Luminous with Wolfgang Laib

As we pass the winter solstice, I was thinking about how daylight will lengthen incrementally by a small chink every day until spring begins to spring. This got me thinking about a work of art I’ve always had a soft spot for which encapsulates the essence of spring for me: Pollen from Hazelnut by Wolfgang Laib.

I don’t quite know how to describe it except to say that it’s either a transient sculpture or an installation in constant change. It inhabits the gallery space rather like a hazy cloud of pure yellow, not-quite-there but unmistakably present, a presence, in fact. But what is it? What it claims to be. A gigantic amount of pollen measuring 18 x 21 feet painstakingly gathered and collected by the artist himself from natural spaces around his home village in south Germany then carefully placed in the gallery space.


The logistics of how he achieved this make my mind boggle. It’s an odd material to be able to transport so how would you? I guess pollen is a physical object even thought it’s delicate. But one flower would yield only a small amount at a time. The number of flowers he must have taken from is astounding.

The process is what gets me, the never-ending repetitive motion of collecting it. What profound patience that would take, what state of meditation you would enter in doing so. I would rather like to know the stream of thought that went through Laib’s head as he was doing that. Did he feel as if he was stealing something he shouldn’t, robbing nature of its seed, disrupting the pollination process? Or did he feel that the flowers were happily giving of themselves, because nature replenishes itself therefore it’s no crime? Did he unsettle the natural activity of bees by doing this? I felt ethically conflicted by it.

Image from Pinterest

Still, I’ve always loved art that brings the outside in. Where you can admire a chunk of rugged landscape within an indoor space and let it breathe, take it in. I lament the fact that I never got to experience this installation but I hope one day I will. I can only imagine what a vivid tonic for the eyes it must be. It has been described as a mesmerising illusion, as the huge square of pollen seems to hover above the ground in a type of haze, like an enormous pastel smudging. To me it is that feeling of summer haze, a quintessential sunshine yellow. Sure, it’s a theft of nature but worth it to behold.

At the end of each show, Laib simply collects all the pollen back up and stores it for the next show. Which makes me think it’s quite a resilient material. I wonder if it is still potent for the process of pollination if he were just to cast it out into the wind in the middle of nature somewhere?


Artists are always using materials no one else would ever imagine using and when you’re the first one to do so and the work is well-received, it pretty much carves you a niche in the map of the art world. The trouble is that everything’s already been done so what else can they do? There is still room for originality but it is true that new ideas are simply old ideas recycled, inspired by previous canons of movement, appropriated, redone, refashioned, subverted, newly interpreted and so on. I like to think that there is still room for originality however. Not everything has been done, I’m sure. I just couldn’t tell you what.

Wolfgang Laib, Pollen from Hazelnut, 2013, © MoMA, New York

As always, thank you for stopping by. I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed sharing it, incongruous though it is with the season.

A very Merry Christmas to you all!

© N. Nazir 2020

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