Rome

Christiane Löhr

For a contemporary artist, working with natural materials can represent an approach to our mythic mother, the earth, but also an investigation of structural laws, the search for an order underlying the apparent disorder of nature. To put Christiane Löhr’s work in perspective we need to bring these two aspects into agreement. This German artist works with horsehair, dog fur, plant stems, thistle or ivy seeds, and grasses and, through elemental operations like knotting, braiding, overlapping, and juxtaposition, constructs (on this occasion, small) sculptures that can be arranged on a horizontal surface or hung on the wall—almost always attached with very fine horsehair needles, which are themselves part of the work. Löhr’s symbolic and structural concerns can be seen as united in Piccola torre (Small Tower), Piccola piramide (Small Pyramid), and Piccolo tempio (Small Temple), all from 2004, where ivy seeds (in gorgeous burnished colors) have been skillfully interwoven to construct archetypal architectural forms, evoking an array of cultural and anthropological associations. But a keen interest in the structural order through which these forms can be established is likewise apparent—an order that the artist can design and impose. But she does so only by repeating, mimicking, that transcendent order which Plato’s demiurge, the god of monotheistic religions, or the prime mover of Eastern spirituality must have initially introduced into nature. From this viewpoint, scale doesn’t matter, and these sculptures are not small, for in reality they are meant to occupy a virtual, spiritual, and symbolic realm that transcends quantitative space. The same also holds for Löhr’s other works, such as those in horsehair, where the “threads” are meticulously interwoven, knotted according to specific numerical matrices, and left hanging in space like probing antennae.

Another striking characteristic of these pieces is the coexistence of their distinctive fragility and lightness (the gallery posts a pointed warning not to blow on them) with an impression of structural solidity and formative potency. An observation by Kant in his Critique of Judgment comes to mind: “The self-sufficient beauty of nature reveals to us a technique of nature, which makes it possible to represent it as a system in accordance with laws the principle of which we do not encounter anywhere in our entire faculty of understanding.” Science, Kant seems to say, probably will never get to the first principles of nature, the system of laws fundamental to its marvelous order. But it may be precisely for this reason that art, the aesthetic dimension, can poetically restore that “technique of nature” to give us truth in emotion, in the excitement of the senses, and in spiritual participation. On this level, Löhr is able to move beyond nature to find its internal dynamic and structural workings, and she exhibits them both geometrically and conceptually in the forms she constructs. It is certainly possible to associate Löhr’s work with that of other artists for whom reference to natural materials and their organic laws has been central—Joseph Beuys, Mario Merz, Richard Long, Wolfgang Laib—despite their diversity in conceptual attitudes and working methods. But Löhr has succeeded in finding her own personal strength, a singular character.

Massimo Carboni

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.