Portrait of Bernd Lohaus by Kristien Daem
Reproductions of work: Philippe Degobert
Bernd Lohaus is represented by Tommy Simoens, Antwerp
and Daniel Marzona, Berlin
Also works available at Georg Kargl Fine Arts, Vienna
Other info on Bernd Lohaus’ work and youtube:
Texts on Bernd Lohaus:
On the work of Bernd Lohaus
In Bernd Lohaus’s work, material becomes language. The chosen ma- terial 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, oc- cupying 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 iron- wood, 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 Riv- er 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 be- tween 1965 and 1970. During this time, the sculptor repeatedly combined wood with woven hemp and sisal ropes, with thinner cords and occasion- ally 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 philoso- pher explores in detail the nature of materiality, as he writes: “That which gives things their constancy and pith […]—coloured, resonant, hard, mas- sive— is the matter in things. In this analysis of the thing as matter (hule), form (morphe) is already coposited.”1 Rope therefore brings another phys- ical language into being in the work alongside wood, and together they de- termine 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 ap- pear 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 re-used old rope—sometimes rope he found drifting in the Scheldt—and also purchased new rope from traders. Rope express- es a flexible power, the power of traction; it binds, connects and secures. These early works by Lohaus—the works with rope, along with the “cou- drages”, 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