From Action and Language
Sculptures by Bernd Lohaus
Bernd Lohaus, born in Düsseldorf in 1940, lived and worked in Antwerp from 1966 until his death in 2010. His oeuvre unites the sculptural tradition with contemporary artistic practices, with material action, and with the inclusion of language. From the start of his career, Lohaus was interested in a fundamental exploration of material, especially the used wooden beams he found on the banks of the Schelde River. The beams carried the aura of the sea, of trade and of faraway places. They recalled the movement of water and the agility of ships, but Lohaus avoided obviously referencing this. The sculpture did not remain mere material, but developed directly from the relationships that the sculptor produced out of the material: the relationship of the material to form, which it already possessed and which was altered through minimal intervention; the relationship to action, which influences the form; and finally the relationship to language, which manifests itself through inscriptions on the material, charging it with meaning.
In the early 1960s, after an apprenticeship as a craftsman, Lohaus briefly studied under Joseph Beuys, whose teachings Lohaus summarized with the words What is enclosed spreads out. Traces of Beuys, but also of the Expressionist movement in German art, are found in the tension between the static beams just lying there, and the potential for action that Lohaus seeks to imply with them. He has variously pointed to this – Action is very important to me. I make Action Painting with wood, with sculpture. The artist’s activity is expressed by setting up, leaning against, and in stacking the beams, which remain to be placed, knocked over, borne away, and rearranged in ever new ways. Along with the beams early on were ropes and cords, with which Lohaus hung or wrapped pieces of wood. Measuring, rolling, unrolling, and knotting ropes were activities that gave a visible structure to the material.
Based on this logic, Lohaus’ sculptures are set up so that their parts are not attached to each other, but loosely placed beside and on top of each other. If beams lie beside or on top of each other, if they lean against the wall, if they even stand by themselves, they are always placed, but never fixed. Lohaus distributed components in space without forcing a syntactic order on them, which is why he considered all the more carefully their position, the way the sculpture comes into contact with the space. In so doing, without any firm connection between the components of a sculpture, Lohaus found himself in agreement with Carl Andre. He shared Andre’s admiration of Brancusi, but unlike Andre’s orderings, in which the material presents itself uniformly, Lohaus emphasized the individual character of each beam, thereby gaining sculptural tension.
Once the material had found a form and a site to unfold its meaning, it sometimes also received an additional mark that placed it in yet another realm, namely language. First came the pronouns “ICH” und “DU” (I and you), which Lohaus wrote in chalk on boards and beams; then came prepositions that suggested possible relationships. Later, fragments of sentences followed; letter after letter, they gave articulation to boards leaning against the wall. The statement remained intentionally open, because the words began and were interrupted abruptly without even completing a sentence. Their laconic form evoked the extreme emotionality of Expressionist poetry, which Lohaus appreciated: We stand in life and possess the possibility, the necessity, to leave something behind. A cry, an assertion, an echo – it is the trace of existence.