There is a charming little video on youtube where an Asian filmmaker is following Daniel Piaggio Strandlund around Brussels. Strandlund has an exhibition and we see him prepare for it, patiently printing and correcting the prints. There is an incredible calmness to him, this man who was born in Peru, but is also half Swedish and who grew up in Costa Rica and in Sweden.
In the video, during the exhibition, visitors are asked to comment on how they feel about one of Strandlund’s images. They look at a picture shot from what seems like a porch, from behind a wooden post and looking out into a green garden. Gentle light is finding its way through leaves and branches. You can see the visitors struggling. What did Strandlund see or feel while making this picture? One woman calls it an impression. Something she can project her own memories onto.
Strandlund’s work doesn’t provide us with a straightforward narrative. Simply because there is no straightforward narrative to present. Through his work, Strandlund is trying to re-experience the years of his youth. His personal history. And as it goes with personal histories, they tend to be fragmentary. It’s how memory works – or doesn’t work.
His book té de reina takes its title from a popular brew in Costa Rica. ‘The plant La Reina de la Noche has flowers that open in the afternoon, forming a bell that gives of a mild yet persistent odor,’ Strandlund explains. ‘Tea made from these flowers is said to be hallucinogenic – té de Reina. The title suggests the fine line between the organic and the synthetic memory – the illusion of experience and the experience of illusion.’
‘I guess I feel lucky,’ Strandlund says. ‘To be a teenager in Costa Rica was the best that could ever have happend to me. Youngsters over there used to be really untamed and as soon as you’d look the other way vines would climb the wall and weeds grow in the cracks like if the jungle was just waiting on us to lower our guard to settle in for good.’
Like those weeds, time will cover up a past if we don’t pay enough attention to it. If we don’t preserve our memories. So we turn to photographs. But like tea from La Reina de la Noche, photographs are also a form of hallucination. At least that is what Roland Barthes called them when he wrote that photographs are ’false on the level of perception, true on the level of time.’
If I keep returning to Strandlund’s work, it’s because I believe that he is very much aware of this. That he is trying to let this notion work for him, in a continuous effort to make images – or to find old images – that will trigger a spark. Something clear and bright. An Aha-Erlebnis.
‘I get the same kick from reading a beautiful line as from seeing a beautiful picture,’ he says. ‘They make you understand things you shouldn’t, like a small moment of clairvoyance.’
All images from the book té de reina © Daniel Piaggio Strandlund