Ephemeral Fields Of Pollen
"The pollen pieces look like yellow paintings,” he said, “but it’s much, much more. It’s not a yellow pigment, which is very important for me. It’s the potential beginning of millions of plants. It’s the semen for the plants. And this I was interested in. It has an appearance, maybe, like a painting, but the sun is not a round ball. It’s much, much more. The sky is not a blue painting. For me, these things were somehow very important. I would have stayed as a doctor, if art was only about this color or that color."
Laib's first pollen piece was created in 1977 and he has made many of these over the last 36 years. It could be said that these have become a mainstay of his artistic program and are now installed in museums all around the world. The artist uses different types of pollen such as dandelion and hazelnut, harvested manually from plants near his home in Hochdorf, Germany. These are collected with even more difficulty and patience required than it takes to actually install them in a museum space which is also considerable.
It is clear from a study of Laib's ascetic art that he is more akin in thought and actions to a Zen monk and the gathering and installation of pollen projects has become a meditative practice for him. It appears that these have become inseparable and enable him to not only demonstrate in a constructed visual manner but also to live out in his practice the cycles found in nature. This is not surprising as he has devoted much time to learning Asian philosophies and languages in which these principles are firmly embedded.
If my tone is edged with a bit of cynicism then it's only because of what i see as the escalating politicization of the art world by large corporations. What is positive about the system though, is the space that can be opened up for dialogue about many kinds of art. In particular an eccentric or peculiar art like that of Wolfgang Laib, a German artist who makes grand statements out of plant "pollen" and wax among other organic materials. Prior to the sixties, i doubt whether there would have been much possibility for an artist like Laib to do what he does in such a public arena. His work could be categorized or linked to the "land" or "environmental" art that we have become reasonably familiar with today through the art of James Turrell, Robert Smithson, Andrew Goldsworthy and Richard Long amongst others.
The fact is, you can't have it both ways! There's no going back; Pandora's box was prised open by Marcel Duchamp and his "urinal," ending art as a "play of visual ideas in the hand crafted" object. We are now in the age of art as, "ideas playing with the idea of art in the machine made," even without an object, unless "software" is an object for you! Ideas are now considered art without the necessity of an object and this has overturned the old handmade paradigm. At the bare minimum, Wolfgang Laib has reconnected the "natural" and represented it as visually "present" natural objects choreographed by hand minus technology. This makes him an original artist/thinker in every sense of the word!!
Laib is opening up new vistas for the technologically down-trodden common man by trying to offer a connection back to the joy and profundity of nature. There are some who appreciate what he's doing but many who look for a few seconds and spontaneously start thinking about somewhere else they need to be. It's just too hard and hey, it doesn't look like Pop art so it mustn't be serious, right? At first glance we could make the mistake of pigeon-holing Laib and his art as eccentric, offbeat or out of touch with what is "trending" now.
This is the problem with the "public" who for the most part won't take the time to learn about something that doesn't provide them with the immediate "thrill" of novelty. The service that Laib renders to all is the opportunity to break the "spell" of the "technological matrix" we increasingly find ourselves in and "see" for a moment "who we are" and "where we are" in relation to the natural environment at this time in history. Maybe people are frightened of what they might see. It's easier to "avoid" than "confront."
"You could think that a meadow or a forest is the opposite of the gallery space here, but I feel this is something very good. The meadow is a natural environment. But when I collect the pollen and bring it into the gallery and make just a square with pollen, it's intensified and abstracted. It’s a very intense experience in a very abstract environment, totally different from the natural environment of the meadow. You will see this pollen in a square field in this artificial light. It is not about a meadow and nature, it’s about the pollen itself."
So, the artists' intention is to reify the life force of plants in concentrated visual form on the floor of museums where urban people are challenged to reconsider "nature" in condensed form. The simple fact that it looks like and acts like a painting is good enough for me. The pollen fields are "constructed" meticulously with "material" and the finished piece is a finely nuanced "composition." Mud as paint, clay as paint, minerals as paint, plants as paint and pollen as paint; seems like a logical extension to me!
Laib says again:
"I was fascinated with what pollen is in itself. Pollen has incredible colours, which you never could paint, but it is not a pigment and its colour is only one quality out of many, like a hand has a colour, or blood is red but it is not a red liquid, and milk is white, but it is not a white liquid. It is the difference between a blue pigment and the sky."
Wolfgang Laib's concerns are all "artists" concerns, only the material and presentation differ.
Laib is an inspiration to me not only for the set of unique ideas he is working with and the physical realization of them but the length of time that he has persisted with them. To keep the faith with one's own convictions and stay the course for almost 40 years and to develop an art practice that embodies repetition, ritual, process and strong adherence to contemplation in the face of art world trends, requires a unique and singular focus.
This kind of singular artistic vision is needed more than ever in a time of social and cultural homogenization when people are becoming increasingly more desensitized and disconnected from the world of real "values" and each other!