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.
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."
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.