No Words For This Type of Want
Review / May 2023
No Words For This Type of Want: Amanda Moström’s itsanosofadog *It’s an Arse of a Dog at Rose Easton
by Jacob Barnes
There is something unsettling about Amanda Moström’s work. Perhaps this sounds like an insult, but I think this only a positive; Moström deals in a kind of nuanced semiotic remainder that, while thrilling, can only be uneasy.
The Swedish artist’s most recent exhibition itsanosofadog *It’s an Arse of a Dog, running until June 10th at Rose Easton in Bethnal Green, takes the loss of the artist’s grandmother as its foundation. While the works vary in medium, Moström’s most literal instantiation of remembrance comes by way of mining a trove of amateur photographs taken by her late grandmother, co-opting the images into a series of collages and single-image frames. Yet, these works are not tributes or totems; they resist becoming personhood manifest most vividly in its ephemera-cum-artifact. Instead, they signal a kind of Freudian death drive, replete with its ineffability. The works demonstrate longing for a condition that can only be described as absence; an existence that cannot be said to be wholly contained in the past, but can never come to be in the future, either. This is what I mean by a semiotic remainder: Moström’s signs become muddled when they refer to that which defies expression — ontology best realized in its non-being.
But this line of logic threatens over-intellectualization. What Moström gestures towards is the crux of loss, no? Our feelings are not plotted on spatio-temporal axes, but instead within an emotional matrix that prioritizes immediacy. We do not miss those we’ve lost in the past tense, as their past selves; we long for those we’ve lost in the present tense, as amalgams of fragmented memory. In this sense, we want that which not only does not exist, but could never be realized. There are no words for this type of want; it can only be felt.
I think artists sometimes back themselves into this kind of production, almost by accident. After all, it’s very difficult to focus on something that is almost impossible to explain to yourself, let alone anyone else. But Moström seems keenly aware of this paradox. There is something of this in the two fur-framed works Moström has included in the exhibition. The fur itself is taken from the Alpacas on her sister’s farm in rural Sweden, a sentimental touch that again brings familial connection to the fore, although perhaps with a hint of self-effacement. Moström makes a (gentle) mockery of grief in the llama’s fur; what they had is no longer theirs, a loss of a different magnitude than her own, but a loss nonetheless.
But it’s the two images set in the fur frames that capture Moström’s intentionality. Stills of a video in which a Labrador mother quiets her newborn litter through a stern growl are printed on matte aluminum, comprising a kind of diptych. It’s not so much the subject of the images (the dogs) as it’s the terms of the video — aggression as an act of love, and the resultant comprehension of the pups. Indeed, comprehension (or at least our own comprehension) is achieved despite or because of behaviors that appear both contradictory and entirely natural. We know innately the feeling of being perversely soothed by a mother’s firm hand, and the catharsis of demonstrating deep frustration at those we love most. Further, we understand our personal needs and desires as a complex within which individual moments or actions are themselves meaningless out of context. In these works, Moström suggests that this is not only a human phenomenon, but as foundational as consciousness itself.
So what does this amount to? I’m not sure I’ve written anything that clarifies the exhibition; I’ve probably only confused it more. But then again, this is why we go see art: to feel things that resist articulation, and to commune with phenomena that are foremost feeling and not logic.
Image 1: Amanda Moström, itsanosofadog *It’s an arse of a dog, Installation view, Rose Easton, London, 4 May –10 June 2023, Photography by Theo Christelis
Image 2: Encore, 01-09-02, 2023, Grandmother's photograph, fish tank PVC sheet, artist frame, 30 x 30 x 3 cm, Courtesy of the artist and Rose Easton, London, Photo by Theo Christelis
Image 3: Bless You, 2023, Kakan’s fleece, wood, UV printed aluminium, velvet, 95 x 72 x 11 cm, Courtesy of the artist and Rose Easton, London, Photo by Theo Christelis
Image 4: Amanda Moström, itsanosofadog *It’s an arse of a dog, Installation view, Rose Easton, London, 4 May –10 June 2023, Photography by Theo Christelis