SENCE AND SENCIBILITY
- Reflections on the art of Anne Sara Loe - Anne Karin Jortveit
“The state of emergency in which we live is not the exception, but the rule.” Walter Benjamin
A circular shape. Dark, but transparent. Radiant, yet cryptic even so. Shadows, murky spots, and organic lines meandering over a glass surface. At one moment concave, at the next convex. As if the hard, static surface were pulsating right in front of our eyes. And the unifying point of origin for all this: a tiny, almost faded core, both vulnerable and sheltered, deep within the two-dimensional picture. The perfect circle brings forth something recognisable, and remains mysterious. Perhaps we think of it as a microorganism of some kind or other, enlarged to a scale more amenable to the human gaze. But at the same time other associations emerge. All at once we’re on a journey into the body, as if heading to a place behind the eyeball, and no less suddenly we’re on our way out into infinite space, as if it were the indistinct image of a nameless planet we were looking at. We sense the fragility of the thing in front of us. Although it seems there and then to elude articulation, it won’t let go and begins to affect us from within.
This photograph of the retina, held between sheets of Perspex and mounted on a steel plinth, is part of one of Anne Sara Loe’s installations. With the title arkiv2, it was shown at Kunstmuseet KUBE in Ålesund in 2012. This isolated detail from the installation provides a convenient point of access to her art. Not because it is unique among the many fascinating and beautiful photographs and digital images we find in her projects, but because it is a good example to introduce her approach to facts and phenomena, and her way of weaving them into artistic statements of perceptual ambiguity. Anne Sara Loe adopts a broad orientation, finding her raw material among a wide range of disciplines and institutions. She takes from the internet, trawls through books, and consults specialists in a variety of scientific fields. She turns to landscapes and their geographical and topographical formations, and features the organic structures of botany and human and animal anatomy among her materials. These themes form the basis for installations, drawings, photographs and constructed digital images. But while Loe acknowledges nature to be a vital motivation, she does not necessarily present it in its “original state”. In her hands, elements of nature are artistically processed using digital technology. Thus she does not juxtapose nature and technology as opposites, but moderates the distinctions between the categories by interconnecting them.
Loe’s delicate, breathing works are permeated with a force that is raw and melancholy. Even when transformed into artistic statements, her subjects still speak of the world as it really is, if only one peels away its protective outer layers. Some are almost incomprehensibly poignant, such as the skeleton of a tiny animal, others are unsettling and threatening, like the X-ray images of internal human organs.
She chooses carefully, working both intuitively and systematically, her works passing through many phases before they find their final form. Individual elements are cautiously and tentatively combined. This happens on both the micro and the macro level – with a grain of pollen, or an image of the moon. Her juxtapositions become dialogues between the conditions of inner and outer landscapes that we are rarely able to compare. New narratives arise from the surprising and innovative linking of objects, phenomena and ideas. Making the impossible possible is an important aspect of art’s inclusive practice, an objective that Anne Sara Loe pursues in a finely tuned, but consistent manner.
In many of her projects, Loe applies an ornamental and digitally constructed language. She explores and plays with dimensions. The ornament could be a stripe on a wall, or it might develop into a wallpaper for an entire room. Although in the 20th century ornamentation fell into disrepute and came to be viewed as superficial and inessential frippery, for millennia it has served as a symbolic means to contrast life and death. With its regular rhythms and its overlap between the concrete and the abstract, ornament has been a medium through which people can navigate the existential extremes of life. Not infrequently, artists have introduced carefully calculated disruptions to the beauty and symmetry of ornament in order to add to its message and levels of meaning. In its digital geometry, the series Elektroniske forstyrrelser(Electronic Interference) (2015) exudes ornamental balance, but also employs ruptures and rhythmical jolts, as its title so clearly suggests. There is an invitation here to devote time to searching for alternative readings that go beyond first impressions. By such means, Loe aligns herself with a rich and venerable history, thereby helping to rehabilitate ornament as a carrier of significance. For today’s artists ornament is again becoming a relevant device to use, and in developing singular motifs into large ornamental compositions, as in the series Ornamentale konstruksjoner(Ornamental Constructions) (2010) and Wall Papers(2103–14), Loe is simultaneously highlighting the world of patterned textiles, which are themselves indebted to the uses of nature in folk art. Loe tends to build her works from details of illuminated and scanned bodies rather than from abstracted natural forms. In this way she achieves a linkage between visual language and real life. It is as if she were turning life inside out to reveal its many internal variations and nuances through the ornament. Transience is inscribed in finely jointed limbs. Without a doubt, it strikes melancholy chords in us when we discover the links between composition and detail.
Loe’s way of using ornament is reminiscent not just of the Vanitastradition but also of the properties of collage. By disentangling various elements from their original contexts and embedding them in new visual patterns, she produces “tertiary meaning”. But in Loe’s pictorial world the impression is neither contrived nor overly complex. Strangely, the stylised results, as in the many wallpapers, effuse calm and balance. In this sense, her ornaments embrace us, insistently but gently.
Drawing and topography
Anne Sara Loe has a background as an architect. She uses her knowledge and experience of spatial processes and architectural devices, incorporating space as an aspect of her artistic project. She also collaborates with her husband, the architect Helge Aarset, on the drawing projects “Flyktig topografi – geografiske organismer” (Transient Topography – Geographical Organisms) and “Trace”. In these, they draw directly walls, converting bare rooms into visual “books” that merge landscapes, maps and microorganisms into flows of contours, lines and outlines.
Initiating such a project inevitably involves physical and mental investment. The entire drawing process can be viewed as a slow, extended performance. As the lines expand, every movement of the hand and pencil calls for intense focus, as if each tiny displacement amounted to an important choice for the space as a whole. Each finished line encapsulates this performative presence. The people who enter these rooms must feel something of the same, sensing perhaps that the lines have a life of their own, as if they were reaching out and anticipating the movements of the visitors. We are all aware that gallery exhibitions come and go, and in due course these hand-drawn topographies also disappear to make room for other artists. Which makes it comforting to imagine that these meticulous accumulations of lines do not simply succumb to some brutal paintbrush, but vanish from the gallery to extend their existence in new situations.
By means of aesthetics
Anne Sara Loe’s visual skills are strikingly apparent. Her work is imbued with aesthetic awareness. In contemporary art the concept of aesthetics is often associated with critical reflection and relational thinking, but much in art has changed in recent years, in parallel with changes and events in the wider world. Many artists, not least those with an interest in nature and the environment, make conscious use of an aesthetic that makes us more receptive to a sensual experience of the world. Aesthetics is not just in the eye; it relates directly to the body as well. In other words, the processes form a bridge between conceptual reason and body-dependent experience. This allows artists to explore the world in ways that are utterly different and freer than those available to, for example, the academic researcher.
The term “aesthetic experience” is often associated with the American philosopher John Dewey. Dewey believed that art had become part of the art-institutional framework and detached from life in general. For Dewey, aesthetic qualities are not the preserve of art alone, but rather play a part in all of life’s processes, both within and beyond the sphere of art. A work of art becomes meaningful when it prompts active interaction with its viewers. More precisely, when confronted with art that communicates, the viewer becomes a co-creator, because the work is perceived as directly relevant to viewer’s own experience.
Similar to Dewey’s emphasis on the importance of integrating art in life, Loe also strives to establish active and meaningful connections between the art she produces and the reality from which she derives her material. Although the images she takes as her starting point range from biology to astronomy, they never seem arbitrary or motivated by purely formal aesthetic considerations. We perceive them as belonging to an activity rooted in experience, and hence as contributions to interpersonal dialogue. According to Dewey, an aesthetic experience is essentially an interaction with our environment. Loe’s creative work shows how this can find expression as art.
Totality and action
Ever more people have started speaking of the present age as the human era, or the anthropocene, as it has come to be called. It is a fact that humankind now dominates the planet, and that, as a result of our life-styles and consumption, we are profoundly influencing the future prospects of life on Earth. There is a need for change in large-scale planning, and for new attitudes on more local levels; in and between individuals, in everyday life and of course in art. Loe’s voice is significant here. Her aesthetic works reveal an underlying ethical sensitivity. In combining bodies and landscapes, as she does in Forstyrret landskap(Disrupted Landscape) (2014), she reminds us how integrated with nature humanity is, and how vulnerable this relationship has become today.
Such significant linkages are probably most apparent to us in our immediate surroundings. For Referanse(Reference) (2011), a work commissioned for Borgund high school in Ålesund, she collaborated with Britt Sorte in selecting plants from the local area. These were no means rare or exotic specimens, but rather plants which are in a way part of everyday life. By elevating them in her artistic work, she ensures they are seen. Thus she draws attention to something humble that we are likely to take for granted. On the one hand, this can help to establish a lasting sense of ownership of biodiversity on a local level, while on the other hand it can help to nudge attitudes towards a broader ecological perspective.
Loe’s approaches and attitudes to the art process may well put us in mind of the French philosopher Felix Guattari’s expanded ecology concept. For him ecology is concerned not just with external nature, but also with social and mental relationships. It is a matter of recognising that every part of the whole has a role to play. When changes and disruptions occur, on no matter what level of a relationship, they affect and alter the context. Anne Sara Loe’s sensitive and exploratory thematic work shows a similarly respectful attitude to the finely tuned balance of systems consisting of many parts. Many of her projects are seemingly factual and documentary in appearance, but the delicate coolness of her artistic idiom forces us to ask what values matter to us as participants in and contributors to society, culture and nature. The encounter with her art encourages us to reflect on our own experiences and choices.
Today we live amid a bewildering torrent of images, opinions and impressions. Our digital connectedness inundates us with information day and night. We seem unable to escape, as if we were compelled to be eternally logged on. Many of us yearn for pockets of silence, a slower time, and more holistic thoughts. Anne Sara Loe’ art shows the way to such a place.
Anne Karin Jorveit