ART & SOUL: SWISS VIDEO ARTIST EXPLORES ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES IN 'BEEPLANET' By ALLISON HERSCH
Don’t underestimate Swiss artist Katja Loher’s dreamy, candy-colored videos that explore serious environmental issues.
The collapse of bee colonies, the impact of genetically modified organisms on butterflies and the decline of pollinating species fuel the artist’s recent work. Freeing video from its familiar rectangular, two-dimensional format, Loher strategically projects moving images on massive inflatable orbs, encases them inside hand-blown glass globes and embeds them within panels of scientific data.
In “Beeplanet,” a featured exhibition at the Telfair’s 2015 PULSE Art + Technology Festival, Loher crafts a parallel universe featuring hypnotic, Technicolor performances by costumed dancers simulating bees, birds and other animals. Most of the digital art on display at the Jepson Center is designed to raise awareness about the impact of pesticides, GMOs and other invasive technology on pollinating creatures that help produce food for human consumption.
Loher’s video installations encourage viewers to empathize with and comprehend the key role insects and other creatures play in the larger ecosystem. These digital experiments are also embedded with provocative questions, designed to stimulate deeper thought.
In her “Videoportal” series, the artist asks, “Is nature a good friend of yours?” and “What is autumn paying for with so much yellow money?” The lively barrage of open-ended questions — spelled out with letters comprised of costumed dancers strategically posing their bodies en masse — invites the viewer into a larger dialogue about the ultimate fate of the natural world and our power to change the outcome.
The artist recently spoke with the Savannah Morning News about dancing bees, the magic of nature and freeing video from the tyranny of technology.
Much of your work in “Beeplanet” focuses on the decline of pollinating creatures, from bees and hummingbirds to bats and butterflies. Why is this such an urgent issue?
My creations celebrate the importance of these tiny but monumentally important creatures, which are vanishing at an alarming rate. I want to point out the disastrous situation in which we are placing ourselves. If we have no more bees, we have no more pollination, no more vegetables and fruits.
I explore the vital role that bees play in our food supply and the threats they face from changing environmental conditions. I make a specific reference to Colony Collapse Disorder, the phenomenon that led to the worldwide disappearance of worker honeybees. The existence of the bees has been threatened by industrial food production and its use of pesticides.
What have you learned about bees by working on this particular exhibition?
Bees communicate with another by dancing. “Beeplanet” offers a glimpse into this extraordinary language developed by honeybees to communicate the distance, direction and quality of the discovered flowers.
Bees that have returned from foraging perform a group of movements that closely resembles a figure eight, known as the “waggle-dance.” My work celebrates the bee’s beauty and intricate complexity all the while addressing its vulnerability to current agricultural practices.
Why are you drawn to video as a medium, rather than painting or sculpture?
I incorporate video with sculpture, which allows me to tell stories inside objects, and they become alive. I’m creating self-contained video sculptures, where the video appears inside bubbles, portals, pills or on the surface of spheres. I try to free video from technology, because I see art as a language and technology is only something elementary.
You’ve mentioned that you strive “to create your own realities” in your art. Why is that an important part of your process?
Through my work, I want to stimulate dreams, experimentation, imagination and humor and reveal perspectives that we all too often lack in everyday life.
Collaboration is an important part of the process of my art making and becomes part of the concept. The dancers can form messages in collaborative actions, but only if predicated by a sense of individual awareness and responsibility.
Peering into the glass bubble is like having a conversation with oneself. This intimate experience nevertheless resonates globally, addressing ecological urgencies like the disappearance of the bee population.
I love how your video installations ask questions. Why is it important to you to have that dialogue with your audience? Does it prevent viewers from being too passive?
I’m asking questions to encourage people to think. Inspired by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda’s “Book of Questions,” these conundrums embody a childlike wonder of the world and are intended to challenge our perceptions of things that we take for granted.
Why are you so fascinated by the natural world?
I’m inspired by the beautiful manifestation of shape, color, pattern, rhythm, texture and music of nature. I’m fascinated by the balanced orchestration of flora and fauna. Beauty is omnipresent in my works, as the essence of life-sustaining processes supporting our planet.
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 and the physical universe.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Swiss-born artist Katja Loher takes video out of its conventional context and into innovative wall-mounted video portals, inflatable orbs and hand-blown glass bubbles. Her work has been featured in solo and group exhibitions worldwide, including VOLTA NY in New York City; the MAXXI Museum in Rome, Italy; and Art Digital in Moscow, Russia. Loher’s video installations have been reviewed in Artlog, ArtSlant and Art Daily.
IF YOU GO
What: “Katja Loher: Beeplanet”
Where: Jepson Center, 207 W. York St.
When: Through April 12
Hours: Noon-5 p.m. Monday and Sunday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday
Admission: $20 for a triple-site pass offering one-time entry to the Jepson Center, Telfair Academy and Owens-Thomas House; free admission for Telfair members and children under 5
For more information: 912-790-8800 or www.telfair.org