Abstract street video takes off on plight of bees

Czech Position

Swiss video artist Katja Loher displays her work in storefront window to challenge passersby to contemplate global, environmental issues

Swiss video artist Katja Loher usually examines the human condition in a globalized world by projecting her videos onto large globes she calls “videoplanets” and onto smaller objects she calls “miniverses,” giving viewers an opportunity to contemplate the changing face of the environment.

“The most important thing I can do as an artist is to ask questions,” she told Czech Position. “Our actions … [are] destroying nature,” she said, referring to global warming.

Her new site-specific project, called “Why Did the Bees Leave?” at the Prague 7 exhibition space Vernon Projekt is a bit different. “Most of my work is round, 3D shapes, so here I wanted to transform this space into portals, to dive into the video worlds,” she said.

Vernon Projekt opened in 2006 in a tiny former shop that organizers use to showcase progressive artists interested in doing site specific projects. The gallery likes to allow the artist a chance to experiment — and, hopefully, to present new artistic trends. Vernon Projekt is an offshoot of Vernon Gallery. The group also puts on the annual Tina B festival of contemporary art.

“We have worked with Katja for a long time as one of the artists that we represent; she participated in group exhibits at Tina B in 2009 and 2010, but we wanted to do a solo exhibition with her in Prague,” Vernon PR manager Markéta Faustová told Czech Position. “We knew Katja would do something interesting and new for the space.”

Portals of discovery

Passersby might not realize that the venue’s street-side windows host an art exhibition. The eye-catching colors of Loher’s work first draw attention. If this is enough to make someone stop, then the viewer can see some movement in the dozen or so circles that have been cut into blue and green backgrounds to present either videos or still photos.

Loher says she thought carefully about how to adapt her work for this space. “Since this is a corner and a window, for me it was clear that the outside view is the most important,” she said. “I decided to focus on the outside space, using portals to discover something. I used to work with portals years ago, and it’s an interesting experience to bring it back.”

Most of her current work is based on movement. She works with a Japanese choreographer to create compositions using six dancers. In post-production, Loher layers the videos to get the effect she is looking for.

“It’s important to have live, real people, but they have to be assembled, like clones, for example — a pile of bodies that form an island,” she says.

The typical rectangular video screen was a hindrance for her. After first doing video installations, she moved on to what she calls her video sculptures. “I am fascinated by the fusion of art mediums: video, costumes, literature, choreography, etc.,” she said.

The video medium captured Loher’s imagination when she was an art student in Basel, Switzerland; before attending the art academy, she was more focused on photography. “Once I touched a video camera, I was unable to take photos; I only wanted movement,” she says.

Nature + humans

Loher’s work always goes back to the question of nature and the effects human beings have on the planet. Her evolution to this style began with questions and text, and then moved into more abstract choreography. She uses her dancers as human alphabets as well as what she calls “sci-fi” workers — people who have had to replace nature in tasks such as pollinating flowers because all the bees have left.

“I like to start with a bird’s eye view, and then the camera zooms in and shows the emotion and feelings of the people,” she said. “It starts close-up, then becomes an abstract pattern when human bodies disappear in a mass — like workers who have to build an island because the water levels are rising.” Colors play a big role in Loher’s videos; for example, the blue videos represent water while the green ones represent plants.

Vernon Gallery owner Monika Burian says she believes artists who are chosen to work with the Vernon Projekt have a special challenge ahead of them. “I always say artists have to pull up their trousers with this space because if it doesn’t work, it is the fault of the artist, not the space.” she told Czech Position. “The work must fit a public space and especially here be able to communicate with normal people — moms and kids, dog walkers.”

Burian adds that she hopes Vernon Projekt will educate people about art, without “forcing” them. The free, 24-hour a day concept is handy for art lovers who just can’t seem to find the time to go to a museum.

Faustová, Vernon’s PR manager, is also pleased with the results of Loher’s work. “[The exhibition] really fits with her concept. She often uses circles and other round shapes; however, these aren’t objects but flat, so [it is] something new for her. It looks very alive,” she said. “The first view you get is the feeling it is just small paintings, but then some start to move and, in fact, it’s fascinating.”

The circles offer a focused look into Loher’s video worlds, almost like you are examining something under a microscope. The reaction will be varied – everyone sees something different. “My idea is to give a physical body to the video medium,” Loher said. “I’m always trying to make art alive and able to be experienced.”