Humankind and nature don’t make for great bedfellows. Humans are concerned primarily with survival, and, if Maslow was to be believed, attaining abstract things like self-actualisation and a sense of belonging.
Nature is not so complex. Nature bends to no wills, and while it, too, is concerned with creation and destruction on scales hitherto undreamt of, it is undiscerning. It is wild, unpredictable, unnamable. Nature is frightening.
Katja Loher knows this well. But she also knows how beautiful nature can be, and how vulnerable it can get. She grew up with a fey-like existence in a small town near Zurich, surrounded by rivers, mountains, and pristine snow. She spent every moment she could in the outdoors. And when it rained, Loher would retreat to the basement of her parent’s home, where she busied herself with raw materials—woods, leaves, anything she gathered on her woodland expeditions—to create art.
Today, her multi-disciplinary works remain closely entwined with nature. Her first solo show in New York five years ago was replete with various ‘portals’, each of which presented video-sculptures exploring the existential quandary of man’s destructive nature.
“Each piece of mine addresses ecological urgencies, such as the abuse of technology and the future of humanity, while drawing attention to the intrinsic beauty of our planet,” she says.
“I propose questions in my works, I do not offer answers—that task is left to the viewer.”
Loher’s latest collaboration brings her to Asia, where the Chinese concept of the Five Elements provided her with ripe inspiration.
Encounters Across Cultures, a collaboration with the House Collective, premiered at The Opposite House in Beijing in March. Its lofty ceilings and expansive hallways provided Loher with an ample playground to stage her first installation, ‘Where does the Dew Reflect the Newborn Bees?’.
In the exhibition, dancers glide through the Opposite House’s slick, mirrored spaces, echoing the weightless but precise movement of bees. They float, they interact, and they ‘die’. Loher wanted to showcase the central role that they played in the ecosystem; When a bee colony collapses, nature loses a vital link in the chain that would’ve aided in pollination.
Come August, the exhibition will move to The Middle House in Shanghai. Loher has planned another choreographed performance with a video installation projected onto the water. To pay homage to Shanghai’s vibrant fashion scene, the dance will form a pattern which will be printed onto fabric, and will be presented on the opening night.
Loher’s art may sound daunting and inaccessible to some. But she likes having her works in public spaces because that way, without any barriers, anyone can come to appreciate them.
More tellingly, Loher’s exhibitions often come laden with profound philosophical questions. From the whimsical (‘Will the doves nestle on the moon?’), to the acerbic (‘When will the sea swallow the land?’), her works often serve as pointed invitations for all to contemplate the nature-human dyad in all its forms.
By asking questions instead of posing answers, it allows viewers both young and old to engage with her works and to gather their own opinions, she says.
But there’s one thing that Loher, whose New York apartment is replete with ‘plants, art, and magic’, wants people to know: Nature, despite its capriciousness, is something worth treasuring.
“I want to renew people’s appreciation for the splendour of nature,” she says, “And I hope that they will want to preserve its beauty for generations to come.”