Henrik Strömberg

Loving the negation – a text by Sarah Rosengarten

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.

quarter of a kind,3
Henrik Strömberg – quarter of a kind Installation view, 2013 Courtesy Neumeister Bar-Am
quarter of a kind, a
Henrik Strömberg Untitled 01, 2013 Backlit film on cardboard, unique 123 x 83 cm framed Courtesy Neumeister Bar-Am
quarter of a kind
Henrik Strömberg Untitled 02, 2013 Backlit film on cardboard, unique 123 x 83 cm framed Courtesy Neumeister Bar-Am

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.

top part on wood
Henrik Strömberg Part on wood piece, 2013 Pigment print on Baryta paper, edition of 3 100 x 70 cm (113 x 83 cm framed) Courtesy Neumeister Bar-Am
top part on legs
Henrik Strömberg Part on legs, 2013 Pigment print on Baryta paper, edition of 3 100 x 70 cm (113 x 83 cm framed) Courtesy Neumeister Bar-Am
Henrik Strömberg covered up, 2013 Pigment print on Baryta paper, edition of 3 113 x 80 cm (133,5 x 93 cm framed) Courtesy Neumeister Bar-Am

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.

second life - first place a
Henrik Strömberg Figure Head Piece, 2013 Pigment print on Baryta paper, edition of 3 75 x 52 cm Courtesy Neumeister Bar-Am
second life - first place b
Henrik Strömberg Top Part on Mirror, 2013 Pigment print on silver paper, edition of 3 62 x 44 cm Courtesy Neumeister Bar-Am

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.

SOURCE, fig.1
Henrik Strömberg fig. 1, 2007 Pigment print on Hahnemuehle photo rag, edition of 3 69 x 48,71 cm (71,5 x 51,75 cm framed) Courtesy Neumeister Bar-Am
SOURCE, fig.3
Henrik Strömberg fig. 3, 2007 Pigment print on Hahnemuehle photo rag, edition of 3 Courtesy of the Artist

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.

SOURCE, fig.7
Henrik Strömberg fig. 7, 2007 Pigment print on Hahnemuehle photo rag, edition of 3 Courtesy of the Artist

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.

human figure
Henrik Strömberg Human figure Courtesy of the Artist
text installation
Henrik Strömberg Installation view at Perla Mode, Wartesaal, Zürich Courtesy of the Artist