Katja Loher

Where do Things in Dreams go?

29.01.2016 - 12.03.2016




To be in a bubble may imply existing in blissful seclusion. Bubbles also signify a time/space of prosperity, hope, and dreams. However, it is a truism that bubbles can burst. Despite the candid nature of the question in the title of this exhibition, it is not so with the bubble-worlds of Katja Loher, for they are micro-universes encapsulating prophetic transmissions of latent planetary urgency, existing within, yet surpassing time. They are also microcosms of beauty and wonder, and poetic statements about our relationship with nature: what it is, and also what it could become. 


One is reminded of magical realism, which is no surprise since the Swiss-born artist has an intimate fascination with South American culture. Inspired by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, a notable feature in her oeuvre are questions that, like surprising probes, rise up from the subconscious. Having formulated them with her long-time collaborator, Gian Maria Annovi, words, phrases or questions are expressed in what she calls the “video-alphabet”, i.e. precisely choreographed dancers who form kaleidoscopic visual patterns akin to the precision of synchronized swimmers. Filmed in a bird’s-eye view, the result is a compelling medley of performance, text, image and sound, the last of which the artist has developed in co-operation with audio designer Asako Fujimoto. Whatever scale she employs, Loher’s work creates a disturbingly and inescapably self-reflexive immersive experience for the viewer. 


In the current exhibition the bubbles re-emerge with Loher’s latest footage from the rainforest (What will protect the ants from the gilded sunbeams?, and What’s the color of the air?, 2015). They act as a bridge for her artistic inquiries as she broadens the scope to explore the medium of video-sculpture/installation.


A double-glass bubble Material Universe, 2014, featuring performer Geoff Sobelle, is a humorous yet poignant probe into our relationship with worldly possessions. Here, questions arise in a more subtle manner created in the editing process, or appear in the background like ominous messages on a Ouija board: “How much do you need to feel fear?”


Whilst magic and dreams pervade the artist’s creative meanderings, the viewer is alerted to the endangerment of those dreams. A series of “Pills” veer away from the recurring circle-shape motif, focusing on the threat of extinction of the earth’s major pollinators (and therefore of our food): the bee, the bat, the butterfly and the hummingbird. The movements of dancers communicate the likely mutation of each creature due to artificial reproduction, ultimately resulting in their essential nature being trapped in a pill. Double and single “Portals” are literal gateways into alternative worlds that explore existential notions such as time and friendship by way of the video-alphabet, and introducing cymatics, the study of visible sound based on vibrations that form waves of geometric patterns. 


In more recent works including Why do clouds cry so much when the forest becomes a void? (2015), she employs found, rather than constructed, elements from nature, in this case a hollow Gray Elm tree stump, from which video-infused bubbles appear to bleed out like inflated balls of tree sap, oozing secret prophesies and faerie articulations, reflecting on a time when the material aspects of nature were infused with Mind or Spirit. As in the Pill and Portal series, sound – created in collaboration with audio designer Asako Fujimoto– is an essential addition to the experience. 


In another new work, Why don’t we help soldier ants to protect the universe? (2016), a mysterious black cuboid, a nod perhaps to a monolith, sits low on the ground to give the viewer an overhead perspective. Irregular shapes for the video screens carved from its surface seem to mimic tree-rings, or the rippling pattern of waves in the water when a stone is thrown in. A thin line, an “ant trail”, crawls along the perimeter of the central shapes. This is a more openly interpretive piece, venturing into newer experiments with video-sculpture, yet still alluding to the knowledge of the earth, or of wisdom from deep within the subconscious. This piece was developed in collaboration with architect/artist Andrea Liberni, who also played a crucial role in Katja Loher’s large-scale art-in-architecture projects.


Finally, the single circular projection, Why do the waves never go to sleep? (2015), is entirely de-materialized, depending on the flick of an on/off switch. Because Loher’s intention is based on the element of water, it is, in effect, a pool, an apparition of sorts. It disappears once the projection is turned off, and recalls ancient practices of reading runes in a shallow basin of water to retrieve collective memories.


The work refrains from didacticism, which makes it all the more powerful, and instead merely offers gentle whispers from Mother Nature telling us that she is indeed suffering at the hands of avarice and progress. It sets up a dialogue between themes of ecology and technology, and, rather than repudiate the necessity of advancement, seeks a harmonious resolution between the two.


Particularly with regard to her newer tree works, of which this show offers a small taste, the blending of animism with technology is especially cogent today if we bear in mind the classical assumption that scientific and technological progress are the driving forces behind what Max Weber called the “disenchantment of the world”. Loher strives to enter a new paradigm to subvert this claim by re-enchanting the field of technology using ancient art forms such as dance, like a Druidic techno-pagan, or perhaps, given Loher’s Amazonian proclivities, a techno-shaman. So, where do things in dreams go? With a heightened sense of self-awareness and collective effort, they can stay right here, she says.


Karen Garratt



'Magische Mikrokosmen,' Press text in Handelzeitung, Nr. 9, 3rd March, 2016