December 1, 2015
Katja Loher's Interplanetary Orchestration in New York
On November 11, New-York based artist Katja Loher‘s latest production was at the center of an exhibition event named “Interplanetary Orchestration on 11.11,” that took place inside the artist’s studio loft in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The show was hosted by Emerging Collective, an NGO which supports artists working at the intersection of activism and the avant-garde. Fellow artist Arianna Carossa introduced us to Katja, and we were able to attend to her event night and interview her.
Arianna Carossa: The severed tree pieces are among the most impressive artwork on show. Water-like bubbles emerge from the wood to englobe video projections of footage taken in natural environments and superimposed to performers in different insect costumes. How do you conceive these bubbles: like a growth from the tree or like something external to it? It made me think of Lacan’s concept of «excrescence», or growth, where organic matter gets created and grows towards the outside. He uses this concept often when he’s writing about art. So in this case the movement is from the inside to the outside, and not the opposite. Am I right?
Katja Loher: Yes, that’s correct. It is part of the tree. There is anyways an opposition, as in human versus nature, because I use technology and artificial materials like acrylic. But at the same time it’s a symbiosis that’s being built with these tools. The delicate relationship we have with our ecological environment and the imbalance we are creating are some of my biggest concerns. In these most recent productions, I found an organic continuation to that topic. I assigned an element to each of the three trees: air, water and earth, as they nourish and sustain life symbiotically and synergistically. The element fire will follow, and it’s more challenging since it’s a destructive element of the sculpture itself, and it’s going to be translated into a constant deconstruction. When I choose a tree for these sculptures, it is very important that it’s already dead. I’m working on a big project on the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, so I would never cut a tree. It is dead wood, but gets brought back to life by the video. Some of the trees were already hollowed out by nature. They are found objects, that then we cut and modify as little as possible. Maybe we could call it a process of incarnation: dead trees become alive again!
Arianna Carossa: For Hegel, nature is perfect and it allows one to feel the spirit. Art is another way of doing that. In this case, you use dead nature to create the same circle
Katja Loher: The idea came to me while I was in the Amazon last year, and I was working and living with indigenous people. In Peru, they believe every plant has a spirit. I was always wondering, what is the spirit of a plant, what do they mean by that? Then I had the pleasure to meet some of them and that’s when that idea was born. One year later, here they are.
Arianna Carossa: By looking at some of the playful displays that you have here – for instance,Endangered Species, Pollinators – I was asking myself if humor is an important part of your work.
Katja Loher: I’m trying to translate important messages with poetic resonance, humor and playfulness. I’m not trying to make these things look real. For instance, in my videos I make a particular use of the green screen. I am passionate of 1970s sci-fi productions, where they would use the green screen but without trying to achieve perfectly credible special effects. I think that already has a certain irony to it. My choreographies are often amusing, employing patterns and movements that mimic the wiggle of bees for example. The point of observation changes when the bird’s-eye view is alternated with actions of zooming-in on the performers, to the point of capturing the expressions on their faces. But much of my work indeed addresses ecological issues and the future of humanity, dependent on overlooked details such as the plight of bees. The themes I address are complex – the more you look, the more you have to think about. You come to realize it’s very serious: all the bees are dying. The series you mentioned, Endangered Species, Pollinators, is dedicated to the four most important pollinators, that are disappearing due to pesticides, climate change, habitant lost, genetically modified crops, deforestation – leading to an environmental catastrophe. Having performance videos of humans in bee costumes is a way of pushing the viewer to identify with these creatures, that are often forgotten. Moreover, bees communicate through body language, so staging these dances was particularly appropriate. But all these works use a very easy approach – one aspect of which is beauty, and another is trying not to be too serious about it. That relates to my personality, since I had to stop taking things very seriously. There is a lightness in the depth.
Arianna Carossa: As an artist you can be both ironic and serious, you don’t have to be rigid. I discovered, for instance, that my past artwork was much more rigid: I felt I had to be perfect and fulfill all the “requirements”.
Katja Loher: I’m from Switzerland, and I noticed this tendency there, too. For example, there’s a bias against beauty. You can formulate a strong message only if it’s not “beautiful”, and the aesthetics of emptiness are far more appreciated. I adopt a bird’s eye view for each video to simulate the effect of looking through a microscope or a telescope to inspire my audience to find answers from another viewpoint.
Arianna Carossa: Video installations such as Earthplanet and Waterplanet, that you projected onto suspended spheres, cast very interesting shadows.
Katja Loher: The shadows are a very important part of the installation. I project my videos bigger than the spheres themselves for the purpose of creating an eclipse effect on the wall behind, that adds another dimension to the artwork. In general in the installations located upstairs in this exhibition, part of the video footage of the video composition is recorded in the Amazon in Peru, then is combined with choreographies performed on chroma key backgrounds. In this series, each video contains questions that are related to the element they represent. It is in a way a text-based work, realized through performance. We can discover questions like: “How does transparency taste?”, or “How does honey taste like when it’s made by robot-bees?,” and “Can Co2 be eaten by invisible hummingbirds?”. These questions are created in collaboration with Gian Maria Annovi. I incorporate the written word in my “Video-sculptures” by choreographing dancers in a bird’s eye view onto a green screen as they perform my “Video-alphabet.” During the post-production phase, I assemble these dancing letters into a series of poetic questions. Other parts of the backgrounds in the videos are created in my video lab, where I experiment with cymatics, the study of visible sound based on vibration. I’m working more and more with video, traveling to places to record footage. I’m planning trips to paradise nature and I’m starting to choreograph outdoor on site. My next big project is in Miami, where I’ll learn how to use a camera drone, so I can record bird’s-eye views outside in nature. All my work has also a sound layer, especially composed by long-term collaborator and audio designer Asako Fujimoto.
Matilde Soligno: Your video sculpture Time bubble contains a video featuring Philip Glass. How did this collaboration happen?
Katja Loher: I made a series of bubbles containing different video installations, as part of an ongoing concept where I imagine to conserve artifacts from planet Earth – like a DNA to rebuild Earth when it’s gone. I was working on the Time bubble, and the idea was to see time as an artifact. This piece consists of a two-channel video composition, featuring the Master of Time on one side. In the other bubble we discover a group of dancers who imitate the mechanized movements of a clock’s various components, following the composer’s directions like sections of an orchestra. I was producing this piece and I was just looking for the Master of Time when I met Philip Glass. I asked him if he was willing to be the Master for my Time bubble, and he said yes. And that’s how that happened.
Arianna Carossa: In your artwork, you use video projections, a two-dimensional medium. At your exhibition event, you had performers dressed as different animals engaging the audience. How did you decide to go from one to the other?
Katja Loher: I started with live performance as a student, then for some time I took part in many group performances, Video Orchestra: we traveled throughout Europe doing multimedia live performances. The live show aspect is something I find fascinating. Choreography and dance are my tools to create my videos. At my opening, I brought characters in as part of the installation. The idea is that these creatures are visiting us for a moment of time. It’s a way to connect the viewer more directly with the artwork.
Matilde Soligno: What are your next projects?
Katja Loher: I’m working on a few bigger commissions: a museum commission based on a big tree trunk, and an Art on Architecture intervention in Miami, that will inaugurate in May 2016. The Miami installation will be in a passageway of a new building, where we will embed a number of 8ft-diameter video circles into the ceiling. I’m also working at an art architecture project for the new constructed building for the headquarter in Switzerland, that will open in 2 years: for SwissGrid we will work with artists and architects on part of the building’s structure. In December, some of my artwork will be in Miami for Art Basel. I’m also getting ready for my next solo shows: one in December in Bogotà, one in January in Zurich, and one in April in São Paulo. Lastly, a book will be published next year about my last 10 years of career.
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