Hans-Christian Lotz, Untitled, 2020, steel, 46 7⁄8 × 33 1⁄2".

Hans-Christian Lotz, Untitled, 2020, steel, 46 7⁄8 × 33 1⁄2".

Hans-Christian Lotz

The works: all Untitled, 2020, organized in two groups. The exhibition: likewise untitled. Additional information: nil. Hans-Christian Lotz clearly didn’t much care to communicate with the audience or provide any overarching ideas for context. And the objects on view seemed to insist on the hard facticity of their industrial materials, some nerdily technical, others metallically cold, but all appearing peremptory and forbidding.

The gearhead faction consisted of three pieces in which metal rods, looking a bit like inverted pendulums, are each topped with a single flower. The thin shafts mounted on tracks were individually operated by small electronic control modules like those used, for example, in Segways. Stuttering little movements shifted the teetering rods from left to right and back again. The lonely flowers, installed on the windowsills in the gallery’s spaces on the second floor of an apartment building, had a sort of pathetic cyborg air about them: techno blooms, hubristic in their aspirations but awkwardly jerky in their movements, shuddering in front of closed windows in a wind that wasn’t even real.

The twelve other works in the show were wall-mounted metal panels, all with the same dimensions, corresponding roughly to that of medium-size, portrait-format paintings. Laser-cut into the unfinished industrial steel surfaces were diagrammatic arrangements of abstract graphics, algebraic letters, and line drawings. Some of the enigmatic pictograms were vaguely reminiscent of modified gender symbols, whereas other designs brought to mind circuit layouts or fragments of mathematical formulas. In fact, they were pattern-recognition assignments of the sort employed in IQ tests, although (unless you’ve taken one of those tests yourself) you wouldn’t have known it without asking. Lotz found them online and then either copied them, modified them, or designed his own from scratch.

But what were we supposed to do with this knowledge? Were we expected to start taking these tests? Were we meant to try to “solve” something? Can works of art be “solved”? And if so, what would that prove? And to whom? To the artist? To ourselves? It was hard to shake the creeping suspicion that the exhibition was a kind of trap. In a very real sense, its forbidding rigor and cryptic caginess served to conceal. . . absolutely nothing. The works instead functioned as decoys, triggering the desire to understand something, to figure things out, to reveal something to oneself—and, in so doing, perhaps, to reveal something about oneself.

This constellation, one might think, obviously has implications for the smarty-pants game of interpreting “art” more generally. The metal panels, after all, looked like abstract paintings or, more specifically, like technical-industrial conceits of both abstract painting and its operating principle: the presentation of formal-aesthetic idiosyncrasies, the specific use of materials, and gestures of individual mark-making for the beholder’s consideration. Yet this impression, too, would be part of the trap. In taking such a leap toward abstract painting, we merely perform another kind of pattern recognition and impose readings and interpretations on the works—readings that we ourselves produce, in what is ultimately an act of self-affirmation. On the other hand, letting these vacant works—one is tempted to say, these pictures—stand in their pure and blunt materiality proved impossible. It’s just not what they were made for. On the contrary, they were created to evoke this very feeling of being stalled, of intractability, of being pathetically stuck in our own situatedness, in which—forward, back, forward, back, forward, back, forward, back—we labor to make sense and yet ultimately get nowhere, trying to find a balance, just like those silly pendulums on the windowsills.

Translated from German by Gerrit Jackson.