20 May – 18 June 2017
Opening: Friday 19 May, 7pm
UKS at Kunstnernes Hus, Wergelandsveien 17, Oslo
Tuesday – Wednesday: 11am – 4pm
Thursday: 11am – 8pm*
Friday: 11am – 6pm
Saturday – Sunday: 12 – 6pm
UKS (Unge Kunstneres Samfund / The Young Artists’ Society) presents Eirik Sæther’s first institutional solo exhibition in Scandinavia, Family Friendly. Preluded by a one-night happening by Sæther in early spring, the exhibition launches UKS’ guest program at Kunstnernes Hus, displaying four new commissions by young artists from May 2017 through February 2018. Part of a new artistic generation in Oslo, Sæther has worked over the past few years in various collaborative constellations—among these, as a founding member of the infamous artist group Institutt for Degenerert Kunst (2008–15)—while his work has been shown both in Norway and abroad, including in Paris, Berlin, and New York.
A truce is a momentary armistice between fighting fronts, whether individuals or collectives. It is also the title of a work in Sæther’s exhibition. Expanding this concept of an uneasy balance, it approaches the artist’s body of work as an ongoing performance compiled from an amalgam of surrounding interests. Sæther’s practice is a constant negotiation, assemblages created from thickly applied layers, catalyzed by the different sociolects and visual realms he encounters as an international artist and a broke Oslo slacker; an eternal teenager, a son, and a father; and an occasional (identity) thief and the creator of an irregular (fake?) fashion brand.
To be Family Friendly is a benevolent marker. Yet in a corporate culture it is a double bind since it also indicates the potentially cynical motif: selling the product, i.e. hijacking the family for commercial employment and tuning the cultural output to its spectators by censoring the world’s terrors. Toying with these layers, Sæther’s exhibition is built around an almost life-size mock-up of a (family) home, introduced by the plaque Hiring Homewreckers and completed by an interior of patchwork carpets, a beat-up sofa, and a television.
Outside this DIY-playhouse, a central element of the exhibition is a series of elevated platforms displaying bronze casts of baby dolls that recall the 1988 horror movie Child’s Play in which a puppet breaks out of its amicable role. Clad in glittery costumes and punk wigs, Sæther’s figurines are set amongst faux branches, graffiti spray cans, and home-décor lettering, evoking simultaneously a humorous rip-off of uncanny motifs, a catwalk, and an ikebana arrangement.
A fixture behind Sæther’s scenario is the 1957 Italo Calvino novel The Baron in the Trees. The narrative follows the rampant, adolescent boy of a noble family who decides to rebel against the prospects of adulthood and assuming his proper role as Baron by living his whole life in a tree, rejecting the decorum of aristocracy. While Calvino’s text paraphrases the European post-war existentialist rejection of etiquette and embellished attire, in Sæther’s version the stage of rebellion is no longer an ascetic site of nature but a theatrically dressed-up act. It is an adorned photo-op combining montaged material, including classical bronze surfaces, tropes from en-vogue pop culture, and a plethora of artistic references to, among others, the oddities of Norwegian renegade artist Kjartan Slettemark. The withdrawal to an isolated treetop (akin to an artistic ivory tower) is thus replaced with a murkily embroidered stage design. Set on custom-built pedestals imitating grand-scale flower vases as if in a Japanese garden, the dolls’ miniature worlds merge (naive) visual indicators of dissidence – the spray can and the punk hair – with the floral tropes of good taste and bourgeois life. Here Calvino’s aim for lofty solitude has turned into a meticulously sculpted, philistine performance, resonating with the crux of Sæther’s practice: the deliberately failing attempt to escape from the institutionalized art world’s formalism only to sink into a dirty realm of libidinal desire, juvenile blogging, and blurred backstreet boyhood.
The sculptural copper house at the centre of the installation is left abandoned, the rebel dolls having dropped-out to pose on their different stages. The cabin’s interior, made mainly from found materials, is embellished with a patterned floor of collaged rugs (resembling the pedestals’ fabric surfaces). There a life-size foam-mannequin sits dressed in a pink robe repeatedly marked with the acronym BX (Sæther’s recurring ‘tag’). The same outfit is also seen on what appears to be a photoshoot with a young male model, that is pictured in a short film-loop entitled I’m too excited to tell you playing on a flat screen and interspersed by rushes of a crying baby mask donned by the artist himself. Paraphrasing the renowned Dutch artist Bas Jan Ader’s 1970–71 silent film I’m too sad to tell you, which shows Ader crying, Sæther’s video clip reshuffles the excited balance between earnest emotional investment and pressure of performative success. Chaining different levels of sincerity with tropes of high-life entertainment, flirtation and melodrama, the (gory) thrill stemming from popular attractions is an important anchor. As in horror films or reality TV, affect is an asset—slaughter, or even sorrow, is fun. In the midst of the exhibition, the hollow playhouse, entitled Family Friendly, thus gives space for an excited pleasure that is both gripping and abject, genuine and tongue-in-cheek.
Eirik Sæther (b. 1983) graduated from Oslo Academy of the Arts’ MFA program in 2010. Previous exhibitions and projects include the solo show World’s Youngest at Édouard Montassut in Paris (2017), participation in the 9th Berlin Biennale (2016), the solo exhibition INNESTEMME organized by Jenny’s at 47 Canal, New York (2015), and the exhibition Unshelling and Shelling Again, which he curated for Kunsthall Stavanger and Diorama, Oslo (2014). Current exhibitions, on display throughout the summer 2017, include a solo show at Jenny’s in Los Angeles and participation in the Norwegian Sculpture Biennial in Oslo.