Born: Halden, Norway (1983)
Lives and works: Oslo, Norway
In his sculptures, installations, performances, and videos, Eirik Sæther views architecture, decor, and fashion as shells: layers of concealment and containment which express and shape individual and collective human behavior. His work often takes the form of assemblages made of elements from different environments, ranging from the found and filthy to the exclusive and bespoke. Sæther has also worked collaboratively as a founding member of the artist group Institutt for Degenerert Kunst (2008–15).
CHINA (2017), the exhibition’s introductory work, is a site-specific installation commissioned for CHART. The architectural and sculptural work departs from a generic hotel corridor with an adjoining room, including details and objects that are foreign or strange. Sæther flips the architecture upside down, a simple gesture that draws acute awareness to these usually innocuous surroundings and objects. The title, by extension, makes reference to the common schoolyard phrase, ‘dig to China,’ which imagines the unknown country as the flipside of the world under our feet. In adulthood, and particularly in this political moment, China functions in a similarly abstract fashion as an eastern other through which the west defines itself.
CHINA stems off of Sæther’s earlier works such as, Family Friendly (2017), a copper, house-like installation that acts as a border and container for various sculptures and videos. Where the house acts as a barrier which cordons the individual or family from the rest of society, the hotel is a larger, maze-like container which invites and shelters otherwise unconnected individuals side by side, one on top of the other for brief periods of time. The form and decor of such environments are designed in a purposefully similar, generic fashion. Meant to offend no one, it signals familiarity, safety, comfort, and a kind of naturalness to an otherwise strange and unpredictable situation. Within this flipped environment, Sæther places new sculptural arrangements related to human belonging and how bodily presence is felt through a relationship to external objects and architecture.
In Sæther’s work, language and clothing are primary means of individual expression. Architecture and decor extend this idea as secondary layers used to express identities and to contain and surround individuals. The way we speak to one another, dress, and assemble in space entail codes and decisions which can signal inclusion to a certain group, or set or ourselves apart from or cause exclusion. Sæther undercuts the comfort of the general hotel container, making it into a strange place in which we become acutely aware of how it structures our relationship to others.