New York

Thomas Locher

Tanja Grunert Gallery

Conventions of communication have long been the subject of Thomas Locher’s art. His methodology is rooted in interrogation and analysis, and his impulse is to deconstruct language, treating it as concrete, pliable material. The patterns that emerge in his work demonstrate the processes by which abstract ideas—logic, order, rational proportion, progression—take on visible form. In the past, he has silk-screened or carved words on the kinds of objects that we physically inhabit—cabinets, tables and chairs, beds, architectural environments. It is axiomatic that in art no object is neutral; when we see a piece of furniture in an artwork, mentally we “perform” or complete the idea by imagining ourselves occupying or using it, which probably happens at a precognitive level. At the point of that conceptual occupation, we gain access to the considerable social, psychological, and subjective dimensions of Locher’s art.

For Locher, language is a showcase for human relations. In his latest body of work, “Politics of Communication” (all works 2000), wall-mounted tableaux emulate, indeed function as, sleek, perfectly produced bulletin boards. Magnetic foil strips, some silk-screened with text, some with imagery, are carefully arranged on large, buff-colored, powder-coated sheets of steel. The grainy black-and-white images, reproduced from design magazines, feature various groupings of modernist office furniture, a passing reference, perhaps, to his earlier use of actual chairs, beds, and tables. But there’s nothing remotely domestic about the world to which these office modules belong: It’s all strictly business. The magnetic strips of text and image, although laid down in carefully ordered sequences, remain movable, which suggests the possibility of endless variation. And yet to alter the established order of the printed plaques presumably would be to change the content of the work and, potentially, to exchange sense for nonsense.

Today “language in art” converts readily to narrative. With narrative comes voice; with voice comes articulation of personal space; and with the suggestion of a subjective situation, there’s often reference to some sort of body—in the case of Locher’s pictures of seating units, workstations, conference areas, and multi-use institutional spaces, the body is detected as a palpable absence, a mere symptom of the corporate and class-based power structures embedded in the design and function of the furniture. Amplifying the idea of a ghost body is our own imagined act of reaching out, touching, and manipulating the work, tampering with its prescribed order, changing the frequency.

The texts in these works speak the language of messages and codes, senders and receivers, and the objectives that bind these together. Across Locher’s work unfolds a description of a cultural communication continuum that easily serves as a model of the complexities of dot-com life. Begin with the basics: “How do we know that a message is a message?” (Politics of Communication/Large Series III). Move to the most abstract propositions: “The receiver knows all possible messages” (Politics of Communication/Large Series IV). As you pick and choose from the almost one hundred statements on the ins and outs of your roles as receiver and sender, you inadvertently define a composite self. And noting the precise arrangement of text and image, the balanced geometry of the compositions—the art’s visual distinction, so to speak—you realize how superfluous the idea of prescribed order actually is here.

Jan Avgikos