Watching Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window for the first time this winter, during lockdown, snowed-in inside a Norwegian cabin, was an itchy affair. Itchy because the protagonist—the whole film follows a photographer who, due to a broken leg, is kept fairly immobile in his courtyard apartment—is observing his neighbours so obscenely, voyeuristically hoping for a bit of drama or even, indeed, a crime, a murder. Itchy because it so poignantly mirrored how, at that point during lockdown, it seemed that unapologetic neighbor-watching was pretty much all the world had to offer: the “social contagion” of acting as voyeur. A world of previous social exchange, critical voices, and global traveling had imploded into a neighbor-googling affair. In my case via Instagram, mainly, the little squared windows to the world, stories of other people’s boredom.
Eirik Sæther’s first show at Brandstrup riffs on this, Hitchcock’s haunting image of the voyeur catapulted into 2021. A set of stoneware miniature sofas—replicating an old, rickety, and graffiti-tagged couch—puns on the domestic commodification of “art above the sofa” while alluding to the (involuntarily) passive recline of the protagonist in the 1950s film. The home, the sofa, is the place from which we’re incessantly soaking up any new action or influence, desiring to relieve ourselves from the burden of examining our own lives by being influenced by those of others.
When sourcing a sofa for my daughter, I found miniature copies of various designer sofas, which in turn gave birth to the series of sculptures “Here lies the broken bones of E. Sæther”. The artworks which depict tiny, tagged down and worn out sofas became a starting point for my exhibition.
- Eirik Sæther
To find an abandoned sofa in your own backyard, would be a life hack, for a semi poor artist. But there is no such thing as a free sofa. It comes with bugs, stains and previous lived life, and I'm not sure I am ready to invite that into my own living room. The sculptures, however, though these same worn out sofas, are elevated to shiny high society objects. Thus (if sold); become my own ticket to the very same high society.
- Eirk Sæther
There is a real influencer sharing Sæther’s backyard, where the original couch that served as a model for the new sculptures was found—so the story goes. In fact, the view from lying on that very, worn sofa dumped in Sæther’s backyard, looking up into the sky between the rising building blocks (contemplating whether to bring the piece of furniture into his home) mixed together with the pop art stylized contour of the female Insta-celebrity or the voyeur’s face behind the blinds, all performed in a style inspired by hand-coloured (thriller) movie posters from the 1950s and 1960s, comprise the main ingredients quoted in the new painterly series by Sæther.
In the paintings, there is a psychedelic feeling to the implosion of perspective, the dystopian city’s building blocks moving in on the influencer’s ghostly facial poses. It is a claustrophobic, horrific space closing in on us. Looking at these paintings, there’s little space left for action. If, in Hitchcock’s film, James Stewart as the protagonist notoriously directs the actress—later turned Monaco Princess—Grace Kelly to follow his every whim, in Sæther’s paintings it is the woman’s face that dominates and influences the broken or passive white male figure. This is humorously alluded to in the title of Sæther’s sofa series, Here lie the broken bones of E. Sæther (in turn quoting a tag on Hitchcock’s protagonist leg plaster cast “Here lie the broken bones of L.B. Jefferies”). In Sæther’s world, in 2021, it is the man (not a woman) who is “under the influence” (to quote the title of an entirely different, yet later, American film classic by John Cassavetes); painting is no strongarm, male function, it is an action under the influence.
As a 15 year old, I won a competition to become a co-host on a local TV-show in my hometown, Halden. It gave me a feeling of being “up and coming” and I achieved some degree of celebrity status within my community (which unfortunately didn't last for long). In the painting “The Influencer (Ung tv-debut)” an instafamous female figure has had her facial features erased and replaced with the head of my prepubescent self. Like a hermit crab looking for an empty shell to inhabit, the 15 year old me, has finally found his home, a place to reclaim his fame.
- Eirik Sæther
As Sæther has repeatedly played out in previous works that frequently return to role play, the puppet, the proxy, the figurine, or the mannequin (among these a video of Sæther as a mad paternal narcissist in Fathers Figure, or sculptures of stylized, high-fashion children’s dolls in Family Friendly), identity as an essentialist notion has been swallowed by a swirl of roles, all under the influence—in the age of the influencer. It’s a world where nothing is truthful, all is by proxy. In one piece in his new silk-print series, titled The Influencer (Ung TV-debut), we even get a glimpse of the 15-year-old Eirik acting as TV co-host in a bingo show. It’s all about the acting, the play, the influence—even your old self, your rear window backlog, as an incessant influence. And so, this is not action painting, it’s acting painting. It is the artist playing the painter. As a matter of fact, in this case, at the show at Brandstrup, it is demonstrating Sæther’s premier: his first-ever show acting as a painter.
Text by Rhea Dall