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  • Christian Hain

Back to the Woods: Christiane Löhr at Haus am Waldsee

(Berlin.) Mother Nature is a busy person(-inifaction) taking care of many things, from microscopic life forms regulating the overpopulation of some given species right up to entertaining that same species with her beauties… Maybe it's time to look at the beautiful flowers again, and see more than decay.

Entering Haus am Waldsee - literally "House at the Lake in the Woods" which is exactly what it is; albeit a small lake, particularly when compared to those doubling as public pools only a short walk away -, the unsuspecting, and unprepared, visitor's first thoughts are something along the line, "oh look, it's fragile Bonzai sculptures from - wait: that's actual plants?!" As a child, did you enjoy drying leaves between the pages of a bo- excuse me: between an old tablet and phone, and did you even build chestnut figures? Christiane Löhr certainly did, and the passion has never really left her. An established artist today, she may justifiedly be called an artistic gardener too, in a certain sense pushing the architectural tradition of "French gardens" to the extreme - on a small scale. Walking around wastelands that will soon be converted into building plots, she adds leaves and blossoms to her collection (gotta catch 'em all!), and, not limiting herself to floral treasures, even includes elements of fauna, fur for example, or whatever else might strike her eye as worthy, to later recombine them in new forms (not exactly Frankenstein-like). Her sculptures seem just as delicate and fragile as you'd imagine them, and please, my dear vegans: This is art, not dinner.

"The matter forms itself", Löhr comments, she'd only tidy it up a bit, putting things in order: a demi-demiurg. Flowers will mummify all by themselves even without putting them between - something, while "gravity collaborates": another natural force (albeit an annoying one, always causing stuff to fall, hurting itself or our toes in the effect). Löhr adds, that to her "nature" is "like a museum", but her "curating" intervention should not be underestimated: selecting, extracting, and recombining anew are tasks that demand much more than a "green thumb" alone, not least because "every piece hides a somehow geometrical plan inside" - nothing here happens by accident, or "natural" chaos (unlike in "natural" evolution, according to "natural" science).

The exhibition invests both floors of HaW, but the installation remains sparse, leaving each work enough space to "breathe" (or: to photosynthesize), which is more social distancing than seeds and full-grown flowers usually observe in the wild - there's a massacre going on out there, don't you think, those beings would "act" particularly "nice" to each other and live in perfect harmony - that good soil is limited, and we're talking about life, after all!

Löhr's art is ephemeral, almost Zen-like, her works observe the natural laws of decay and, potentially, even rebirth, should some insect or other decide to make one of them its temporary home. Good to know for the odd collector among our readers: there are exactly no conservation measures taken (poor gallerist… try selling that!). Yet, none of the exhibibits have been created specifically for the occasion and some are dating back as far as 2006, so they will last at least for a while. Just don't blow, or sneeze, while the artist goes on about "meditative moods", her "affinity to the materiel", and "empathy with nature" - pollen spread like a virus, and unlike us, Löhr certainly doesn't suffer from hay fever (this is when we realized, those masks a r e good for something).

The public art space wanted a "sustainable" (terribly fashionable term), and "quiet", show for the relaunch, instead of "starting again with a bang" (but that's how the world ends, isn't it: "Not with a bang but a whimper"?). The walls appear freshly painted, everything is so suspiciously clean here, and on the preview day in late June, some handymen were just finishing their daily duty when the official proceedings began: Like all institutions, they've used the time wisely, long overdue renovation works - and the necessary funds suddenly being available - having helped through those months of lockdown and desperate boredom.

The show, we're told, aims at "the visitor's proper attitude towards nature", and well, first of all, we too are a part of nature, per definitionem, but somehow still keeping up the artificial and artistic distinction between man and nature... We get dandelion clocks behind glass, pebbles arranged like a beehive or scented sachet, toy trees, totems, jewelry (this could be ear hangers!), dead bodies of mud men, or anthills, bee hives: very much alive - associations keep flooding in! You might also think of armadillos, bugs or bacteriae, virusses even?, or plankton, microbes and amoeba, a full beard - or woolbeard, replete with breadcrumbs, … Works carry titles like Mountains or Dandelion Cushion, and when there's fur involved, or some other not so vegan ingredient, the labels will rarely identify the gifting species, with the official explanation, the artist wouldn't want to be too scientific: "it's art". … Uhm: Merian, anybody? If, however, your dog suddenly shows a hitherto unsuspected infuriation with art, this is probably not an evolutionary leap (might be though, not knowing your dog - btw: are dogs even allowed in here? Let's say "guide dogs"), but because of Löhr having brushed her own canine companion before completing an installation. Car seats and sofas will offer an abundance of material for her, and of course: short haired means harder to clean (so much for the converversation of these pieces at least!).

There are exceptions to that rule, for an object resembling a leather apron - the title identifies it as a fleece, brownish not golden: Burr Fleece to be exact - the species is named, as "cat's hair" joins "plant seeds" (thanks for the "plant", but we've rather been sure, that's it's not cat's - nevermind).

Drawings constitute a second angle in the artist's work; ressembling very-skilled-yet-pseudo-childish closeups of flowers, they appear hardly less organic. You imagine to recognize spider's legs, or finger prints, panzer plates on reptiles' backs - but then again, the artist insists, that they are indeed "only abstract lines", "feeling into the space". Subconsciousness, maybe?

For major influences, artist and curator name Richard Serra: replacing steel with organic matter, but also quote arte povera. Where Pennone fisted trees, Löhr employs a more feminine touch (are we still allowed to say this?). For the rest, you're free to associate whomever you like, as always. Pieter Buggenhout? Cy Twombly (in the drawings)? Even a very much lesser known artist like Marie Denis? Chiharu Shiota? - That one column made from horse-hair is definitely Shiota-ish, woven by Löhr like a true parce. She is taking care of her garden, indeed.

Christiane Löhr: Organizing the Wild, 20 June-15 September 2021, Haus am Waldsee, World of Arts Magazine - Contemporary Art Criticism


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