MEMORY OF WATER

This work by Bjorn Sterri is a continuation of his earlier body ‘Breathe Keep Breathing’. In the introduction to that work in 2001, I wrote:

» Photography has always had a close relationship with memory, both distant and recent.  In the former we treasure photographs as a remembrance of people and a reminder of past events.  While these can never equal the original experience with all the multisensory stimuli involved, they do prompt our memory as a representation.  Some use it as a diary, as a private means of recording our circumstances and clarifying our condition; to put abstract feelings and emotions into the sort of tangible data that we can begin to make sense of, and to be retrieved at a later date to remind us of how we were. «

Still working with the notion of memory – or memento –, Bjorn Sterri has been continuously photographing himself and his family for over ten years using the two technical extremes of instant colour polaroid and black and white 10×8 cameras. This enigmatic ‘new’ work draws upon images that range from ten years old to the very recent, and are selected from a vast number of polaroids. Although the images are not in chronological order, there is a narrative here; a tracing of his life with the three people who are crucial to his existence.

An inherent problem with photographs is that they can be ‘read’ at different levels. Photographs are ubiquitous and we are used to seeing them in a variety of contexts – mostly commercial. Such images are intended for instant consumption and their success is based on how well they please – or astonish – the eye.  We expect more of gallery work and yet there is an element of uncertainty in terms of how far we should analyse them. The gallery context expects contemplation, but how far should we go in extracting meaning from a child running through a shadow, for example? Is it an accident that a tattooed arm, ‘father son’, is adjacent to an image of a chair and a pair of trousers, or should we see a significance here? We cannot decode all of these pictures of Sterri’s, but it is clear that he has taken immense care over the placing, sequencing and selection of these images.

What we can begin to access here is firstly the meaning of the title with its reference to water, symbolising life, regeneration and the womb. A superficial consideration of the images themselves tells us that Sterri and his family have not been without anguish. Further examination reveals the prevalence of references to mortality. In addition, we notice that there is not one image where the whole family are together; it’s as if Sterri is somehow looking in on it from the outside, casting his shadow.

It would be possible to speculate much further on the symbolism within this work – to attempt to decipher the whole story – but how much better to let the enigma stand; to allow personal interpretation.

This is a composite artwork of 21 images: they are not divisible. It is a work of seductive beauty: self expressive, elegant and eloquent. As with ‘Breathe Keep Breathing’,  Sterri returns us to a consideration of values that are both life affirming and vital.

Robin Gillanders, 2007

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