As I walked through Gardar Eide Einarsson’s solo show in his native Oslo, a line by the indie pop group Razorlight became lodged in my head: “All my life …watching America.” Such a reference might not be entirely appropriate for Einarsson whose penchant is for hardcore punk, but the source of this synesthesia was clear: North American popular culture dominates the exhibition, from the inkjet images of a home-made NYPD Badge, 2010, and gun-toting policemen in Baton Exercise 1-9, 2007, printed onto plywood boards, to the blue and red neon sign Untitled (JESUS SAVES), 2008, inspired by the film Dirty Harry from 1971. This rotating sign playfully resonates with the twirling black-and-white painted bronze traffic cones entitled But, What Ends When the Symbols Shatter, 2009, that are dotted across the gallery floor, and both allude to retro barbers’ poles and lollipops.
North American art historical references abound: Frank Stella’s hard edge paintings in Untitled (Family Crest), 2008; Dan Flavin’s fluorescent tubes in Caligula, 2010; Brice Marden’s grey field canvases in the series Stainless Steel (Fine), 2010; and John McCracken’s proclivity for leaning his work against the wall, as seen in the first work in the show History of car bombs, 2010, – a printed text on plywood – charting a potted history of the use of these devices by groups such as Hezbollah and the IRA. However, the prevailing allusion is to the ‘Pow!’ and ‘Bang!’ of cartoons rather than to the fatalities and destruction caused by terrorist attacks.
The exhibition captures social paranoia and the means that governments adopt to control their citizens, including attempts to define the facial features of criminals based on Cesare Lombroso’s 1876 book The Criminal Man in Our Rival the Rascal (Silver 1), 2008-2009, the installation of mirrors on the Tokyo underground to prevent suicides, and the fixing of sound-emitting devices – only audible to the under-20s – to stop teenagers from gathering in public places. Gardarsson has installed this contraption entitled Zeitgeist (Compound Security Systems), 2010, in the museum’s room that contains the permanent display of’ Anselm Kiefer’s immoveable lead books Zweistormland/The High Priestess, 1986-89, creating a prescient juxtaposition between the weight of history and the more slight and sophisticated wielding of power in our contemporary society of control.
None of these contemporary aspects of power are confined to a North American context. Nevertheless, Einarsson argues that the USA provides a more intense ‘case study’ – something ‘vi’ (the collective ‘we’) find it hard to understand, invoking his Norwegianness after a decade-long absence, albeit with the camp cadence of someone who has spent a long time abroad.
Einarsson approaches his case study with all the whimsical fascination of an outsider, which can give the individual elements of his ‘fragrance of power’ a somewhat juvenile whiff. However, the exhibition taken as a whole is less adolescently-angsty; it subtly expresses a sophisticated underlying construct that rhizomatically and reflexively deals with the widespread social anxiety stemming from perceived threats to national security and financial instability that typifies the late 2000s. The rhizomatic playfulness and self-deprecation that Einarsson employs seem to highlight the limits of rebellion, and crosscuts any earnest activist rhetoric. With his mixture of admiration and aversion, Einarsson instead creates a kind of non-dialectical critique of American culture. His émigré sideways look may usefully be directed closer to ‘home’ - we may not have had a 9/11 or an Oklahoma bomber, but it isn’t all fresh air and fjords.
- Natalie Hope O’Donnell
All images courtesy the artist, Astrup Fearnley, and their respective owner. All Works Gardar Eide Einarsson. Baton Exercise 1-9, 2007, Inkjet on 9 plywood panels, 244 x 122 cm each, Astrup Fearnley Collection; Caligula, 2010, Mixed media sculpture: fluorescent light tube and fixtures,140 x 730 x 15 cm, Courtesy of the artist and STANDARD (OSLO), Oslo, Nils Stærk, Copenhagen and Team (Gallery, Inc.), New York; Stainless Steel (Fine) II, 2010, Acrylic paint on canvas, 213 x 183 x 4 cm, Courtesy of the artist and STANDARD, (OSLO), Oslo, Nils Stærk, Copenhagen and Team (Gallery, Inc.), New York.
The website will be permanently closed shortly, so please retrieve any content you wish to save.