BANG BANG! the first New York solo exhibition for Swiss-born artist Katja Loher, is a new and evolving phase of her video universe, or, to use her terminology, “the miniverse”. Included are her large scale ‘video planets’, hand-sized ‘soap bubbles’ and a host of new works. The exhibition title makes me think of a Nancy Sinatra song where she croons: ‘bang bang, my baby shot me down’. Considering the context of her work, it is a poignant echo because it speaks to how our potential can simultaneously contain the seed for our own destruction. Ms. Loher frames these concerns addressing mindless farming methods for profit, the destruction of natural habitats and ecological systems, and the future of our food supplies. With these new works, Ms. Loher expresses the fragmentation of her beloved harmonious cosmos, a bitter deceleration of the “miniverse” she has been creating within her fragile bubble-microcosms.
Ms. Loher is known for her hand blown glass bubbles that give form to her “video-sculptures”, diminutive in size yet complex in character, conveying the sensation of holding an entire world in ones hand. There is an implied sense of duality where something precious can also be controlled and manipulated, or also destroyed. Shot from above on a green screen, the dancers clad in costumes specifically designed for filming from an overhead point of view create patterned formations reminiscent of kaleidoscopes or synchronized swimmers. They spell out “video alphabets” to visually form probing statements and pose questions as if one were composing daisy chains of letters in a field. The choreography is often amusing, employing patterns and movements that mimic the wiggle of bees for example. Along with Ms. Loher’s use of multilayered editing, it renders them quirky, interesting, and hypnotic to watch. The works require complex collaborative efforts between the artist and various contributors, from the costume designer, dancers, choreographer and art fabricators. It is an artistic collective, an interdependent community and symbolic of the subject matter of her work: nature and its self-organizing systems whose essential features are harmony and symbiosis.
Six “portals” explore existential notions of ownership, money, relationships, time, ideology and hope; all with the underlying baseline theme of our (dis)connection to our personal environment and ecology. The video alphabets spell out questions like, ” what do you usually hope for?” Or, “can you think without hope?”, “will you cry when your time is up?” And “who will replace you?”. They seem to represent an internal dialogue with ones subconscious, perhaps suggesting that these are the questions we might ask ourselves but with which we unknowingly struggle. The portals take the form of glass orbs, or “hemispheres”, into which I found myself drawn as if entering a parallel universe. I would have enjoyed seeing them displayed as a collection on a single wall, with the bursts of floral compositions and alphabet questions rhythmically appearing at unexpected intervals over the surface in front of my field of vision.
In a similar fashion , another new work “Material Universe”, projected instead in one of her signature soap bubbles shows performer Geoff Sobelle addressing his relationship with his worldly possessions. There is a sense of dismemberment and self exploration, whilst the ubiquitous video alphabet spells out the question: “How much do you need to feel fear?” This series is part of an ongoing collection of “bubble works” where she has collaborated with artists such as Phillip Glass.
The new ‘endangered species’ series addresses the looming threat of extinction of the earth’s major pollinators: the bee, the butterfly, the bat and the hummingbird. Specifically tinted according to the favorite color preferences of each species, these rectangular acrylic tableaux, serve as “scientific information” panels displaying a handful of tiny projections contained within pill-shaped sculpture forms. They bear “nutrition” information informing us of characteristics of each species and the respective severity of their endangerment levels. This newer format is an interesting formal permutation departing from her idealized snow-globe worlds towards a harsher concrete reality. Its poetry undergoes a jarring sense of fragmentation and disconnection as if the earth’s major pollinators are sequestered from their habitats, as if swimming around in laboratory Petri dishes, their essential nature encapsulated in a pill.
Pattern and symmetry are fundamental to her work, and this comes forward in the new collection with reassuring reiteration. She also introduces cymatics, the study of visible sound based on vibration. Pattern, geometry, symmetry, and mathematics are inherent in all forms of movement and the physicality of essential structures in nature: flora and fauna, microorganisms, wind turbulence, human DNA, the physical universe. If you study it, it’s there, so it’s also a safe assumption that there’s a subconscious connection as well. They are archetypal forms which repeat over and over but are never exhausted. For this reason, this work can do the same without being contrived or self conscious, and is a constant regeneration from an essential core, in this case, an artistic source.
At C24 gallery New York until June 21st
WORDS KAREN GARRATT, PHOTOS COURTESY OF KATJA LOHER