Katja Loher, a Swiss-born, New York-based artist, invites us to a kaleidoscopic, existential world composed of hybrid ecosystems. Loher’s exhibition Beeplanet at Telfair Museums’ Jepson Center for the Arts situates us in an ambiguous world of outward observation and inner reflection. It opens up a space of contemplation, gives us a glimpse of various ecosystems and allows us to confront philosophical questions about our interaction as humans with our environment.
Beeplanet exhibits seven video-sculpture portals, four acrylic tableaux, and two installations. The portals (mounted in acrylic panels) are made of hand blown glass spheres and contain videos of costumed performers dancing like bees and birds in a synchronized swimming-like pattern. The first three portals look very fragile, and hold various protuberances that when looking through them, distort the images in the videos.
The next four portals (hung in the back of the gallery) present a quartet of philosophical questions. These questions seem to be divided by theme: economical, life and death, nature, and human interaction. The artist interrogates the viewer with question such as “What are you saving for?”, “Are you afraid of the poor?”, “Will you cry when your time is up?”, “When is the best time to depart?”, and “Is nature a good friend of yours?” displayed through costumed, synchronized dancers creating cartoon-like video-alphabets.
On the right wall we find Endangered Species, four tableaux that address different endangered species like bees, bats, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Each tableau has a different color but all of them play a video–just like the portals–of dancers dressed like the animal in question. Besides the video, on the upper right corner of each panel, there are capsules or tablet-shaped containers that resemble Petri dishes. These give the feeling that an experiment is being performed with the species. At the bottom half of the panel are specific topics such as: population, environment, and extinction statistics.
Amongst the two installations is a piece called The Last Supper? It is a white, acrylic table for two. On the table are two “plates” which are actually videos of food that we currently eat, and food from the future. In the plates showing fruits and vegetables that we currently eat, we also see the pollinators that create the food. In the plate from the future we only see plastic packages that resemble astronauts food. However poignant the theme of the installation is, its physical presence is not very strong. The chairs are distracting and the installation does not highlight in any way the space, or its connection to the themes of the exhibition.
The biggest presence in the exhibit is the installation that hangs from the ceiling: five large spheres that look like planets. Each inflated, apparently light-weight balloon also plays a video loop in the same tone of the portals. However, the theme seems to change from philosophical questions about humans and their interaction with nature, to a more visually poetic topic of life and death. The videos on these planets actually show a more direct approach to the cycles of light and darkness. There seems to be a solar phase, where the colors are bright, and the human-animal performers wiggle like bees or fly like birds. Then there’s a lunar phase in which the spheres become gray, the gallery grows dim, and the images are more nostalgic. Impressive and omnipresent in the gallery space, the planets portray a timeline of construction and destruction of our environment.
Through her performers and installations, Loher presents an ode to the environment, and addresses how human interaction is negatively affecting it. Though the prognosis may be negative, she does depicts these topics by showing beautiful videos, while reaching us as viewers, and forcing us to observe as outsiders. She reinforces her message through instrumental music that becomes almost meditative. The whole exhibition is an interactive experience in emotional and scientific duality. Viewers will end up moved by Loher’s facts and poetry, asking “Is nature a good friend of yours?”