Katja Loher has a new exhibition, What is the color of Scent? at the C24 Gallery in Chelsea, going on from September 6th to October 27th, 2018. Like the transcendent synesthesia implied in the exhibition’s title, Loher has ambitions for her viewer to take new insights and perspectives based on the ecological crisis. The viewer of the works will walk away empowered and inspired.
In the days that followed seeing the new Katja Loher show I had a dream. In the dream a friend and I had a cart with a hose and we dutifully sprayed a weird green algae everywhere. When I asked my friend what it was, he explained he wanted to protect everything and he wanted everything to grow. I realize now the metaphor from the algae is love, one of the elements in Loher’s exhibition. I had dreamed the symbol in my memory from working on an organic farm for a few months in 2015, where we used a similar contraption to spray fish emulsifier. Farming takes engineering, botany, and designs, but after that it’s faith and love. Love has to do with letting go of control, and so very often there are odd tics and charms about one’s beloved, stuff that seems abnormal or off-putting to an outsider. In my dream it was that neon green algae.
Like that green algae, conceptual art famously challenges its viewers to see the deliberations and intentions of its pieces. So, Marcel Duchamp’s works re-contextualize everyday objects, such as a snow shovel, in order to interrogate the viewer’s perceptions of art. French Marxist movement the Situationist International used Conceptual Art as a way to thwart capitalist programming, which has present-day lineage with graffiti artwork by Banksy. Katja Loher’s works have intense deliberations and decision-processes, and are always intricate and beautiful. The concepts (re-contextualizing) are how the audience will take these messages in their own lives – about ecology and wonder at the world. In line with this, the conflict is about covenant and inspiration. Katja Loher has extreme connotations of large scale agreements with engineering collaborators who have to manifest the schematics and the ideals; and to her audience who must work to understand the significance of her works in their own lives; and to Nature itself needing care and consideration.
Take for example Katja Loher’s “Earth” area from this exhibit. Here, Loher has built LCD screens, with choreographed dancing in them, within glass bubbles that look like pollen. Katja Loher is going for big game here, and the reason she formed her works in the shape of pollen is symbolic of the destruction of the habitats for flowers and bumble bees. Ambient music plays out of the sculptures.
In the exhibition’s entrance dedicated to love, Loher made “nests,” of twigs and straws to look like bird’s nests, and the artist made glass shapes with light displays in the middle. The results are uncanny, such that they look like authentic cyborgs one might find in nature. In these nests, Katja Loher makes the decision of calling love one of the fundamental elements – the others in the gallery include fire, earth, and water. The work in this section reminds one of Bruce Conner’s “May the heart of the Tin Man always be with you,” which itself is a mixed-media work. Conner’s work also had an eerie feeling, with the basic point that the United States is good at making robots and technology, but what is missing is the heart, which is the patience and dedication.
Loher’s works take time, skill, and patience. They also take a dreamer with a lockstep iron vision to put them together. Any given piece at this exhibition took choreography of dancers; assembly and fabrication of the screens, installations, and mounts; glassblowing of intricate and boundary-pushing designs; ambient music; and colored lights. These feats come after an artistic vision. This concept-before-materialization can be likened to the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. The great philosopher’s insight was a person’s reality has conceptual filters on it. Nevertheless, the most empowering and inspirational idea in Kant is one might be able to make her own concepts and then create these works of imagination in physical life.
Saint Augustine, in On Free Choice of the Will, said if you do not believe, you will not understand. Perhaps an analogy can be made to improv comedy. The egregious error in improv is to shut down the scene, because awkward silences can be milked for laughs, or dead ends can be used as premises for a later joke. In addition to her work fabricating the mixed media sculptures, Katja Loher’s vision makes her a truly powerful artist of courage and strength. This artist physically works to see firsthand the devastation of land from pollution and climate change. This makes the art works political, and turns the symbols of the works into hypnotizing charms and mantras. In a way, just like her Earth section, Katja Loher seeks to turn her viewers into bumble bees, with her artwork as conceptual pollen, and the final outcome of honey -- as awareness and true change of behaviors. Loher’s works are a benediction, and a kiss on the viewer. Like the best teachers, she knows any fear or violence isn’t going to motivate anyone toward meaningful change. The bizarre truth of 2018 is how little knowledge of the current perspectives connect, and art can help bridge the space between knowledge and action with unique inspiration. Walking around in blistering heat in the winter, hearing about hurricanes and forest fires – these are harrowing catastrophes. What these disasters require is new, day-to-day commitments for substantive change. Katja Loher delivers. After experiencing her works, it’s up to the audience to take meaningful actions.