HENRIK STRÖMBERG AND THE COMPOST
On the occasion of Symbiopoiesis (with works by Diether Roth and Nam June Paik) Galerie Papillon, Paris
by Jens Soneryd
Henrik Strömberg is a collector. The floor, tables, and shelves in his studio in Berlin are filled by a manifold of objects of various kinds: corals, trophies, cobblestones, maple leaves, pieces of dry bread, lichens, cloths, blades of grass, metal chains ... Some things are arranged into assemblages and organized into idiosyncratic systems. Others are put aside in storage.
He spends a lot of time to move his things around, to try out new combinations, and to rewrite the principles for his systems; they appear to always be in a state of flux. This is his way of exploring them–not to find out what they essentially are and to fix their identities, but rather to release their semantic diversity. He approaches his objects as if they could be or become anything–or nothing in the sense of a distinguishable something.
As an artist, Henrik Strömberg does not oppose processes of mutation or decay. Rather, he supports them, and allows them to take part in his practice. They are important, since they let him lose hold of control. This makes him a peculiar kind of collector. After all, to collect is to remember, not to forget, it is to preserve and to save from ruin. The whole idea with collecting is to keep things intact, to offer a haven, where they forever can remain the way they are.
The passion for collecting seems to increase in parallel to a heightened anxiety about an uncertain future. Menaced by a flood, Noah–the original collector–started to bring animals into his ark. Not surprisingly, the golden age of museums began with the birth of modernity and the disenchantment of the world. And now, as we’ve entered the unstable era of the Anthropocene–with global warming, and mass extinction of species–we’ve started to collect again, to save what’s left in our damaged world. In 2008, the Global Seed Vault opened in Svalbard, Norway–an earthquake resistant depository for the world’s most important crops.
Collections consist of objects and fragments that have departed the flourishing and decaying world, and been inscribed in an order designed to refuse every kind of change, in which they are petrified. The herbarium is the iconic collection. The pressed plant is not a plant anymore, but a sign for a certain species. The thriving and decaying plant belongs to the living soil; to its fungi, bacteria, and its worms.
Just like the herbarium, every collection borders to the compost–a site of disappearances, transformation, and resurgence. The compost is also the site of Henrik Strömberg’s practice, and where this exhibition takes place. The compost, however, is never the creation of a single, autonomous individual. It is not formed through autopoiesis, but through symbiopoiesis. It is a collaborative project, whose outcome can never be fully anticipated. Thus, for Henrik Strömberg it is wholly logical to exhibit together with artists such as Nam June Paik and Dieter Roth, with whom he shares the interest in the assemblage and in topics such as technology, media and processes of growth and decay. In the exhibition Symbiopoiesis, the compost is explored as a creative and artistic strategy, but also as a straightforward way to relate to the world.
The state of flux of the movable content – Henrik Strömberg in reference to Man Ray
by Chiara Valci Mazzara
Henrik Strömberg’s work starts with the quest for a new signifier: interlacing sources, re-assembling and re-evaluating objects (trouvé) he acts on the form while changing the content.
The medium of photography and the system of connections between the represented subject and the final result is only the beginning of a journey.
By performing his usual ritual, opening and closing, the shutter reveals a new artifact in which new semantic cross-references appear to the eye. Strömberg initiates a thought, an idea, as a possible dialogue: by adding new allusions he questions the medium and challenges the content.
Within the process, the subject - outcome of a re-assemblage of elements or cut-outs - as a pivotal body, reflects different nuances of various signifiers, therefore contorting the habitual coordinates. The meanings are, then, acquiring new values through a drift and, as a result, the object is dislocated from within.
This leads to the perception of the viewer to be altered, prompting the pursuit of many graspable interpretations, each one equally possible.
It is impossible to calculate the result of the content's reconstruction, since it presents itself as the heritage of the objects’ past life, joined with their new manifestation - all given by the process to which Strömberg commits consistently.
Ultimately, his photographic works, as well as with his collages, are picturing, at the same time, the evolution and the outcome of an action, while other signifiers are now challenging the viewer to a new dialogue. The strength of the result appears in each piece, where receding to the new forms, the works are delivering a poetic yet sharp innuendo.
In Strömberg's pieces, the pictured subjects are not the only foreground protagonists, but also the different levels of space and depth, which are suggesting a wider interpretation and create a surreal landscape.
The evidence of the “re-assembled” object/s (trouvé/s) materializes as vibrant and forceful, subordinating to no obvious reference, placing the 'trigger' of an idea.
The evidence of Man Ray’s objets trouvés leans to the use and re-evaluation of everyday objects as the subjects of his photographic works. Natural or man-reassembled pieces, they are kept, bought or found thanks to their intrinsic value - with none or minimal alteration - therefore seen and celebrated by the artist.
The signifier being steady, the intervention consists in the action of choosing the object and relocating it as the protagonist of the photograph. Frequently the title of the work itself, as for Tête trouvée sous le lit,allows to recognise a move, a discovery, a choice taken by the artist. The process is, therefore, the act of choosing, to which the outcome of the depiction commits. While the original content persists, the vibration of the meaning is enhanced by the medium.
Furthermore, the final rendering acquires an additional system of references through the gelatin silver print, the chromogenic materials and the process, out of which the black and white photograph earns its strength.
Enigma II - which refers to The enigma of Isidore Ducasse assembled in New York in 1920 - is the evolution of a choice, the outcome of an action. Its roots can be found in Man Ray's Dada objects related to Marcel Duchamp’s ready-mades. Duchamp had, for instance, wrapped a sewing machine in an army blanket and tied it up with a string. As most of the pieces produced by Man Ray in the late 40's, the process was meant to produce an unusual artifact, subject to an open interpretation.
This photograph of what appears as a mysterious entity, relates to the surrealist vision of what lays beyond the curtain of a rational system of references.
The action is vivid in this work and the content is questioned. Hiding the object, the protagonist becomes the artifact produced by the addition of fabric and string.
Early works by Man Ray (e.g. the collage series Revolving Doors (1916-1917)) present themselves as the proof of the multifaceted oeuvre of the artist. He challenges an alternative perspective, given by the use of a two-dimensional rendering. Moreover, Man Ray explores the mechanical means of the creative process by assembling other figurative collages as, for instance, Dance (1915) which “showed what seem to be two mechanical-looking figures, evoking tailors' dummies, performing stiff-legged dance movements.”
Man Ray states: “The concern of a period of time often leads to the disappearance of material space. That is what the images in two dimensions shown here tend to prove; by a mutual action, they give birth to a series of events escaping from the control of all diversion. '
New York, 1916–17
The two artists connect on the level of creating by mutual action, enhancing the two-dimensionality by -as Strömberg- using the relicts of cut-out negatives and intuitively assembling them within the creative process in his collages and his Compost(ed) landscapes.
With the project The Compost, Strömberg refers to a wider angle, where the symbolic meaning is not graspable anymore by the acceptance of the role of the objects themselves.
The quest for an unexpected outcome, realized by overlapping layers of cut photographs, polaroids, negatives, photocopies and objects is vivid and encouraged by placing them together as a surreal watermark. Together with Jens Soneryd, the artist broadens the edges of the works. Working on written words, Soneryd pictures a beginning and and end, the inner content and a poetic response.
As for Lacan - quoted in The Compost Manifesto- the real concerns the need whereas the imaginary concerns the demand.
The symbolic, then, is all about desire. The question remains open. Interpretation awakens the dialogue between the two artists.
by Tamara Branovic
The group exhibition thirdness brings together works by the artists Carsten Becker, Henrik Strömberg, Johannes Wald and Michaela Zimmer, as well as a performative literary piece by author and poet Jens Soneryd.
Conceptually, the exhibition deals with the possibilities of perception, drawing on American philosopher of semiotics Charles Sanders Peirce’s phenomenological categories. As the founder of semiotics, Peirce’s life work was dedicated to systems of signs, developing, among others, the triadically-constructed cenopythagorian categories of Firstness, Secondnes, and Thirdness. However, far from the classical approach between the designated (signified) and the designator (signifier) as terminologically established by a Jacques Lacan or Ferdinand de Saussure, the topic at hand here are paths of transmission which can only be perceived indirectly – something which is hidden behind the fixed categories; an open space bearing an idea, a thought, a condition, a movement, but which demands from the viewer more than the deciphering of a clearly communicated object. Thirdness as the simultaneously determinative, only possible and – critically – open connection constitutes the very lacuna located before and after the words “but” or “and”, from which a Before and After are expected. Lacking these meaningful pieces of information, connections emerge out of the individual’s sheer imagination, the unlocking of which is to be found in self-reflection (if at all).
Henrik Strömberg’s Compost project arranges already-existing objects taken from the socio-cultural context into a collage, forming a new visual pattern. By using the medium of photography, Strömberg approaches relics from nature and society and condenses them into new “fertile soil”. In the installation tell tale (2017) consisting of three wooden display cases, he inserts several objects – mostly depictions of coral, plants, ceramics, sculptures, as well as abstract refractions of light and form – into a filigreed collection of the human symbolic world with-each other, recounting a moment created out of different yet disconnected and more than anything oppositional events. The selection and positioning of the pictures and objects are the product of a sensitive structure of feeling, the accentuation of which serves as a guide. In this way, Strömberg combines photographic likenesses which could not be more contrary in their conditioned perceptions – fuel element spheres, for example, dialogue with a nearly full moon shining in the night. The two photographic works, by the trail 1& 2, complement the cabinet in their substantial and formal difference, reflecting the antithesis of decay and growth through their originally natural and graphically formulated quality. Each depicts the vegetational environment of a tropical rain forest, albeit in various stages of Being. Here as well, Peirce’s interpretive triptych can serve as a methodology.
"echoes in dust"
by Rasmus Kjelsrud
Yes, I am warm now,
but my mind is clear and my vision sharp, as I remember the days without light.
I was preparing for a dinner party, dressed not yet in white. It was almost noon again, I had
waited for one hundred days. As the door bell ringed just on time, I knew this was my life.
On the porch of my house I find him today, the priest of my dreams, the father I never had.
I kept my linens in my only free hand, and he walked into the room and challenged me to dive
Many trees have been cut down (I think he was a lumberjack), and many things have been said.
Some things have been said many times, and I too am young in life.
I may be a child of yours, I may be Gods own,
but that nothing springs from nothing, is a truth I know not alone.
I look him in the eyes and I ask “Is this where it is?”, somebody points to me, and says “It’s his”.
Across the river I shout “What’s mine?” but I am too late, here it’s no longer noon.
At noon Orpheus ferried across the Styx, to a land meant only for the Dead.
Me, I am swimming here, but time was not on my side to be had.
The water had risen above my shoulders now, but panic still not on my mind. All the varieties of
experience in the world, yet death, this impossible divine. At least Orpheus didn’t have to
balance laundry on his head. The Ancient Greeks had style. I closed the door and went before
my mirror again, there I knew where I were. Here I see myself in full portrait, for a hundred days
or more. I come back and I come back again too fixate in the glare, every time I see myself I’m
not afraid because I know I’m here.
“Artefacts” was the title of the book, but it was nothing but echoes in the dust. “Artefacts” was
the book I read, starting first page as soon as night lost to dusk.
But just like the sun dies away in the end, and leaves all in the dark.
We too, must leave a day behind us, leave all artefacts without light.
I, for one, cannot read, but I guess it’s many ways to do. My memories were of course
photographs, and in some sense also my idea of unworn white linen, of thyme, of you.
by Jens Soneryd
# 1. Under the birch tree, at the end of the garden: Covered with leaves, sticks, and branches. The compost needs air to breathe and daydream. We feed it with corals, feathers, failures, bones, useless memories, outworn names, old bread, vegetables, and stories, a manifold of stories.
# 2. The compost is breathing: Air from other planets, various pasts and futures. A smell of fresh, healthy soil–and a bit of a scent of ammonia. The compost is hungry. It’s always hungry. Hungry for change.
# 3. Jacques Lacan was right: Structures do walk the streets. In these days, they seem to be everywhere; patrolling the cities, guarding their borders, haunting our stories. The compost doesn’t go anywhere. It stays with the trouble (in Donna J. Haraway’s sense). It is busy producing fertile soil for old and new languages, imaginaries, and other habitats.
# 4. The compost is not: A structure (it doesn’t care about differences); a brand (it has no strategy); a concept (at least not a well-defined one…and sometimes it smells); a collection (it has no borders, it doesn´t exclude anything or anyone); nostalgic (it has an appetite for the past, that is true, but it produces soil and continuations, not returns to lost homes); utopic (it’s based on waste and memories).
# 5. The compost is: Process; metabolism; metamorphosis; a passage between the domesticated (geometrical) and the wild (spontaneous), between the actual and the possible; a temporary refuge; a place that speaks (or murmurs).
# 6. The compost is not about: Keeping.
# 7. The compost is about: Letting go.
# 8. Why do we need the compost: Because we think we know what we do. We don’t.
On the Threshold
by Katharina Wendler
Henrik Strömberg’s multifaceted work is all about the image: more precisely, the complex features of the image and its content. In his photographs, collages and objects, he combines or isolates visual elements, thereby exploring the constantly changing potential for interpretation. His medium is photography, he always takes as his starting point one or more photographic images. Strömberg began with classical subjects such as landscape and portrait, although even at this stage he was more interested in particular situations and occasions than in depicting the object itself. Details, patterns and structures in nature form the template for orientation, people are captured as figures in fleeting snapshots, moments in time are preserved, visual material gathered. Always shot in black and white using a handheld camera, these early works reveal several traits which Strömberg has retained to this day. Here, composition and light take centre stage, the content of what is depicted reveals little. He never pursues a documentary narrative – if at all, it is a kind of subjective documentation of personal experience – he is much more concerned with the interplay of the various compositional devices which, through the camera lens, come together to form an image.
Later, he arranges sections of the picture – not only in a landscape, but also in an urban or studio setting. He finds as much interest in forests, plants and leaves as visual objects as he does in building facades, aligned perspective of building views and streets, which he often captures with a polaroid camera. Back in the studio, he starts to combine objects, to photograph them, to make new compositions, to re-record. The raw materials often find their way to him via the eccentric collections of friends or strangers: things which the artist can now call part of his own collection, however difficult the individual elements are to identify, as they elude any attempt to attribute a meaning. To give an example: his 30 part series Second Life – First Place (2012) illustrates the dismantling and reassembling of many elements which, on closer inspection, prove to be parts of trophies or cups which have been rearranged using materials such as shells, corals or twigs. Completely removed from their original form and meaning, these fragile objects are fixed briefly with the click of a shutter before their existence ceases, as single elements are again recombined.
Strömberg presents the photo as a negative, like a negative casting mould for a sculpture, which blurs the border between picture and object yet more. Similarities between the sculptural and photographic process are highlighted in this example.
Strömberg, who studied both fine art and photography, often works at the threshold between these disciplines and developed a multi-media approach to his photographic subjects at an early stage. Using intervention, combining, deconstruction and manipulation of material, he experiments with the appearance and content of photographic images, giving positive and negative equal status. Photos are torn apart, enlarged, reduced, distorted, newly rearranged with their own or different negatives, film, paper, paint and pigment; the photos are often presented as negatives. During this process, the image is increasingly removed from its context and distanced from reference points and its own history. With each new modification, Strömberg also investigates the qualities at the heart of the photographic image: its two-dimensionality, its function as a depictive medium, its potential for reproduction. He overrides or bypasses all three qualities by transferring photography into three-dimensionality or vice versa, divesting it of its content.
In his more recent works, sculptural characteristics are increasingly evident. The smooth surface of the photograph becomes objectified with the addition of pigment and paint, opening, as it were, a visual window in the background which remains there, undefined. But Strömberg’s work also incorporates a dialogue with physically existing sculptures, with their nature and all their qualities. As the title suggests, for the Statues (2015) series he took photos of statues and monuments and cut up the resulting negatives, leaving only fragments of the original. Separated from their context, these are placed against a dark background as completely new, autonomous forms, which acquire a powerful presence in the process. Sculpture becomes photography, only to be converted back into sculptural form. Here, as in every work, Strömberg repeatedly negotiates from a new perspective the boundaries of photography as a medium.
Salon Drama (extract)
by Jens Soneryd
Roland Barthes once wrote that the photograph never is distinguished from its referent. The photograph itself "is always invisible: it is not what we see" (Camera Lucida). In Henrik Strömberg's works, the situation is the reverse. Our attempts of understanding what we actually see are repeatedly interrupted. The photographic image refuses to reveal its referent as a distinguishable something or someone. The unclear identity of the object directs our attention to the sign itself, which appears to belong to an alphabet that not yet has been deciphered.
by Harald Theiss
Die Trophäe in der Ausstellung hinterfragt die abgebildete Wirklichkeit als Ergebnis und Zeichen eines Triumphes. Das kostbare verführerische Material weist zunächst in seiner geheimnisvollen Erscheinung ins Ungewisse. Das begehrte Objekt bekommt eine ambivalente Bedeutung, weil es aus seinem ursprünglichen Zusammenhang gerissen worden ist. Heute befriedigen sie als Kunstobjekt gehandelt nicht nur die Sehnsucht nach dem Fremden, sondern auch das eigene Begehren es haben zu wollen. Als Ware werden sie zu neuen glanzvollen Trophäen von Besitztum und Macht.
In seinen schwarzweiß Fotografien bzw. Negativen zeigt Henrik Stömberg Einzelteile u.a. von Pokalen und Trophäen, welche er neu arrangiert, ergänzt, verformt und ihnen in diesem Veränderungsprozess die ursprüngliche Funktion und Information entzieht. Strömberg hinterfragt die Beziehung von dem, was ein Bild zeigt und was die Dinge in Wirklichkeit sind und lässt gleichzeitig Machtstrukturen erkennen.
second life - first place
In his new photographs Strömberg uses parts of deconstructed trophies which are stacked vertically and interlaced with scrap materials such as mirror shards
or organic materials like coral, wood, feathers, and rocks. While these assemblages stay true to the original modular construction of the trophies, their form, function and most importantly,
their meaning, has been reconfigured.
These seemingly fragile objects are shown in a state of flux, allowing for the possibility of reconstructing and photographing them again and again. Strömberg fixates each assembled object through the photographic process. Based on classical sculpture practice, where every cast requires a mold, he then presents the negatives of the photographs, evoking similarities between sculptural and photographic processes. This also serves to further the distance between the original object and its recording. As a consequence, the photograph no longer serves to function as objective documentation but as an object itself. The whole series of thus far thirty pictures represents a typology of curiosities, giving an ironic twist to the photographic principles of New-Objectivity, which emphasized a sharply focused, documentary quality within the realm of photography.
"My work deals with the deconstruction and transformation of the photographic image, both in terms of surface and content - combining seemingly disparate images, adding pigment, paint and/or cutting out parts of the image, initiating a process in which the image is removed from its context, its referent and expected narrative. I further explore this through the arrangement and combination of works with the intention to create narrations, formations of details, or a kind of temporary entropy."
Henrik Strömberg’s work makes me a little bit suspicious in the way that I am led to believe that there must be more than I can see. It is hard to look at it briefly. It has the effect of sucking one in. Exploring one image provokes asking for more and continuing to wonder and wander.
In many of the images shown in recent series I sense a statue. In quarter of a kind, it seems that this feeling comes from an isolation of the object in an undefined space. It makes me wonder where the object is located. Is it outside? Is it inside? Is it legitimate to use these simple distinctions? Does the realm of the work possibly include a white cube itself, before it even enters the „neutral“ gallery space? In this series it is as if there is a geometrically shaped hole in a white sheet, and what one can grasp looking through it, is only a small part of a giant. This giant could be an enormous multiplicity of what Strömberg shows us, or it could be an enlargement of tiny layers of paper that he zoomed in on.
The directness of titles, such as top part on wood, or top part on legs or simply covered, contrasts with a mysterious world of darkness and sculpturality. The titles are not even meant to explain more, they rather reinforce a curiosity for what is negated. In top part on legs it is as if the ingredients that may have been used for the creation of the object depicted, make a step back and what I see is something alive, a moving self confident little guy caught on its way out of the frame.
The artist tells me that he does not like the questions of how, where and what. But it seems that these questions are not even necessary to experience his work. Actually, it seems essential to rather not define the arrangements depicted with terms that come from a world of practically useful language.
The partial reflection of objects hints at their environment such as the notion of slickness of the surface they are standing on. One realizes that there is a floor and one senses the spatial surrounding, like a room or a shelf. At the same time the shadow becomes part of the actual figure. It intensifies the feeling that what one sees is about to fall or move but seems to be stable for the moment, as if an elephant is elegantly balancing on a safety pin.
Due to a Black and White reverse that Strömberg applies digitally, the figures gain a look of illumination and clear defined contours. In some images it feels as if the objects are made of ice, eternally frozen, fragile and delicate. The surrounding space appears like a warmly black landscape, stretching out so much further than the viewer is able to see inside the frame of the picture. Again, it is as if the artist allows you merely a narrow peak inside his mind, giving you the opportunity of imagining the rest by yourself.
In Figure Head Piece and Top Part on Mirror the observer faces the images as a group. They form a body of work by communicating with each other through their similar aura, but seem to each have a life on its own. A little army of extraordinarily dressed characters lure you into their inner circle but never quite let you in.
As much as it is possible in photography, Strömberg’s work is extremely haptic. I feel a desire to engage physically with what is depicted. Caused by the partial revelation out of the black and by a kinkiness I find in the material, I am tempted to explore further with my body, to lay my hands on the unusual forms and surfaces. Luckily, that is restricted through the two dimensionality of the medium.
One work from a series of works called SOURCE depicts seemingly burning material that reminds of thin foil, although it seems of no importance what the utensils consist of. Unlike in more recent works, the darkness of the surroundings and the figures are less separated. The light is in a dialogue with the material and both are communicating with me, as the observer. I imagine the light as a small white creature that swallows up its opponent and it grows from nourishing its stomach with its find. Again, I want to participate in the actions I see by chewing, swallowing… The series is named Source and it seems to describe this lightening power, the gloomy ghost constructs or destructs at its whim.
Fig. 7 of this same series seems to show the adult version of the smaller light. It leaves one wondering what is hidden behind the wall of white dusty body or what capability it contains. It’s a frozen moment full of questions for the person encountering this image. It looks as if a process is turned into a monument. These images seem to come from a different part of Henrik Strömberg land where things are in action. For us as observers, there is only this small window that gives a view on the fulminant procedures which we cannot completely grasp and which we therefore have to complete behind our eyes – in imagination.
One of Strömberg’s photographs shows a human figure. It’s nearly the only time one can find an actual person or a reference to human life. The person seems wrapped in textiles. The material is intriguing, shiny in the upper part and dark and soft in the lower part. Here the artist demonstrates in an obvious way his skill to turn movement into a statue-like condition. Maybe the person in the image had been dancing and fooling before and after, possibly trying to impersonate a ghost-like creature, maybe it had been a silly hiding game. But all of sudden there is simply an elegant shiny figure. One would not even be certain that it is a human that is inside the wrapping, if it was not revealed by the quarter of a hand at the bottom of the image. I find this to be a funny and tender hommage to the beauty of perspective. It seems as if the object I see is clearly defined but at the same time describes endless possibilities of perception.
In his body of work, the medium of text is another way to open up the atmosphere created by his photographs. Strömberg uses theatre and set instructions that he cuts out of the original context in order to isolate and rearrange them. As a viewer, I can immediately see a room and space, and get the feeling of something about to happen. My senses wake up; I start to listen, to smell and to imagine light changes. Simple instructions create a moment without dialogues or grand human action. This is more relevant than the story it might belong to. The unnecessary is negated. To me these sentences are like a match enflaming my mind. I would not ask from which box the match comes from or what it looks like after I have burnt it, and so I do not care where the text is taken from or where exactly the location is supposed to be.
In Henrik Strömberg’s work the negation tells us the soul of the work. It provokes more than it explains and leaves us with assumptions and emotions. In his world things are animated that somewhere else would not have a life, while every trace of human action turns into stone or ice.
quarter of a kind
Ché Zara Blomfield
Imagine something glinting, partly obscured by sand, washed up from dark depths. This is ingrained as a precise nostalgic moment. A vessel is broken and emotion pours out, a fracture exposes an edge.
A jug falls, perhaps filled with forgotten keepsakes, the shards become materials. Flattening and reforming is fluid in Henrik Strömberg’s practice, breaking down the differentiation between objects and their representation.
Fragments from Strömberg’s past processes are reorganised and reformed. Abstracted forms become images: images are fragmented, becoming abstract. Aspects are reversible and reusable – ad infinitum.
Each element seems to come from, or be going elsewhere. Combinations of sentiments, narratives and souvenirs overlap, creating a still montage. A precariousness is captured, a tangible fragility.
Anfänglich mißtrauten die Menschen der Fotografie, lange waren Fotografien beispielsweise nicht als polizeiliches Beweismaterial zugelassen. Doch dann setzte
sich langsam die Vorstellung durch, die Fotografie bilde unzweifelhaft Wirklichkeit ab, sie wurde gar zu einem Garanten der Wirklichkeit selbst. Vergessen war, daß die Fotografie nicht die Dinge
selbst zeigt, sondern nur reflekti- ertes Licht. Erst die digitale Fotografie ließ die Beziehung von Wirklichkeit und fotografischem Abbild auf breiter Ebene wieder problematisch
„Source“ (Quelle) betitelt Henrik Strömberg eine der gezeigten Bildserien und verweist damit auf die ambivalente Beziehung von Bild und Abgebildeten, die Ausgangspunkt seiner fotografischen Ästhetik ist. Auf den Bildern sind geheimnisvolle schillernde, silbrig glänzende Objekte zu sehen, die an Preziosen und Lüster, schimmernde Grotten und rätselhaftes Feuerwerks zeug erinnern. Sie zeigen seltsam unwirkliche, verführerische Objekte, von denen sich schwer sagen läßt, woher sie stammen und wozu sie dienen. Die Ausgangspunkt der Bilder bleibt unklar, sie verweisen ins Ungewisse. Tatsächlich zeigen die Bilder Objekte, die Strömberg aus stark reflektierenden Materialien baute, eigens um sie zu fotografieren. Erst durch Licht und Beleuchtung werden sie zu jenen rätselhaften Figurinen, die uns auf den Bildern entgegen funkeln.
Inspiration für seine Werke waren Auktionskataloge mit Bildern magischer Objekte aus fremden Kulturen, Fetischen, Masken und Ritualgerät, die aus ihrem kulturellen Zusammenhang gerissen und im Westen als Kunstobjekte verkauft werden, die unsere Sehnsucht nach Fremdheit und Geheimnisse befriedigen, die Leere einer rationalistischen entzauberten Welt zu übertünchen helfen. Sie erhalten erst durch das metaphorische Licht kolonialer Macht jenen Glanz, der sie begehrenswert scheinen läßt, so wie Strömbergs schillernde Figurinen erst durch Beleuchtung und Abbildung entstehen. Die ambige Beziehung zwischen dem, was ein Bild zeigt, und dem was, die Dinge tatsächlich sind, wird als Machtstruktur erkennbar. Ergänzt werden diese Bilder durch digitale bearbeitete abfotografierte Fernsehbilder, verschwommene, verzerrte Bilder von Bildern, deren Wirklichkeitsbezug kaum mehr auszumachen ist. Im Wechselspiel mit den Figurinen verweisen sie nochmals auf die fiktive Natur fotografischer Bilder, auf ihre wirklichkeitsschaffende Macht, auf die Unmöglichkeit einer wertfreien bloßen Abbildung.
Das Spiel von Bild und Quelle prägt auch die zweite gezeigte Fotoserie von Strömberg. Sie zeigen Wirklichkeitsausschnitte, die durch die gewählte Fassung und die Aufnahme art ihrer Tatsächlichkeit entfremdet werden und poetisch aufgeladen werden. Aufgerissener Asphalt erinnert wirkt mit einmal wie Caspar David Friedrichs Eismeer, ein Erd- und Schotterhaufen wird zu einer Gebirgswüstenlandschaft, Gartenpflanzen wandeln sich in einen wild wuchernden Urwald, eine technische Vorrichtung an einer Wand erscheint als magisches Objekt. Strömberg wendet banale Alltäglichkeiten ins Monumentale, lädt sie auratisch auf, verwandelt sie in Bilder, die nicht mehr auf ihren Ursprung verweisen, sondern ganz in ihrer Bildhaftigkeit aufgehen. Es sind Bilder, die nicht abbildend zeigen wollen, sondern im reinen Spiel des Scheins aufgehen. Sie feiern jene wirklichkeitszersetzende und "schaffende Kraft der Fotografie, die wir in unserer Sehn- sucht nach Gewißheit nur allzu gerne verdrängen.
Henrik Strömberg's medium is photography. His images are mostly monochrome. He avoids subjects and is committed to his work as a process. His
motivations are entirely private. One senses mystery at play, and alchemy. Even if his images look elegant or stylish, they feel as if they arrived themselves, indirectly, through a private
door. One is not sure what links each picture, but the sense is that each result is an unpredictable outcome of a careful approach. Generally his images are distinguished by an
absence of evidence; some seem like forms of their own camouflage. It is as if the artist is asking, how can my photo be more than a photo, be less than a photo, purely a medium, elusive
It is when Henrik, exhibits his works together that this is most clearly felt. As one's eyes seek and scan for meaning in possible connections, he shares an experience that is not about admiring trophies but committing to art as a puzzle that might never be solved. He invites us to see his pictures as if they were not photographs at all but precious escapees from a private, distant, alien vision.
What is a photograph?
What is a photograph? Is it the explosion of magnesium as camera drenches its subject in artificial light? Is it the rays of light that flicker between the lens of the box that houses the technical mechanisms that go together to make up the actual camera, is it this light, as it hits the subjects surface? Or is a photograph simply a piece of paper to be stared at by tourists when they return home from their travels, not a record of memories, but a record of absence of the original event? A sign that reads "I was not here. I was busy taking this photograph." Now cameras are more commonly carried in mobile phones - are the users simply in a state of near constant erasure?
"The images have been interfered with. The negatives have been destroyed or scratched. Polaroids that have been painted over. Prints that have been copied and copied again. The interupted surfaces." Henrik Strömberg (HS)
Photography can be a joyful capturing of memories and times past but mainly its war journalism, millions and millions dead, and mainly photography is pornography, peering eyes, collaborating models baring their flesh to be captured and reproduced ad infinitum by the mechanical eye. And the most hardcore, fetishistic, obsessive, obscene and beautiful pornography of all, the advertisement, the billboard, the bus shelter poster. These are photography's true victory over the western world and any idea of the aesthetic. What Baudelaire say? He'd probably love it, Baudelaire would love the denigration. The flood, the tidal wave of accurate representation, every high street a universe of dreams, desires and choices, the constructed vernacular images are our shopping, even if we're not shopping.
"I can never fully accept the medium for what it is." HS
I used to take house tranquilizers to achieve that since of uncontrollable R.E.M and 5th dimension confusion, now I just walk down Lewisham high street and stare at the adverts.
"Colour can become a subject, so I tune it down. Without colour its easier to go beyond the subject and create narratives without a specific story to tell" HS
So, now we know, roughly, what a photograph is, let's think for a moment what type of person sets out to take a photograph. A collect manic, surely. As we have seen, with the advent of the camera phone, we are now all potentially members of this group, always armed to record "the real" world (If such a thing exists, to borrow a phrase), but here we all are now more technology and finer lens in our pockets than Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre could have dreamed of. Looking back now I regret.
The Incoherent Light
The question of what photography is, its weird amalgam of potential uses and meanings, might appear at this point to be of largely academic concern. But this
view both underestimates the medium (which is, in a way, never finished) and neglects the opportunity to pose questions that cannot be accessed in any other way. So if the work of Henrik
Strömberg seems at first to be almost aggressively hermetic, its discontinuous assault on the “condition” of photography can equally be thought of as open-ended and productive, tracing those
interstitial spaces that photography occupies, a collision between empirical and fictive states of knowledge. Strömberg demonstrates that meaning cannot be understood as an inherent function of
the image - representation is not simply transference. Rather it is, by his account, an elliptical, discursive process, actively creating new realities.
What can we do with a camera?
First of all, we can document an occurrence: The collapse of the Campanile of S:t Mark in Venice; or the explosion of Hindenburg in Lakehurst, New Jersey 1937. Collapses and explosions do not exist, they can only be documented when they happen.
Secondly, we can document objects – existing things. A sculpture, a ship or a fig tree.
Ulf Linde, Sweden’s most brilliant art critic hates photography, because of its inability to represent reality. As an example he holds up a photo of two competing race-horses. They are actually equally fast, but in the photo only one of them looks fierce and full of energy. The other one looks like he is standing still. The split second of the camera favoured only one of the horses. Perhaps the following would favour the other one.
In the essay “Against Photography” Ulf Linde explains his reluctance towards the photo so ingeniously, that you nearly start to agree with him... Imagine that you are trying to identify an object from a photo where you can only see a tiny fragment of this object. When you don’t see what it is, everything is possible. A diagonal line can be the stem of a ship, a crack in a window or a shadow of a lamp post. Linde writes: – As soon as I identify the photographed object, the picture freezes. Nothing is possible. You realize that every square millimetre of the surface of the photo is determined. As soon as I see what a photo represents, a feeling of irrevocable loss is overwhelming me.
Standing before Henrik Strömberg’s Source series however, it is quite impossible to be struck by this feeling – simply because there is nothing that can be identified. The photographed objects do not exist. Neither before, nor after the photo session. Everything is still possible. Sometimes I think I see an African mask. Sometimes a microbe, sometimes the sewers of Vienna with Harry Lime just around the corner.
The photographed objects are abstract sculptures. Strömberg builds them out of cellophane, tin foil, wool, and other scraps, around strong lamps. Thus the light comes only from the inside of the sculpture. The frail material cannot stand the heat from the lamp and eventually the sculpture starts to burn. With his camera Strömberg catches it in the inevitable process of destruction. The photos are documentations of sculptures that aren’t objects, but occurrences.
Dark Light, Light Darkness
In the pictures of Henrik Strömberg one encounters the world, remote, removed, almost as if disappeared. Places become difficult to locate, plunged into darkness, dawn, dusk; wastelands, half empty rooms; left-overs, left-behinds. Slight traces of what one knows, emmerge from a tissue of light, colour, plane and space; deserted: the individual does not occur. The indiviual is the spectator.
Decoding these pictures is not simple. Although they are resonating with suggestion and anticipation, the enigmatic moment always remains, disallowing you to disengage. Once you begin to immerse yourself, you become pulled over to the other, the inner side, beyond the effigy. One is on one’s own. The world stands still. Time stands still.
The quality of Henrik Strömberg’s work constitutes itself in the austere composition, from which results this certain inward-looking nature, a deep and universal self-reflection. His view penetrates the invisible, seizes it and gives it a shape. A connection is created between the inside and the outside, the true essence of things and the mere sense of things. This becomes obvious in the Forest Series in particular.
Single trees or groups of trees emmerge from the one and the same of the forest, from the darkness, plunged into wisps of light. The decided and linger- ing gaze of the photographer reveals the singularity of the tree, makes it an individual, and therefore all trees. This gaze into the forest reveals its soul, and ultimately the soul of every thing, every place.
In Henrik Strömberg’s world such places can appear anywhere, anytime. There is no map for them. Only the willingness, the translucence of the momentum in which a window, a door opens to the other side. Once having arrived there, it is not the time of directly assessing, of merely depicting the things, it is a time of unprejudiced observation, of marvelling, ultimately of recognizing oneself within the things, recognizing oneself being part of everything.
Henrik Strömberg is a photographer, who does not mystify. No bluffs, no sensations. He neither paints us a picture of the romantic, picturesque idea of nature or civilisation, but a picture of the sublime, the unique, which can be found within things. He is a photographer, who photographs the nothing, and the everything.
There is history, the big one, the one they tell us in school, the one chronologically ordered through a list of big events and big names, the one in newspapers, the one beating the rhythm of the collective life. And then there are the stories, the small ones, the ones that are impossible to count for, however many they are, the ones beyond any chronological sense of time, the ones about ordinary things, of the ordinary, but extraordinary events.
Sometimes it happens, even in this age of rational irrationality, that somebody is lucky enough to be totally out of rhythm. This somebody, loosing the chrono- logical way, reaches without knowing the place without names or dates where all the small things become extraordinary happenings and where the big history melts down to the wonderful complexity of small stories.
It is exactly thereto that Henrik Strömberg goes from time to time. Every object, person, little detail starts to whisper. The sense of time changes, night and day disappear in a unique game of light and darkness. The sense of gravity is definitely different, without that heavy sensation of being unable to fly, but at the same time he can walk and sit without floating around.
He walks for a minute or for years, visiting different cities or maybe just one, never tired, never bored, sometimes scared. He meets a lot of people or maybe no one. winter, autumn, spring and summer play simultaneously with colors and black and white. It is an orchestra of silent sounds in images.
Is it reality? Is it a dream? "It is just the perception of our infinite narration", whispers the woman sitting on the red sofa.
How many things do we not perceive? How many things have we lost in our obsessive alphabetic identification of reality. How many stories, how many impor- tant details are covered by history, the well known history of glory and misery, of winners and losers, of here and there, of me and you.
Do we care about all this?
Maybe we are too scared to be out of the indifferent march in the big events, to lose the trumpet of the generals who will decide the names and dates in books of future generations.
I thank with all myself the art that still has the power to unveil the mystery of life, to unveil the impossibility of reducing everything to codes, numbers and sterile classifications.
I thank Henrik Strömberg for having the courage to explore the world of lost stories and letting their whispers reach our senses again.