Presence of History - Greger Ståhlgren

Greger Ståhlgren works with a range of mediums and techniques including photography, sculpture and site-specific installations with a primary focus on the natural world and cultural history.
He bases his practice on direct experience with nature; the forest plays a central part in both photography and three-dimensional works.

Much of his sculptural work combines humour and elements of surprise with craftsmanship as they play with unexpected contrasts in materials and connotations. Works such as Birch tree trumpet (2015) and Lightroom (2015) create puzzling ambiguity for the viewers by placing or even incorporating recognisable man-made objects into nature. In all of his works, Ståhlgren offers his viewers a generous space for their own thoughts as he deliberately constructs his scenarios in a way that refuses definitive interpretations, like visual poems.

He combines multilayered cultural and art historical references by using objects that refer to architectural and sculptural traditions such as columns, antique Greek vases and amphoras. These pieces are also often incorporated into nature or in other ways visually quoted in the natural surroundings. A recurring motif in his work is the ionic capital, an element found in ancient Greek architecture. Both as detailed plaster capitals placed on top of naked pillar-like pine trees and as simple wooden structures with cut-though logs representing the volutes, these archetypical shapes evoke a sense of grandeur and a presence of history. They transform the surrounding space in a subtle but effective way, and this appearance of classical architectural elements in the middle of the forest makes for aesthetically minimal, but conceptually profound work. In many of his works, Ståhlgren conjures up the hallucinatory quality of a fantasy or a dream which underlines that his works are anchored in the contemporary world, but endowed with a strong poetic dimension.

By bringing classical elements into contemporary settings, Ståhlgren emphasises that history repeats itself in the sense that the language of form has eternal and universal qualities. By placing sections of white fluted columns together with felled tree trunks on the forest floor, he is flattening history so that every object stands in direct equivalence. Communication between the diverse objects and how they interrelate within an installation play a significant role, as well as the silent dialogue between the works and their viewers. The use of elements such as broken columns and shattered capitals which can be seen in the installation One place after another (2013) seems to investigate how things decay, break or fall out of history only to be found again and given new meaning in a new context. How everything we do - artistically and otherwise - is built upon what came before it and all is connected. Should problems arise in the making of the installations, they are solved through a process of trial and error, which gives the works an organic and unrestrained freedom of form, resembling a naturally unfolding path or the growth of a tree.

Ståhlgren stitches and unstitches private and collective memories, and his work is grounded in a deep concern for the natural environment and how we use it. In his smaller sculptural works, he plays further with the viewer's perception of things and challenges our way of looking at seemingly well-known objects. In the work Artefact (2014) he displays two branches - one found in the forest and an almost exact replica of it constructed out of the legs and backrest of a wooden chair. He has brought the wood back to its natural state by stripping off the layers of fabrication and utility and by doing so seemingly erased or rewound the human influence on the object. As well as being a show of exquisite craftsmanship and a play with form, Ståhlgren seems to problematise the incursion of human activities in nature and the notion of "nature restoration" which may well be an oxymoron.

In his photographic work, the same dreamlike qualities are enhanced through the use of double exposure which gives movement to otherwise still photographs and lends them an ethereal feel. In the series Reminiscence (2012-15), Ståhlgren places his viewers somewhere between fantasy and reality from where they can immerse themselves in the atmospheric forest scenes and let their gaze wander into the images, exploring their layers and rhythms.

Through his works, Ståhlgren invites the viewer to look beyond the obvious and the well-known, adding elements of wonder to each piece. His artistic exploration of new structures that emerge in hitherto unknown contexts renews our perception of natural phenomena and our relationship with our common surroundings and shared history.