Katarina Löfström

Jens Asthoff

Visual Landscapes

Katarina Löfström's Video/Sound Works
When abstraction renders representation completely from within itself, then the pictures become concrete. What resulted from modernism along the well-known lines in the tradition of panel painting as a criticism of representation, seems to emerge anew and in a medial translation in Katarina Löfström's videos.(1) Because of their self-referential gestures and certain formal traits, her works have occasionally been compared with non-representational painting,(2) and, indeed, Hang Ten Sunset (2000), Whiteout (2001), and Pan A.M. (2002), for example, obviously play with the codes of such pictorial languages, only to suggestively dislodge them at the same time: flowing, or in a gentle staccato, an abstract, animated stream of images issues forth here, feeding on constantly changing and converging colors and elements of form. Monochromatic circular and rectangular fields shoot up like crocuses from a faintly colored, striped ground, only to be overgrown and replaced by other, similar forms. In the truest sense of the word, these works are moving pictures: video paintings, immaterial, and all the more vivid when, in exhibition situations, Löfström blows them up into a large format with expansive projections. This further intensifies the impression of a hybrid, cinematic-abstract manner of painting. In ethereal colorfulness, the compositions flicker in impressive dimensions across a projection screen, keeping in motion a dreamlike, self-perpetuating panel painting that appears to be in dissolution.
Nevertheless, Löfström's videos do not impose upon the viewer's eye. In their entirety, the variations of form and color burgeoning forth from the pictorial space lead to an impression of timelessness, the feeling of a "suspended Now," and this simultaneity of presence and gently flowing casualness may be the most astonishing aspect of Löfström's works. In the ideal case, work and viewer might be mutually enhanced in the mode of mere presence, perhaps only for moments, but potentially for an unlimited span of time. One can open oneself up to the flow of the images for awhile at one's own discretion, linking up with them from time to time, while the ambience-like loop continues to follow its course anyway, developing its atmosphere in a steady tension.
The works, however, are not exclusively or even primarily visually conceived, but designed as synaesthetic renditions of, in most cases, minimalist electronic music. Löfström here draws upon existing compositions and thus proceeds formally in the customary methods of pop videos. But unlike the latter, the point is not merely to illustrate sound tracks. Löfström fuses both levels into a suggestive whole - music and image mutually organize each other, and "to see any of the videos without hearing the music is like watching a Mondrian being colour blind."(3) Löfström creates an autonomous ‘visual music' that structurally functions in a totally different manner from the pictorial language of the usual MTV clips, although she knows these all too well: Löfström has successfully filmed commercials and collaborated in the production of music videos, for example in Madonna's Ray of Light and Moby's 007 Theme. Her approach is thus also a counter-concept: "My films come very much from a reaction to making commercials. Writing these scripts means you have to tell a story in 30 seconds. (...) For me art has to be some sort of a rest from understanding."(4) Löfström directs her work against the reduction of the image to its utility value, against its dilution to merely visual text that, for example, with music is fully dissolved into immediately decipherable messages. Instead, she interweaves the two elements into something new that becomes a "sole communicator of meaning," autonomous and "disconnected from the written word."(5)
Hang Ten Sunset is the first animated film of this kind and is based on music by Plastikman. The sequence of horizontal stripes of color creates, in reduced form, a visualization of a sunset. Löfström thus deals with a phenomenon of light, which can also be interpreted on a conceptual level as a reflection on the medium. However, then she ironically further ‘denaturalizes' this aspect. The title phrase Hang Ten contains the reference to a well-known label for surfer fashions, whose logo is a similarly reduced sunset. Whiteout, Löfström's second animated film, also examines, on an abstract level, the relationship between light and vision. To music by Terre Thaemlitz, circular forms glide like brightly radiant heavenly bodies across a colorful picture surface - for the artist "an abstraction of what it might look like after staring into the sun."(6) One finds formal similarities also in the work Pan A.M., with a soundtrack by E.A.R., evoking associations of planes taking off and landing.
The more recent High Noon (2003), in contrast, is based on a markedly different pictorial language. Accompanying a sound mix put together for the first time by Löfström herself, one sees grid-like fields of color in blue to gray-green, vacillating along a constant horizontal axis. One could regard this as abstract ‘video painting' and recall concrete artists like Richard Paul Lohse, but one might also simply think of extremely large-pixeled photos of a desert landscape. Is there then ‘something' to see? Or is there merely something to ‘see'? Here, Löfström pushes the difference between the abstract picture and the representation of the real to a final indeterminability.
In State (2004), she takes this interplay with abstraction and mimesis a decisive step further. The appearance is akin to that of High Noon, but here the abstract field of pixels does not suggest any kind of spatial coordinates. Structurally, however, State is non-representational in a manner very different from Löfström's prior works. Here, no fixed work was created, but a generative matrix defined in accordance with which the respective ambient noises (footsteps, conversation, music, etc.) are visually transposed. The creation of images here is based on mutually overlapping, differently colored clusters of pixels that cover the field of depiction with a regular pattern structure. This grid is activated in dependence upon these respective ‘real' sounds, thus producing various colors, formations, and contrasts. The visual result is not a composed loop, but rather is uncontrollable and unforeseeably versatile. In a logically consistent temporalization of her ‘visual music', Löfström thus extinguishes all remnants of a mimetic pictorial content and reaches an independent electronic interpretation of the concrete in art.
Translation: Mitch Cohen
(1) See
(2) „Her video work (...) of interchanging hanging colours and abstract shapes can also be seen in relation to the abstract painting of the 1950s." Liutauras Psibilskis, Living on Video, in: Flash Art, March-April 2003, p.79.
(3) Power Ekroth, Katarina Löfström, 2001
(4) Katarina Löfström in a conversation with the author on Jan. 28, 2004.
(5) Katarina Löfström, in: Statement, 2003, unpublished.
(6) Conversation, ibid.