A conversation with the Berlin artist Nadine Lohof on fears, failure and the importance of provocation in the art.


Born and raised in Kassel in 1983, Nadine Lohof presents her first solo exhibition “My hands smell like fear” in the project space aesthetik 01. Her artworks are based on the everyday observation and perception of fear and the intimacy of human relationships. Nadine Lohof creates contemporary scenarios outside of perfection, which are reminiscent of the works of Käthe Kollwitz.

This is your first exhibition. How does it feel?

In art, I think the rule is that you’re never really 100% satisfied with your work, but I am happy that my pictures and objects finally get an audience and come to life. Until now, they were only in my studio.

If you are not “one hundred percent satisfied”, what does perfection mean to you, and are you strict about yourself?

I try to put off perfectionism! Since I am an autodidact accidents tend to happen to me when painting and building my works quite often. What I find beautiful is when something great arises from that. I usually have an exact idea of ​​my objects in advance, but in the creative process the piece usually changes so strongly that something completely new emerges from it.

Does this mean artistic freedom for you?

Yes, definitely! But the step to make the decision to do what makes sense to you is for me artistic freedom. Of course, this goes hand in hand with renunciation.

What did you have to go without?

At the beginning a regulated income! I come from the world of fashion and have worked in this industry for many years earning good money. That I cannot assure a livelihood with my art for the time being, of course, was clear to me.

Is this a reason why many artists fail today?

Yes, inevitably you must become able to live from your art, pay rent and so forth. Nowadays it’s also become increasingly difficult to separate yourself from external influences. I can absolutely understand why artists fail. I personally perceive failing to be positive as well. It often strengthens me in my work and opens new doors for me. I’ve failed many times in my life so I am doing exactly what I always wanted to do – art.

How do you approach a new piece of work? Are you always working on a topic?

I work less conceptually but rather intuitively. During the process of production a common theme usually is found. Or not. (laughs)

What do you say about the institutional theory of art? Are there rules and values ​​that you always consider in your works?

I create these rules myself! I try to take as few factors as possible from outside into consideration, which is sometimes extremely difficult. I would like to be completely free in my work. It of course does happen that critics and lecturers judge the techniques used in my works, but that does not really matter to me at all.

What does matter to you? 

For me, it is important that my works touch the viewer. In the end, I cannot influence that, but that’s my sole wish. I just don’t care whether I master the techniques properly or not.

What is the story „My Hands smell like fear“ tells?

It is about overcoming anxiety or what happens when the fear takes over and controls or blocks you in a certain way. Which is a very relevant topic. It is for me a kind of observation, how I perceive fear or how it becomes visible. Something that has occupied me personally for a long time.

What are you afraid of?

My fears are diffuse and I can hardly find words for them. I do have some specific fears, like engaging with larger groups of people or small talk, shallow conversations where I have nothing to add.

I can relate!

There is a beautiful quote from Georgia O’Keeffe that applies to me: “I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life – and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.” I usually am a huge scared cat, but I don’t let my fears stop me.

Your artworks to me seem sexually charged. Would you say that sexuality bears an important role in your art?

Sexuality definitely is a topic I deal with intensively. I ask myself questions concerning inter-personal relationships all the time and then process them in my art. Sexuality is so intimate but can, at the same time, also be the complete opposite.

Is that a way for you to provoke and do you think of provocation in art as an important device?

I don’t find my art particularly provocative. I think my works showcase a sense of romanticism and desire. It’s hard to really provoke in our time. I think simply drawing a flower is almost more provocative. (laughs)

Our world is ridden with social media, a fifth of the world’s population is on Facebook and 1.2 billion pictures are uploaded to the web daily. Attention-span’s short and norms and standards are being questioned by the minute and have to be renewed. Why do you feel it is appealing to showcase your art publicly?

As an artist an audience is important to me because I find it exciting to see people’s reaction to my art. Or do they even care?

Was that hard for you?

Well, not anymore! It’s easier to publish your work online, because you’re not directly confronted with the audience. I don’t even have Facebook. I find it too fast. It takes away the contact I have to myself and just overwhelms me. But even here the fast and unfiltered feedback can be good for the artist.

How do you handle criticism?

I perceive all critique as positive and try growing with it! That is easier said than done and the worst case to me is when my work is so plain that nothing can be criticized. It enriches me when someone raises a complain about one of my works.

One of the first paintings I saw from you reminded me of Käthe Kollwitz – is that a comparison that is flattering to you?

Of course that’s flattering! Like Käthe my grandmother was born in Eastern Prussia and would probably go nuts at the comparison. I personally can’t look at my art and see those parallels. I don’t have the required distance for that.

Follow Nadine Lohof on her Instagram for more artwork

By Selina Bauer

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