essay published on the book Object Amnesic: a compost manifesto , Henrik Strömberg and Jens Soneryd, published by Blow UP Press in December 2021, as recipient of BUP Book Award, 2020 – ISBN: 978-83-952840-8-3
The compost, the words, the object. The partial loss of memory or the moaning and glowing of consciousness. Our reminiscences. Viscosity.
There is a determined sequence of actions, precise steps to composting: first, choose the space, the backyard, the portion of the garden, a realm.
Will the compost grow in an open pile? Will it be in a bin? Where will the compost be amassed? Is the territory of rationality, a progression of acts, really needed here? Why couldn’t then the compost – as an ever-changing organism intended to be alive – be you, us, more, everything or everyone?
Is there, then, a sequence of actions which really concur to reach something we can’t grasp? Like a wavering, uncertain, fluctuating morphon, a progression of thoughts, meanings? Us? Can the compost be us? A being like us?
The compost is a pile. And a mixture of discards, of waste, of things to be transformed. Like us, it is a mutating bundle: a series of belongings, circumstances, memories, beliefs, concerns, formations of mental objects and matter.
One should then alternate layers. But alternating is crucial. It implies change. And is it simply accumulating? Or does it rather come to be the act of gathering – images, objects, ideas, memories – by choice? Or by accident?
Is there a decision to be made while making this gesture, and how many layers would there be? How thick? Layers of what? They must be layers of life…but then define life, grasp it, grab it, collect her discards. Are those discards to be piled up to begin with? Or are they those that make us… so then they would be layered chaotically, beautifully, flowing, as time passes…
Then there’s the space in between the layers, the matter, the elements, the objects, what vibrates new life. Shimmering substances and the room within. There’s the glow reflecting what was. And what will be. What will potentially be. It can mutate at any moment. And it mutates constantly.
One should accumulate kitchen and garden waste. These resound seasons, the calm chaos of transformation, of contradictions, the viscosity of the organs, human liminal and substantial metamorphosis, the meta-structures, forgotten meanings, the ever-changing – never predictable mutations of beings.
Continue to fill the bin, or the pile, but until when? Where’s the border of the pile? Are we meant to move inside or beyond borders? Aren’t we vertical beings? We are made, in our times, aware of the edges. And the bin is a construct, it can expand beyond fringes, around corners.
We are only but the continuation of a never-ending process. Like the compost. Born in viscous substance, we mutate, expand, remember, lose, transform, decay.
One should then harvest the compost. And that is where – and when, if possible at all – one mirrors oneself. In the compost itself.
The Compost implies viscosity, it is slippery, it mutates. It is both ephemeral and permanent; it dissolves the narrative, reverberates symptoms of life. Words.
Beneath the narratives, and composing them – those stacked then dissolved in the compost as a series of objects – words unravel. They’re proof of life. They suggest harbours for meanings, nuances, they point towards an explanation for what is not always immediately understandable.
The words of Jens Soneryd spill out – leaking – from the pages, perceived as ephemeral yet pivotal to the comprehension: they are there because we think we know what we do, but we don’t, because not everything that is necessary to understand is really necessary at all.
Some important things, such as growth and decay, memory, forgetting, permanence and change, do not always lay on obvious surfaces to be seen. To be comprehended. And the compost stares back: from a slippery crust, from an ever-changing, all-embracing aggregation of the facts of existence. The technological, heavy, solid, hardware-dependent and production-focused modernity has transformed around us and enclosed us into a light, liquid and fluid software-based modernity…* So what if the compost is the ultimate software? The life-based, ever-transforming aggregation, our alpha and omega?
And what if the words in this ever-transforming unfinished object, this book, are our bridges to grasp without understanding, free from definitions, tools to create fertile soil?
The poems of Soneryd feel like the stuff of which dreams and tales are made of**, so that words come to be written by beings who are perpetually – conscious or not – authors of many, infinite, possibilities. In a society in which almost everything is intended to be predicted, controlled, measured, the poet suggests a space within and around us: where the words, the images, the book itself stand as an invitation to be part of the ever-moving glow of transformation, of being. The flow constitutes the meaning, where the means are not necessarily directed to an end, rather to an open process. The book is a non-finished object, it vibrates questions, poses doubts, grows into different directions; it is a disorganised yet abundant assemblage of stories, things, images, memories.
The words point to lines – those drafted from acquired meanings, surroundings, from semantics – as an infinite, and only potential safe way to escape. The line is intended as we are intended as vertical beings as trees, but fearful to be understood without escape from clusters, to be given only one determined meaning, a position, a path. We are left afraid of not being part of the process, not free to mutate. That is where the book liberates us by growing and moving in front of the eyes; it leaves us free to be in the process, or to be ‘the’ process, by refusing to be defined, our uncertainties absorbed.
It suggests the clarity that one can only be given by the acceptance of being a part of an ever-changing object, composted, destined to mutate. That is an immense agoraphobic freedom.
So we hang on to the image. Looking for clues – about who we are, who we were, what was around us, what still is, what we can possibly fathom. The compost is made of organic matter and it serves to compost, to convert, to compose: the compost is an object, a mixture. And the image is composed, re-composed, suggested, ephemeral, vague, precise, sometimes comprehended, vivid and ever-evolving. It decays, comes back, has a new life, opens a liminal yet cogent passage to something else, beyond.
The object amnesic, the image
The pieces of Henrik Strömberg reverberate life. Memories, times, spaces, forms, shapes.
They contain a self-sufficient ecosystem, while flipping the parameters according to which the subjects are usually recognised, those now telling a story with no script, no beginning, no end. There, the signifiers – the shells of the objects – are the vessels for transformations: all equally possible, all equally concurring to swiften the perception into an alternate, pulsing, structure of references: opportunities. Where the renewal magma is the only possible anchor to flow through a door which opens onto ephemeral narratives.
The images pulse new life. They are momentary blossoms, a heart rate, a throbbing idea, a sudden change in a normally constant flow. They are edible seeds.
The objects – the seeds – have lost their memories of marble bases of trophies, fragments of photographic films, then white pages, branches, leaves, chains, stones, plates, clay, shells, cups, white pages once again, coral, bread, an eye, a window, a plant.
They are seeds of life, transient moments. Phenomena who once were, but are now different: the signifier holds new forms, objects are joined together. Past uses, past lives, past perceptions of forms lurk behind the photographs, they imply new probable narratives, suggest new meanings. The figures, the images, patiently await to be echoed back and they stare back too. Like the compost, they’re the symptoms of what alters and spills new beginnings.
Time is isolated within a frame, details normally overlooked are now features of a new dawn, of a threshold in between aesthetics, of a transformation, an inception, a birth. A multiplication of fungi.
The photographs reflect things. Things in-themselves. The thing in-itself, ontologically intended, can be meant as ‘potential’, future – as a child not yet grown – just as the seed could be the thing in-itself of the plant***. The thing, the object, the image, the photograph being a thing it-self too, are nothing and are everything. They glare back, participating in the process of the artist as noumena****: so the objects ‘amnesic’ exist in the pieces of Strömberg independently from human perception, independent from observation.
They mutate, they relocate, they suggest new ways, merge various forms, heritages, isolate a time-frame otherwise forgotten because they occupied a second of the time being. Or a fraction of it.
The thing in it-self can be understood – the idea of it – by removing, effacing, everything in our experience that we can be or become conscious of*****. And here Strömberg acts: in the space in-between, along the liminal comprehension of form and meaning which does not result as immediately discernible, if ever.
The images are a glimpse on what was and what could possibly be, they create an ephemeral language, move in a space beyond obvious comprehension; they slide towards the intuition of form and meaning which only exist in a common subconscious archive of resemblances. An archive of things, a museal cabinet, the artist being a hunter gatherer of resemblances, of shards, of living beings. And things.
These images can be learned only by observing them across their borders, the outlines, accepting the complexity of them being ephemeral. Hence, they are in flux, ’futural’******, they will grow into what we will come to know.
And knowing is absorbing in a certain measure, consuming, and “consuming life cannot be other than a life of rapid learning, but it also needs to be a life of swift forgetting*******” . Amnesic.
Shreds of scenery, totems floating in time and glimpses of the stream of life populate the pages, alternating with the plastic, moulded, forgetful, transformed objects.
Landscapes and portions of them result in parts of existence and time consumed, flown away, yet to come, past, future. The photographs drift as if set aside in time, suspended in a liquid state of transformation, steady before the eyes on the page. A pile of stones, clouds. Totems, statues. A negative of light, foliage, a pond.
The pages, the words, the photographs and this book exist because they are cohesive and sticky. They are tenacious. They are viscous and uncertain, growing, transforming objects. The viscosity resists the flow that the matter of life is made from: of viscosity itself but also of alteration. Viscosity is the inner friction of a moving, unstable substance, the resistance to a change in shape. But the leaking of desires is continual – our desire to grasp, our desire for paths, for sense, for observation. We are fluid. Our impulses are fluid: the atavistic longings to search, discover, grasp, to own, to let go. Our lives last a second, compared to the soil the compost is made of.
-Chiara Valci Mazzara
*Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Modernity (Cambridge: Polity, 2000).
**William Shakespeare, The Tempest, edited by Dr. Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine (New York City, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2015), p. 133.
***John McCumber, Understanding Hegel’s Mature Critique of Kant (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2013) p. 58.
****“The concept of a noumenon, e.g., of a thing that is not to be thought of as an object of the senses but rather as a thing-in-itself (…)” see in: Immanuel Kant (1781) Critique of Pure Reason, edited by Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), p.362.
*****McCumber, op.cit, p. 54.
******Michael J. Inwood, Hegel, part of Arguments of the Philosophers (London & New York City, NY: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983), pp. 101–102.
*******Zygmunt Bauman, Consuming Life (Cambridge: Polity, 2007), p.96.