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‘State Your Position’: Dennis Loesch at saasfee*pavillon, Frankfurt

August 29 to October 10, 2020

Sign o’ the times: a review by Geoff Hands

©Copyright Patrick Morrissey and Clive Hancock  All rights reserved.

The initial working title for this essay was ‘Meditation on a Cross’. The religious connotation was tongue-in-cheek (flippant rather than facetious), but I first thought of the cross in general terms. On a mundane level, a mark in the sand that a child might make with their foot, or a stick, came to mind. Getting deeper, the beginning of written languages, such as the scratched sign on a rock, will forever fascinate. As if saying “I was here”, the prehistoric hunters in Upper Paleolithic Europe, 20,000 or more years ago, might have been continuing to develop one of the earliest forms of code that led to what we now call visual culture.

Switching to the times we live in, from a political perspective, I also considered the ballot-box cross. The simple mark that anyone can make (as it derives from a not-so-distant age of widespread illiteracy) personifies the democratic process in action, although we know that a majority of votes cannot guarantee victory, and that you need more than one candidate or party to vote for if the X is to be meaningful.

In a refreshingly modern and contemporary environment provided by the saasfee*pavillon space, this body of new works from Dennis Loesch will surely feel at home. As an important part of its remit, the saasfee* organisation provides an experimental platform for music and the visual arts as an interdisciplinary meeting place. When I heard that Loesch’s new body of work was to be staged there it felt appropriate, not only because this is his home city and he studied at the Städelschule Academy of fine arts, but also because of his personal interest in avant-garde and cross-cultural musical genres.

It’s a late Friday afternoon in early August, and Dennis Loesch and I exchange comments on WhatsApp about his forthcoming installation at the saasfee*pavillon. I had not seen him in person since we met with friends at the tayer + elementary ‘Evil Companionship’ event in London in February, which launched his limited-edition sweaters featuring upmarket fashion label names printed boldly on the garments. Little did any of us know, as we sipped the most amazing cocktails throughout the evening, that the Spring/Summer 2020 London Fashion Week would be one of the last major events of cultural indulgence and celebration for many months to come.

I asked what would be in the show – “…all unique. 3 huge ones, 4 a bit smaller, 10 small ones… leaning, floor and hanging”, he replied. “X Cellant”, I respond, trying be clever with the X from the English word ‘excellent’ (ausgezeichnet in his native German). I don’t know if he got my reference to Germano Celant and Arte Povera; it would have helped if I had spelled the Italian art critic’s name correctly. Not that the use of ‘poor materials’ are especially featured in Loesch’s work, but there is something of the everyday in his choice of subject matter (including digital artefacts such as memory sticks and SD cards). As a contemporary artist with an attraction to bright, vivid colour and graphical, geometric visual forms with Photoshop-quality gradations of colour, or flat but painterly surfaces, Loesch embraces the digital realm, its appearances and production techniques, with great enthusiasm and ongoing engagement. Even in reproduction, the form, surface quality and colouration is attractive – even sexy.

One of the larger ‘State Your Position’ (SYP) forms (measuring 210x135x4cm) has fascinated me for several weeks. Not just as a visual artefact, but for the title too. Is this a question, or an instruction? It could be a phrase requesting a point of view (as in a debate or an academic essay) or it could be seeking a geographic location for safety reasons (such as to an airline pilot or the captain of a vessel at sea). The titles of artworks typically pertain exclusively to the subject matter, as in a portrait or landscape work, but SYP purposely acknowledges the viewer, who thereby becomes a more activated, self-reflective participant.

‘State Your Position’ presents seventeen ‘X’ forms in a configuration that will undoubtedly engage the audience both visually and physically as they negotiate the gallery space. Although for safety reasons none of the artworks can, after all, be positioned to lean against the walls, using the floor as well as the wall space actively undermines the pictorial notions that generally command wall-hung works. A degree of minimalist objecthood (referencing Michael Fried in 1967) will possibly prevail, although the indicative subjecthood (referencing Isabelle Graw in 2011) of such an open-ended and multiple-meaning sign as an X is surely present, compliments of the viewer.

When I first saw Loesch’s work in ‘Merge Visible’ at PM-AM gallery in London in 2015 I was immediately attracted to his use of colour in relation to apparently abstract paintings and so paid inadequate attention to an enlarged Memory Stick sculpture that was propped against a wall. This more overtly 3D manifestation of Loesch’s work might designate him as a sculptor, although this designation is irrelevant. The Memory Sticks have been embellished either with analogue-implying black and white photographic reproductions or with colour striations that bring the minimalist stripes of Bridget Riley into the 21st century. But I suspect that Loesch’s material aesthetic has more in common with the French conceptual artist Daniel Buren, whose works typically intervene in public spaces and make use of construction materials beyond paint on canvas or paper. Certainly any distinction between notions of ‘high art’ (including commercial design) and ‘everyday life’ are challenged by Loesch’s expertly engineered and crafted digital-embracing, post-modern idiom.

Despite being so skilfully manufactured with the aid of computer numerical control (aka CNC) to control the movement of the cutter, and highly skilled technician assistance in their completion, these ‘one-off’ Xs are unique. As objects that have been produced to Loesch’s specifications, each reproduces a digitally-handwritten gesture made with the computer mouse – a fascinating juxtaposition of technologies. Another paradox is that while their imagery suggests two-dimensional delineation, these works are also moveable three-dimensional forms that could as easily be defined as sculptures, albeit in the unmonumental camp. But any Dada-istic tendency is subverted by rather wonderful colours and subtle textures across the front and sides of the forms. They are eye-pleasingly pleasant with a decorative energy that induces enjoyment.

As for the actual body of all of the artworks functioning in the saasfee*pavillon space, the viewers might find themselves in a thicket of Xs purposefully displayed. After all, X marks the spot. It’s a special place, a point of arrival - it’s where the pirate’s treasure is buried. But an X, as a graphical or calligraphic gesture, might suggest dismissal or rejection. Whatever the reaction, the circumstances will make the artwork, by which I mean the aura of the works, as well as any individual’s mood or predilection for contemporary art.

Alternatively, Loesch might be playing with his audience, commandeering an innate sense of humour that embraces irony. The X form, with all of its semiotic potential, can mean anything between the poles of seriousness and triviality, sign and symbol. Just how meaningful can a strong graphical and visual statement be? Placed in a gallery/fine art context, do we assume profundity in whatever ‘message’ might be invoked by such a simple form? Three of these SYP forms are almost larger than life size – wider than stretching one’s arms wide, but about the dimensions of a grave (a sombre distraction I cannot explain). Or is the artist undermining the hypothetical sophistication of an audience that is attracted to contemporary art with a token of innocent banality? Alternatively, art can be fun, like fashion clothing; at once visually entertaining and pleasingly simple, reminding us to accept that, since Duchamp, fixed formulas and old-world hierarchies are now disempowered in art. This leads me to wonder whether Loesch’s Xs in SYP are paradoxical Readymades – virtual digitally-derived realities, returned to substance. Irony of ironies.

All of the SYP series are reproductions, but at the same time they are original pieces. Each may also be a referent, a sign or reproduction of itself: a simulacrum. An original facsimile, constituting a paradoxical state. Like language itself (any form of language - numerical, written, visual or oral), giving meaning to a relationship between ‘things’ and ‘ideas’.

Unless the artist makes an honest statement of intent (and let’s hope he does not, for the sake of the viewer’s imagination) it appears that a speculative environment is made manifest by this assembly of Xs in the saasfee*pavillon space. After all, despite the high-quality aesthetics and design profile of these forms, visitors will be encountering ‘art’ forms, not artefacts or a scattered stockpile of road signs from the Frankfurt City Council. (Although it is intriguing that the F.C.C. has an ongoing and enlightened policy to introduce ‘urban furniture’ that is ‘sturdy and appealing’ to create ‘inviting streetscapes’, recognising the importance of design for a healthy society that embraces ‘different social strata’).

Returning to the notion of audience, the context of the gallery/cultural space might shift the balance of interpretation, from sign to symbol, in the SYP collection/series. In Jung’s final piece of writing, aimed at a general readership: Approaching the Unconscious - The Importance of Dreams (from Man and his Symbols) he explained that signs:

“… are meaningless in themselves, they have acquired a recognizable meaning through common usage or deliberate intent. Such things are not symbols.”

And that:

“What we call a symbol is a term, a name, or even a picture that may be familiar in daily life, yet that possesses specific connotations in addition to its conventional and obvious meaning... Thus a word or an image is symbolic when it implies something more than its obvious and immediate meaning. It has a wider ‘unconscious’ aspect that is never precisely defined or fully explained.”

Loesch’s SYP Xs might be playing with this definition. Can a sign, or an object, lack conceptual agency at a deeper level? Is nothing innocent or pure when considered by an audience? Can the limitations of the sign be transformed into symbolic agency, even more than the artist intends, by the audience? Arguably, whatever the artist’s intentions, the artwork (any artwork) becomes the viewer’s (singular) conception. Something as simple, apparently undemanding or even as gross as an X, is a magical sign that holds a potential for symbolism for the viewer.

I am aware that with the restrictions of the current pandemic, many visits will by necessity be virtual. If you, the viewer/reader, are experiencing ‘State Your Position’ via the internet, in what way are you at a disadvantage to the visitor to the exhibition who sees and experiences the work? You will, of course, miss the tactile qualities and the literal physical relationship (size) and the choice to look at the works from afar and simultaneously compare. Or to step so close you almost touch – and I suspect this might be too tempting for some visitors. Digital flatness and reproduction might be a ‘given’ now – but you have to see and to ‘sense’ these artworks for real.

Loesch’s adaptation of, and confident interest in digital processes and formulations confirm the position that he occupies as a contemporary practitioner. He accommodates the digital, while more than referencing the tactile visuality of form and the unashamed rapture of colour. One way to approach these works might be to follow Daniel Buren’s advice that “My painting, at the limit, can only signify itself… It is. So much so, and so well, that anyone can make it and claim it.”

Works transcend themselves and individual experiences let us know we are here: it’s a sign o’ the times…

Geoff Hands

Geoff Hands is an artist and writer living in Brighton, UK.

AbCrit article on Dennis Loesch at PM/AM


Isabelle Graw

‘When Objecthood Turns into Subjecthood’ from The Return of the Human Figure in Semiocapitalism (Sternberg Press, 2011)

Karl G. Jung

‘Approaching the Unconscious - The Importance of Dreams’ from Man and his Symbols. (1964)

Daniel Buren

“My painting, at the limit, can only signify itself,” he once declared. “It is. So much so, and so well, that anyone can make it and claim it.”