German artist Christiane Löhr is inspired by her surroundings and uses seemingly fragile materials such as horsehair, seeds, burrs and stalks to create her sculptures and drawings. "The logic of each material leads me to a form," she says.
Löhr has been supported by the Goethe-Institut Gulf Region to bring a selection of her creations to the biennial international art exhibition, Women and Art 2010. Twenty artists from Europe, Asia and the Middle East have come to Sharjah to present their works under the theme "The Environment and The Future". The show was organised by the Sharjah Ladies Club.
Born and brought up in Wiesbaden, a city with lush green spaces and tree-lined boulevards, Löhr's fascination for nature is quite inevitable. She recalls roaming the roadside and pastures with her horse. "My horse was born of a mare which I had won in a raffle," she says.
Löhr graduated from the Staatliche Kunstakademie art academy in Düsseldorf as a disciple of Jannis Kounellis, a master of the first generation of Arte Povera. Similar to Arte Povera and Land Art, Minimalism opened the language in the 1970s. Artists of these movements broadened Löhr's horizons as they approached body and space through "poor" material in new ways.
"Kounellis broke the rigidity of hard objects by combining them with the contrary," Löhr says. "The aspect of friction between hard and soft or lasting and transient presented a precarious sense of physical balance, suggesting the possibility that things could collapse into another state."
As a young girl who had little idea of what it would mean to dedicate her life to art, Löhr was drawn to the freedom posed by Kounellis, who blew away the boundaries of formal art production. "It was highly influential and enlightening," she says.
Aspects of creation
To fully appreciate Löhr's work, it would be prudent to bring into agreement two most interesting aspects of her creations. First of all, it is the artist's sense for consistency of material and sensitivity for form. Löhr observes the perfection of the geometrical shapes, the inner structures and the compositional potential of her natural elements and takes advantage of the resulting logic. With slow and patient handwork, she constructs minimal installations. They are no hidden structural elements or fixatives. It is the inherent properties of her materials that keep the elements together and retain their original form.
In the second place, it is the process of organising space to tempt the viewer to participate holistically. Delicate plant stems are mounted on a white base. Meticulously interwoven horsehair threads are fixed to the wall on small needles. Sometimes they are attached to the ceiling like probing antennae and at other times they are braided in a circle over the floor. The viewer is cautioned about accidentally destroying it with a misstep. There is always an attempt to get a grip on space.
The spatial distribution of her work at different levels of height abridges emptiness and in turn gathers a momentum that makes it similar to Kounellis's art. "Standing in front of my work, sometimes it seems to me that the lines of the horsehair correspond to the nerves or veins of our body, the thistle seeds remind us of the lungs, whereas a different kind of response, perhaps a sensitive and more emotional one, evolves when the sculptures hang over our head or at a low level."
The architectural coherence of Löhr's work encompasses cultural, spiritual and anthropological discourses. In Gebirge, ivy seeds with their star-shaped structure combine to resemble Hindu temples. In another work, the threads of horsehair resemble the veins in the Gothic cathedrals of medieval times. "Architecture functions according to the same laws as that of nature," she says. "There is often a recognisable relationship with botanical structures. The ‘seen' rules of geometry have their roots in the ‘immaterial', or in something that allows belief to take on material form in cathedrals and temples."
Is this because architects tend to work with spatial theories without considering the aesthetics that go with them? "The similarities develop rather unintentionally," Löhr says. "I worked with ivy seeds in Paris and then travelled to India to decode the relationship with Hindu architecture. The fact that my horse-net sculptures spread outwards from the centre is something that I later noticed in oriental decorations."
Löhr concedes that though she personally criticises the behaviour of human beings towards nature, her support is lukewarm when it comes to express it through her work. She says: "It is important to be attentive towards our surrounding but not with an intention to make it a politically correct work. The similarities and dissimilarities that exist between abstract formulas, philosophical ideas, shapes and attitudes give me the possibility to explore the idea of the play between contrasting or intimate metaphors, thus creating a counterpoint.
"For example, the atomic physics and Hinduism have similar elements: The electron, the proton and the neutron correspond to the trinity of Shiva, the destroyer, Brahma, the preserver and Vishnu, the renovator. A level of ‘truth' exists, which touches the material and the immaterial worlds (religion and science). It is difficult to articulate. It always sounds banal."
The challenge of space
At the Sharjah Art Museum, Löhr says the challenge is of exhibiting in a space that lacked any special character. "My tiny works have to organise the emptiness by developing points of concentration that gave a vivid effect on the white walls to invite the spectators," she says.
There is something subtle which goes beyond the materialistic reality and meaningfully connects with the artwork to create an "impact". More than a disturbingly provocative feeling, what evolves between the object and its viewer is an eternal, mutual interaction or concession. The artist wants us to witness the elusive web or rule that "holds the world together". "We all are made up of that same formula and with that same mathematics," Löhr says.
Layla Haroon is a freelance writer based in Abu Dhabi.