She works with plant stalks and grasses; airborne seeds from thistles, ivy, dandelions and cattails; and tree blossoms. She finds her materials in the Italian countryside or the city of Cologne, Germany “on the periphery of urban agglomeration” as she rides her bicycle to the studio. Christiane Löhr’s mediums don’t have the vast physical scale of 1960s and 1970s Earthworks or the political expressions of Land Art. Rather through quiet natural plant materials, Löhr (born in 1965 in Wiesbaden) creates delicate sculpture which pulls elements of the landscape indoors. “In gathering the plants, I take them out of the cycle of growth and decay,” she wrote in a recent email message.
“They then take on a state which makes them seem as if they were frozen.” She is neither creating living sculpture resembling topiary nor making work that needs garden upkeep, such as fertilizing and watering. By gathering small pods, seeds, or burrs and drying them, Löhr dissociates the plant from its environment and its life cycle. And while contemporary sculpture and installation art’s increase in scale obligate museums and galleries to build airplane hangar size space to accommodate current work, it is an anomaly to find an artist like Löhr whose works are purposefully diminutive.
Some of her sculptures are best considered in centimeters because of their pocket-size dimensions. Beginning in 2008, her series Little Domes are made of various plant stalks, and assume the color of the plant material: green, brown, yellow. The tiny works measure 9 x 8 x 8 centimeters or 12 x 11 x 11 centimeters. They are secured to a wood platform by putting the stalks into holes made after the artist creates a precise “ground plan” for each sculpture. Typically, Löhr only places the object under a glass box “when I give them away” for protection. The little domes could be a helmet for a mouse or a sanctuary for an insect.
Löhr has also grown her work into large projects. She has also made outsize sculpture with plant materials. Giant Seed Cloud included thousands of thistle seeds secured in a hairnet. Its 10 x 10 x 10 foot expanse floats over the viewer’s head and is an ethereal ode to capturing nature. “The placement of a work in space and in relationship to the viewer is also key,” the artist explained. “As an observer, I perceive an object differently if it is at eye level, or if it hangs over my head,” she said.
Giant Seed Cloud has been on view at the Fattoria di Celle, Gori Collection in Pistoia, Italy in 2004 and Piattaforma Internazionale Arte Contemporanea (PIAC) in Ragusa, Italy in 2006. Two years ago at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, Löhr installed the enormous pillow of seeds on the Museum’s lobby ceiling. The work reappeared this past spring on 57th Street in New York City’s Jason McCoy Gallery. It is a vigorous itinerary for sculpture that seems inherently fragile. The artist, however, has considered the issues: “When I began working with organic materials I wasn’t at all concerned with their fragility, but later I had to think about durability and preservation. I have managed to gain quite a lot of experience in this matter. The form itself doesn’t change after it dries but especially the green color tends to lose its brightness which I can accept,” she stated recently.
Her Dandelion Carpet, 2005, is a white and yellow floor covering created with dandelion seeds that measures around twelve feet in diameter. It is simultaneously an homage to the repetition of form of Minimalism’s floor pieces and a revocation of the asceticism and rigid geometries of that movement. “More so than to Land Art, I feel an affinity to Minimalism,” Löhr wrote. “I have the sense that my work process itself is strict.” Yet her work also draws on modest and ephemeral materials, like those used by the Arte Povera artists of the late 1960s and 1970s including Jannis Kounellis with whom Löhr studied at the Kunstakademie Dusseldorf between 1994 and 1998. “When I was a student, I discovered books on Land Art, Arte Povera, Conceptual Art and Minimalism,” Löhr wrote. “I was totally enthusiastic; these movements really caught my imagination… More important than the organic materials was the idea of using the whole world as a studio, or as a source for ideas.”