Portrait of Bernd Lohaus by Kristien Daem, reproductions of work by Philippe Degobert
Bernd Lohaus is represented by Daniel Marzona, Berlin
Other info on Bernd Lohaus’ work on youtube and vimeo
Texts on Bernd Lohaus
Even though his works may not reveaI this at first glance, Bernd Lohaus was deeply rooted in the German sculptural tradition, centred on the processing of wood and stone. That in itself has less to do with the figurative aspect — which played no role whatsoever for Lohaus — than with the material itself and the expressive gesture derived from it, as evidenced throughout the twentieth century, right up until the 1960s, from the works of the Rhenish animal sculptor Ewald Matoré to the sculptural oeuvre of Joseph Beuys. Both of these artists had a profound influence on Lohaus as a young artist. Mataré, who taught at the Kunstakademie Dusseldorf, impressed with his tangibly expressive and succinctly formulated figures—and so it was to him that the young Lohaus turned in order to present his first wooden carvings from his school days. Lohaus had encountered Beuys during his time as an apprentice in a sculpture workshop, and it was through Beuys that he was successfully recommended as an applicant to the Kunstakademie. Once enrolled, he tried out new approaches that went beyond the scope of traditional sculpture. As Lohaus later said of Beuys’ tuition, “Eingeschlossenes weitet sich aus“ [What is contained expands].
Lohaus had not only learned and internalised the techniques of sculpting wood and stone, but also the art of handling the existing material so carefully as to preserve its essential qualities. Instead of carving and hewing the material, he sought to engage with it, making seemingly minor interventions into the solid matter of the wood or stone with a subtlety that charged it with maximum expressive tension. In the exhibition at the Skulpturenhalle (Neuss, 2019), this approach can be seen in the condensed selection of more or less chronologicaIly ordered work. What is particularly interesting here is not so much the evolutionary progress of this approach — for Lohaus’s oeuvre was already more or Iess developed by 1966 — but rather the decades-long meditation on the very concept of sculpture itself.
Lohaus’ interest in both the act and its inception can be traced back to his early interest in Dada and in the FIuxus happenings that he had witnessed at the Kunstakademie. When he moved to Antwerp in 1965, he found kindred spirits in both Hugo Heyrman and Panamarenko, with whom he organised happenings that correlated closely with his own sculptural aims. Weert, the seminaI work he created this period, consists of three almost 4-metre long beams placed paralleI to one another on the floor. Tapered in girth, these beams expose the massive end-grain of the wood at one end and its fine verticals and interim spaces at the other, which are just as important as the material itself. Lohaus found the beams by the River Schelde. They bore the aura of the sea and of international trade; they recalled the movement of water and the swift manoeuverability of ships. Yet Lohaus chose not to emphasise these traits. Instead, he was more interested in imbuing the raw cut of the expressionless material with a statement of intimacy.
At the port, Lohaus discovered another material that he would go on to use in combination with wooden beams for severaI years. That materiaI was rope, which he ascertained as having a certain natural affinity with the wooden beams he found. He used the rope either to hang up pieces of driftwood or to wrap it around them. The processes of measuring, rolling up and rolling out, were activities that revealed a visible structure within the material itself. In its function as a core element, the rope took on its own autonomous role in its interaction with the wooden loads. Here, the materials are no longer self-sufficient; instead, they lose their supposed stability and enter into contexts that are determined by other forces, but which may also be read as existential connections.
The ropes reveal something about the action involved in handling the material, as already mentioned. Yet this potential for action also lies in the static beam itself, just lying there, as Lohaus himself pointed out: “die Handlung ist sehr wichtig fur mich. Ich mache Action Painting mit Holz, mit der Skulptur.” [Action is very important to me. I do Action Painting with wood, with sculpture.] That action is expressed in raising, propping up and layering the beams, which can then be knocked down, removed, or rearranged. This is why Lohaus’ sculptures ore composed in such a way that the individual component parts are not bound to one another, but loosely configured. Whether the beams are lying side by side, stacked on top of one another, or leaning against a wall, or even standing alone, they are always merely placed there, without being fixed. Lohaus carefully considered their position and the aspect of the sculpture coming into contact with the surrounding space. In suspending beams from the wall by ropes and in leaning planks against the wall, the sculpture become a gesture of touching the wall and ascertaining it. What is more: the works were intended to get in the way of the observer and, by dint of their improvised placement, challenging the observer to take heed of them.
In eschewing any fixed connection between the elements of a sculpture, Lohaus found himself in concurrence with Carl Andre. Both shared an admiration for Brancusi, though in contrast to Andre’s ordered structures in which the material is evenly distributed, Lohaus brought out the individual character of each piece of wood in order to achieve a certain sculptural tension.
That the configuration of parts is not to be understood structurally is immediately discernible in some of the works. The sensitivity at play in combining sculptural elements is visibly evident where the insertion of one beam into another is interpreted as an erotic form of contact. In the sculpture Wille, a beam with a slightly tapered base leans against an upright one in such a way that both seem to be in danger of toppling. When a wedge-shaped beam is pushed under another so that it is lifted up a little, the sheer weight becomes perceptible and, in spite of the heaviness and solidity, it all remains strangely fragile. It is precisely these details of his sculptures that make it clear how Lohaus was also able to paint watercolours of flowers in which the sculptor’s attention to detail couId find equally adequate expression.
A wonderfully clear and potent view of this correlation can be found in the sculpture Liége. It consists of one long and two short beams, pointing in four different directions, while the varied forms of the beams emphasise or mitigate the forces pushing away from the centre, resulting in a complex interplay of movements.
In the 1980s, with ever more invitations to exhibit, Lohaus began turning his attentio to larger-scale works. As in Leuven, these relate to contextual and fundamental forms, bounded by the creation of an empty space between the work and its surroundings.
Towards the end of the 1990s, Lohaus began creating a new group of works comprising structures made of pallets, slatted crates and cardboard boxes. He regarded them as models — “Es sind Architekturmodelle, die in Skulptur ubertragen wurden.” [They are architectural models translated into sculpture.] As with the wooden beams, Lohaus retained the found forms and interpreted them — for example by tipping a crate onto its side in order to get a vertical structure, or by opening or closing the lid of a box — by putting two or three crates or boxes together to create a figure that could be seen to correlate with actual buildings. Lohaus treated the surfaces of the cardboard by adding a coat of wax, thereby fixing them both materiaIly and formally. He went even further in his transformation of materials by having the pallets and some boxes cast in bronze.
Once the material had been given both form and place, it sometimes received a further distinctiveness that shifted it into a different sphere of reference — namely language. At first, this was through the pronouns “ICH” [I] and “DU” [YOU], which Lohaus wrote in chalk on boards and beams. Just as the pieces of wood themselves ore not fixed one to the other, so too does the writing lie delicately and revocably on the surface, threatened with obliteration. A single word is a Setzung, or fundamental positioning, while a second creates a relationship — and this applies particularly to ICH and DU, because these words do not denote a specific object, but instead describe someone who speaks and someone who is spoken to. Where words have no stable meaning, the relationship between them results from the specific situation in which they occur. ICH and DU are written on separate areas of an irregularly shaped wooden block, placed on its edge and threatening to tip over to either side.
In his larger-format works, fragments of sentences are formulated on the beams leaning against the waII. The statement is deliberately left open to interpretation, with the words starting and suddenly stopping before any sentence is concluded. The stone sculptures, one of which stands outside the Skulpturenhalle, are even more laconic. These are not monolithic road signs, erected verticaIly, but rough-hewn blocks strewn by the wayside. The words “TEIL / GELEBT — GELIEBT” [PART / LIVED — LOVED] ore chiselled into the stone, and no matter how these words may be read, by way of them these sculptures are situated not onIy within the visuaI reaIm, but in the realm of language too. They recall the Expressionist poetry that resonated so much with Lohaus: “Wir stehen im Leben und besitzen die Moglichkeit, die Notwendigkeit, etwas zu hinterlassen. Ein Schrei, eine Behauptung, ein Echo — es ist die Spur der Existenz.” [We stand in life and possess the potential, the need, to leave something behind. A cry, an assertion, an echo — the trace of existence.]
Essay by Dieter Schwarz
On the work of Bernd Lohaus by Stephan von Wiese + more
In Bernd Lohaus’s work, material becomes language. The chosen material for his sculptures may be wood, rope, stone and bronze, which the artist modifies only minimally, thereby allowing it to express itself, to speak its own intrinsic, physical language. In many cases, the works are also endowed with linguistic speech: words written ephemerally in chalk or carved into the sculpture elevate them to a semantic sphere. In this way, the material and its language correlate these works closely with time, space and humanity.
From a historic perspective, Lohaus’s works were produced against a background of Fluxus, social sculpture, Arte Povera and material art, occupying their own distinctive place within this historic configuration. Art historians have consistently focused their investigations on the works he made from wood – or more specifically, azobe. Also known as red ironwood, azobe is one of the heaviest and hardest woods from West Africa and is particularly resistant to sea water, which is why it was widely found in port and harbour constructions, including notably those along the River Scheldt. Initially, Lohaus found it easy to source pieces of used azobe wood – boards, blocks and cubes – from wood dealers in Antwerp. He was thus able to amass vast repositories of this material at his storage spaces on the Vlaamse Kaai and in Deurne., Essays on Lohaus also frequently explore the use of written texts in his work. Yet by contrast, relatively little attention has been paid to his use of rope, even though this material played a prominent role in his oeuvre between 1965 and 1970. During this time, the sculptor repeatedly combined wood with woven hemp and sisal ropes, with thinner cords and occasionally with darker lengths of tarred jute. In his early pieces, rope was almost as important as wood in terms of the work’s impact, with the wide, brown lengths glued to the wall to create virtual, “flat” beams.
Ropes are lines given physical form, creating a counterpart to the block of the wood. Here the physical conception of his early work clearly still bears the impression of Martin Heidegger’s ontology, a prevalent influence in aesthetic discourse at that time. This conceptual proximity is evident in Heidegger’s treatise The Origin of the Work of Art, in which the philosopher explores in detail the nature of materiality, as he writes: “That which gives things their constancy and pith […] – coloured, resonant, hard, massive – is the matter in things. In this analysis of the thing as matter (hule), form (morphe) is already coposited.”1 Rope therefore brings another physical language into being in the work alongside wood, and together they determine its form. Bernd Lohaus’s oeuvre includes serpentine coils of rope lying on the floor in a huge, primeval tangle; in other works, rope is wound around pieces of wood or ties them together; open wooden crates also appear to be woven together with rope. Wooden planks hang from or lean against the wall on ropes; sometimes the tangled cords are gathered into surreal forms – into a kind of trunk or proboscis, for example. In terms of their historical origin, ropes also belong to the harbour landscape: we see coiled ropes on the quayside, ready to moor incoming vessels.
Bernd Lohaus both reused old rope – sometimes rope he found drifting in the Scheldt – and also purchased new rope from traders. Rope expresses a flexible power, the power of traction; it binds, connects and secures. These early works by Lohaus – the works with rope, along with the “coudrages”, pieces made from fabric and paper which were then embroidered in colour – were exhibited for the first time at the New Smith Gallery in Brussels in 1967.
Stephan von Wiese