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Charlie Fox on Lothar Hempel


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Lothar Hempel, Slowdance, 2015

Over at Art-Agenda, Charlie Fox writes about the enigmatic work of Lothar Hempel. He writes:

“Tropenkoller” translates from German to English as “tropical frenzy,” but the climate seen in these ten pieces collected over the last five years and exhibited at Modern Art, London doesn’t really come from anywhere other than some intoxicated area within Lothar Hempel’s brain.

Throughout the two decades of his career, Hempel has tasked himself with the outlandishly difficult job of finding endless new ways to be strange—almost to the point of impenetrability. This activity has produced many enigmatic tableaux, staged with defaced cut-out figures and sculptural props—Slowdance (2015) includes a gnarly tree limb emerging from a stretch of painted steel—alongside gleefully mysterious collages. “Tropenkoller” tracks the sly continuation of Hempel’s venture at all its varying levels of opacity while capturing a fresh surge of invention that makes it feel more attractive and baffling than ever.

Arranged in their funky rhomboid frames, collages predominate, but there are two cut-outs stylishly adrift in the gallery’s main room. All the pieces encourage off-beam critique and outré guesswork while looking like a bunch of vaguely menacing hallucinations. The skies in Hempel’s collages come freaked with colored wire to short-circuit their holiday slideshow familiarity, or abstracted by inkjet pixelation into pure cosmic glitter. In the photomontage Storm (2015), the sun is a big black absence carved out of a borrowed photograph. Enjoying this bizarre meteorology is also a way of following the manic textural variegation of the show’s contents.

Nature Morte (2015) counts among its materials a grungy cut-out depicting a Japanese girl from a horror flick chewing pensively on a squid tentacle and a tangle of dry roots that suggests a clutch of withered snakes. The tentacle and the root neatly resemble each other, like two things drawn moments apart from the same maze of free association.

Storm features a foam target with a rush of wires at its center, which is affixed to the head of a monochrome Indian queen. Thanks to a manipulation of scale, she’s a giantess juxtaposed with a snapshot that shows American suburbia retouched as a psychedelic jungle: clumps of glowing foliage on all the lawns, the road to the mountain transformed into a river of gently modulating colors, shifting discreetly from metallic green to cough-syrup purple. Hempel’s ambition is seemingly to rebuff wave after wave of elucidatory strategy until what remains is the pure surf of bedazzled thinking, playful questions, and eccentric possibilities. The conjunctions of clouds, houses, and the woman hint at some unsettled psychic weather but they also reverberate with threats of radiation amidst more chaotic intimations about brain activity, science fiction, and dream theory. Though Hempel is an expert at building such conundrums he doesn’t always succeed in making them beguiling, but his sloppier works indicate how narrow the gaps are between intrigue, bemusement, or sheer indifference and they might provide the only route into comprehending the cognitive oddity of what he’s attempting.

Check out the full text on Art-Agenda here.