“This is what the boys in their stained boxers run from”
The Norwegian artist Børre Sæthre (b. 1967) is known for his spectacular installations that draw on unlikely juxtapositions of visual languages: high-end retail and interior design; Minimalist sculpture traditions; science fiction; subverted taxidermy and kitschy fantasy illustration, to name but a few.
For his most recent monographic exhibition, “For Someone Who Nearly Died But Survived” at Bergen Kunsthall, as part of the Bergen International Festival 2007, Sæthre has truly delivered with his signature amalgam language. The result is a series of interconnected environments created for the Kunsthall’s spacious rooms through which we are invited to literally enter his particular world. At various points, the environments force the visitor to pass through chic automatic doors of tinted glass. The doors, in Sæthre’s practice, not only serve the practical function of separating the crisp and often loudsound element of individual installations but also have other complex functions. Their appearance – sleek and contemporary – coexists with their more metaphoric use in his work. These are the doors that effortlessly slide open allowing us to pass from one specific environment to another; from cool white spaceship to dark foreboding projection rooms and glowing grottos. We drift like Orpheus through a designer underworld.
Sæthre, who in the past has spoken of his fascination with the unheimlich Freud’s notion of ‘the uncanny’ – perfectly reinterprets the concept for a contemporary context. He eschews pointless attempts to shock and disturb his mediasaturated audience. Instead he offers up a heady mixture of fragmented, opposing elements that reflect our contemporary lifestyles. He lifts visual elements from the realms of design, retail culture, sexual politics, sci-fi, fantasy, modernist art and film narratives. He then presents these with hyperrealist crispness in environments in which we literally become active participants rather than passive viewers of an artist’s attempt to shock or impress. Ironically, his more leftfield approach produces a truly uncanny experience. We join him in his mixed-up dreams – or nightmares – of our contemporary world on an almost equal footing, sometimes certain that we understand where we are and its meanings, at other times adrift in a seductive ambivalence.
His full-scale sculpture of a Pegasus confronts us, complete with beautiful feathered wings, in a soft-focus haze of what could be clouds. We fully understand that the effect is achieved through the use of science – the placement of the sculpture behind specially treated glass – but as in a dream, we believe in it as much as the sleek boutique hotel drapes or bijou carpeting on which we stand. Just as Freud’s legacy has taught us that dreams do not observe social mores on sex, Sæthre guides us through a world in which the seamless finish of the installations exists simultaneously with an almost inappropriate, consuming sexuality. His is not a world in which the tasteful interior design elements are equated with the sophisticated urbane sexiness of glossy fashion magazines. His discourse is more akin to the dark hedonistic brutality of writers like Dennis Cooper.
“This is what the boys in their stained boxers run from” a retro green text interface on a monitor tells us in a dark room. On the opposing wall a huge projection of a cosmic explosion coincides with booming pulsating cinematic sound; a destructive orgasm on a celestial scale. And, of course, both Sæthre and we know that the boys in their stained boxers are just as likely to be running towards it as from it…