EIRIK SÆTHER: FAMILY FRIENDLY
UKS presents Eirik Sæther’s first institutional solo exhibition in Scandinavia, Family Friendly, opening 7pm, Friday 19 May, 2017, as part of the guest programme at Kunstnernes Hus, Oslo.
A truce is the momentary armistice between fighting fronts, individuals, or collectives. It is also the title of a core work in Sæther’s UKS 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, creating thick layers of collaged material 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 a non-profit exhibitor, an occasional performative (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 shows a (cynical) motif: selling the product, i.e., hijacking the family for commercial employment and tuning the cultural output to its spectators by censoring away the world’s horrors. Toying with these layers, a central element in Sæther’s exhibition Family Friendly is a series of elevated platforms displaying baby-doll casts that recall the 1988 horror movie Child’s Play in which a doll breaks out of its amicable role.
Clad in glittery costumes and punk wigs, Sæther’s figurines are set amongst fake branches, graffiti spray cans, and home-décor letters, evoking simultaneously a tongue-in-cheek rip-off of uncanny, gory motifs, a catwalk, and an ikebana arrangement. A fixture behind these scenarios is the 1957 novel by Italo Calvino Baron in the Trees. The novel follows the adolescent, rampant 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. However, in Sæther’s version, the stage of rebellion is no longer an ascetic site of nature but a theatrically dressed-up act that unfolds on custom-built pedestals imitating grand-scale flower vases. The withdrawal to an isolated treetop (akin to an artistic ivory tower) is replaced by a murkily embroidered stage design of miniature worlds or “doll houses” that merge (naive) visual directives of performative dissidence, such as the spray can, with the (family-friendly) ornamented tropes of bourgeois life. The figurative depiction of lofty solitude has thus turned into a clustered “decoration”, resonating with a recurring crux in Sæther’s practice: the deliberately failing attempt to escape from the institutionalized art world’s formalism and rules of engagement, to instead sink into a dirty realm of libidinal desire, pop culture, juvenile blogging, and blurred backstreet boyhood.
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), his 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). Upcoming exhibitions in Summer 2017 include a solo exhibition at Jenny’s in Los Angeles and participation in the Sculpture Biennial in Oslo.