The Sumptuous Worldbuilding Of Linnea Sterte’s Stages Of Rot

by Daniel Elkin

Linnea Sterte’s Stages of Rot from Swedish publishers Peow Studio is a recursive dream told in a muted palette of gestures. Turning through the dense, gorgeous, Moebius-like pages of Stages of Rot displaces the reader, pushing them out of this world into visions of some foreign, yet strangely familiar landscape swimming with a cacophony of images and sounds, thick and opaque, boundless and consummate.

In Sterte’s book, narrative is almost secondary to its beauty. Ostensibly, Stages of Rot focuses on the body of a dead whale in an alien landscape and the millennia-long process of its decay. The life that forms around and within the rotting corpse struggles for survival and is endlessly immersed in conflict, only to begin the process anew. Yet it is Sterte’s art that is the true focus of the experience. Vast landscapes breathe through her choices and the detailed minutiae of fauna and flora with which she populates this world fill it fully. World building is rarely this sumptuous. You linger as you read, breathing in each thinly inked brush stroke, immersed in the panorama, listening to the heartbeat of the ample life as it claws and floats, holding on to what it builds in the larger remains.

Sterte’s coloring adds another layer of emotional depth to her pages. She softens her pastels, muting them, adding a tension to the vividness of the genesis her work contains. Fecundity is mellowed, its power harnessed in a way that stands at odds with its procreative power. It’s as if Sterte is commenting on how little the enormity of each life struggle is in the larger span of time. By using color to hush the strife so evident in what she is trying to convey, Sterte is clearly stating that this, the discord which seems so important to us right now, is infinitesimal and insignificant in the greater expanse of time.

And yet all the life that teems in the context of death, the symbiosis between rot and growth, saturates still. Sterte adds peace to violence, understanding that all things rise and fall only to keep the process intact. What strikes us as a sudden departure is only the beginning of yet another interwoven circle. Perhaps this provides some small comfort. Perhaps it doesn’t matter. After all, even amongst all the discord there is the complexity of beauty. On every page of this stunning book, we find the orbicular drama of life, death, rot, life sublimely rendered.

Linnea Sterte’s Stages of Rot is a beautiful work of art.

You can pick it up directly from Peow Studio.