by Teddy Hultberg – translation by Richard G. Carlsson
Björn Stampes is an artist who cherishes the object. A number of recurring figures are presented in the room, austere objects, lathed reticent forms, in a variety of permutations and set-ups, often lying on a small shelf secured to the wall. Stampes is a sculptor who paints, or a painter who sculpts, somewhere in the extended field where most of the interesting contemporary visual artists reside today. Stampes’s art is a work on the boundary, marking out where a conception or an encounter with the other can take place.
It is clear that Stampes is actually posing questions to himself. Is it possible to create something new, or can the artist paint a new manner by which to observe things and the world? As wide-ranging as the questions are, the objects Stampes creates are to the same extent manageable, accessible with regard to format and appearance, with their sanded and polished surfaces, and often painted in distinct, vibrant colours. But the unequivocal aspect is just an illusion.
Stampes’s art bears a bewildering resemblance to… something else. What seemingly emerges before the eyes of the viewer is actually something else. A pizza box turns out to be the stage design for another interaction with the public: the artist’s betrayal of the expectations. The artist’s betrayal of the materials. What is material in art if we cannot be certain of its components, if we are instead having the wool pulled over our eyes, deceived by the skill of the artist? We can wonder what the artist’s intention is. Is his aim to render us speechless, to perhaps deprive us of our ability to name and contextualise? If we continue to peel off these layers, what remains in the end is the artist’s betrayal of the public. Can betrayal be beneficial? Can a betrayal of expectations be a good thing? Can betrayal constitute both an artistic tactic and at the same time lead to a creative sense of insecurity?
In his work,The Republic, Plato has Socrates argue from his lofty pinnacle for the artist to be banished from the ideal city. The reasoning was clear and simple. The artist leads us away from the real world, with his false representation of truth. The craftsman, who creates chairs to sit on, is necessary, but the depicting artist is undesired. With this reasoning in mind, could one say that Stampes’s work aims at underlining the importance of the artist? His object are not utensils, they simply give that impression, at least until they attract our closer attention. Stampes’s pitcher-like goblet cannot stand upright, it has fallen over with its nozzle pointing straight upwards. The objects constitute new things, or turn out be negations of the betrayal that an artist, according to Plato, is guilty of when merely depicting the craftsman’s products (the appearance) and not the essence of the items, their true nature. A nature that of course only the philosopher can gain access to. Is the aim of Stampes’s art to point a finger at Plato?
Although Stampes’s intention, as I see it, is not to present the entity, the object itself, one can nevertheless at times detect an air of ancient times as one wanders among his objects. These painted sculptures seem to be involved in a staging of sorts, a Platonic theatre, where the visitor can engage in a dialogue with objects that make no attempt at being anything other than proclamation. Not that we should necessarily concur with Socrates’s reasoning, nor with Heidegger’s notion that the artwork has the capacity to allow the essence of the object and the truth of existence to emerge. Even Heidigger’s drilling misses the ore here. At any rate, perhaps the viewer can be aroused by the issue conveyed by Stampes’s objects, that falls somewhere between the elusive and the intangible. As all good art, Björn Stampes’s works pose questions to the viewer, and perhaps can trigger that sense of wonder that, according to the ancient Greeks, was the first impulse of Philosophy.
“It [Stampes’s art] isn’t what it appears to be, or rather, it looks like what it isn’t, and that’s the point.” Håkan Rehnberg
Are there other approaches by which to attempt to gain an understanding of Stampes’s art? It quickly becomes apparent that the seemingly mundane aspects of Stampes’s expression are illusory. A closer look at the objects makes it harder to keep a complaisant attitude, and it becomes all the more frustrating to insist on a systematic mode of observation – the type of gaze that is so infernally manifested in Strindberg’s Blue Books, where the world is read as a system of symbols or a hieroglyphic book.
It is said that we interpret, put together fragments and anecdotes; that we ourselves draw the contour that we are surrounded by, but Stampes’s objects do not form a text for us to interpret. The objects dodge, elude, and offer no clues, despite the precise materiality that Stampes so excels in. The sensual surface is an armour that neither hides a reticent space nor does it possess the mystery of the simple, pure forms.
The least illusory aspect is the opposition shown by Stampes’s works. The established language’s boundaries must be transgressed if we are to communicate with these painted objects. Or, better yet, can one transgress these boundaries with the aid of these objects? Have we thus brought Heidegger back in from the cold? As stubborn as Stampes’s art may be, it is not as reticent as a clam with regard to the prying tentacles of the surrounding world.
“Like a wet bar of soap, Stampes’s works always tend to slip out of one’s grasp.” Lars O Ericsson
The artist presents us with forms that, although simple and familiar, nevertheless arouse our awe and uncertainty. At the same time, Stampes’s works radiate a beauty of their own, a lathed, polished form of craftsmanship that one might find among items for sale at a farmer’s auction. But here we encounter an object liberated from history that has perhaps become part of another apparatus altogether. It can be daunting to discover the unknown in the familiar or vice versa. That which feels familiar seems borrowed from the bedroom of a small child with its colourful, garish forms. Not that they seem to belong to this category of vivid commodities. What is uncanny, or possibly unheimlich in this context is the fact that they seem not to be made by human hand. They are unfamiliar. It feels instead as though they have come about of themselves. And perhaps they have no interest in us whatsoever.
To Freud, who coined the term unheimlich in an essay back in 1919, it signified a feeling of unpleasantness, when the familiar showed itself to accommodate unfamiliar elements and a dual experience; an experience that divides the distinct wholeness in two. It is a feeling we can experience in our contact with humanoids, human/machine hybrids. For decades, this has been the stuff of science fiction literature, and later of the world of films and television series, but soon, no doubt, of our everyday lives in the imminent future as well. Björn Stampes’s objects are not, as of yet, humanoids. He has created a small catalogue of aggravating items, and chances are that that catalogue will be extended and they will increase in number. Would we really want that?
At the same time, Stampes’s art is so reduced and concise, that it demands certain concessions of the viewer, such as abstaining from transient physical contact. And the fact is, we are not enticed to actually hold Stampes’s objects in our hands. The desire for contact is more on a mental level, the polished finish does not call for a sensual handling.
“As though they were living beasts,” wrote Sartre in “Nausea”, thus capturing the feeling of being unsure of whether they can bite or infect.
A disconnect arises in the encounter with Stampes’s objects, a breach in the fabric that surrounds us, that the viewer has to deal with. A few thin streams of paint running downwards along a brick wall become the silhouette of a hand moving over the wall’s surface. Even the arm with outstretched fingers is a recurring motif in the artist’s repertoire.
A flag on a pole takes up the pattern of a brick wall, suggesting an implausible solidity.
A pizza box emptied of its contents does not become a voluminous Oldenburg, but instead an austere, virtually identical object, as close as one can get to the original box, with a glaze of running paint in five stripes, five fingers.
Another sculpture, an entirely black television screen on small feet, becomes thoroughly threatening.
Encountering Stampes’s works can feel uncomfortable, as a chafing against the senses, like the disarmingly candid questions of an eight-year-old. They can cause you to feel shame because they appear to come from another world, a painful reminder of a place that was once yours. The viewer is left hanging in the air, like a shaky mobile subjected to strange winds.
Stampes’s objects are silent, or rather, they are mute in a telling manner. If language is the house we reside in, then Stampes’s objects can be interpreted as a challenging of that manner of living and our safety concerns when dealing with everyday life. Not to mention the genuinely stereotypical aspects of our lives that we are always tempted to renew and upgrade in the shopping malls that we incessantly wander through and increasingly often get lost in.
“The Order Must Not be Disturbed” is the title of a public commission featuring five objects placed on a shelf measuring four metres in length. The piece can indicate that we are not familiar with the weight or proportional measurements of the objects. Stampes’s unusually distinct challenge in the title would have us try to discover an order that is not immediately apparent. The individual observer has little chance to restore the prevailing lack of balance. Stampes’s objects eschew functionality and thwart all attempts at interpretation. The would prefer to abdicate, despite often being displayed on tidy blue-grey wall shelves. Are we meant to see Stampes’s objects as abject art ? As a wink to Julia Kristeva: an art that seeks to undermine and destabilise, that celebrates ambiguity, that questions identities, positions and rules. Stampes’s art, however, bears no obvious reference to bodily discharges or secretions, but rather the opposite. We do, however, find examples of stylised currents, with some of the objects besmirched with small dollops of paint, an odd feature on an otherwise well-polished surface, like the goo dripping from a toddler’s ice cream cone and making a real mess of things.
From Plato’s banishment of the depiction, via Freud’s term unheimlich, to Kristeva’s abject art: an erratic meandering path around Stampes’s repellant objects of a more resilient kind of art not easily worn away.
Stampes’s objects disrupt the gaze in its effort to define and register, causing the individual (the viewer) to experience an uncertainty, an oscillation, that is relentless. Instead, the subject conveys this issue as a vague feeling of something unexplored, something far and beyond. The boundary between the subject and everything else is blurred. The object has inseminated the subject with a virile seed. Isn’t this the dream of every artist? Is the muteness of the object a form of communication? Is this the autism in the face of all the elevated babble going on? The only dog paddle that can truly keep us (art) afloat?