that finds form in the shape of black circles and rectangles on an orange grid, Horwitz plays out potential visual variations on the picture plane, in space and in time.

Language Series and Sonakinatography are particularly significant within Horwitz’s oeuvre. Not only were they amongst her earliest groups of work from which all later works derived, but she also continued to work on and develop these two series intermittently throughout her career. In her advanced years, she encouraged younger artists to produce new musical and choreographic interpretations of her early compositions from the Sonakinatography series. Also in later life she broke new ground developing free combinations within the parameters of the Language Series, transferring pictures from paper onto walls and into space, before finally treating this cycle, too, as a score that could be activated in time.

There is a playful aspect to many of Horwitz’s processes, present seemingly to counterbalance her need for the greatest possible control. She sets herself rules so as to be able to break them whenever necessary. A system is either applied without complete consistency, as in the Language Series, though it nevertheless exists even when its implementation is only sporadic; or a version is repeated so often and with so many iterations, as in some of the Sonakinatography compositions, that its internal variations undercut the system.

Horwitz’s main works in the 1970s were variations of Sonakinatography Composition III, which was adapted for enactment as dance, sound and lyrical performances. Few works, such as Composition # III: Poem Opera for 8 People (1968) concretely sketch the performative situation, but most often, Horwitz leaves both the setup and the medium open for interpretation by her fellow artists.

In the 1980s, Horwitz discovered the aesthetic and graphic potential of new fundamental patterns with higher degrees of complexity. Horwitz began to develop new groups of work in which angles between separate points in the matrix were given a key function for the first time. While the works grouped under the collective title Canon are densely interwoven aggregates of distinct linear patterns, the works in the series Rhythm of Lines (1987/88), Moiré (1983/84), Flag No. 2 (1984) and Noisy (1998) are based on simpler grids.

After the turn of the millennium, Horwitz returned to the Language Series, realising further motifs, both using and expanding on the same schema. She extended the original rules to experiment with the possibilities of colour, including white, orange and black along with the rectangle and circle. She also designed a number of murals and installations but was only able to realise a few of these before her death. At MUSAC, the drawing Mural Proposal for Ovitz (2011) is transposed into large scale for the first time ever.