by Georgina MaddoxNov 02, 2019
Spaghetti sticks, taco shells, and crackers. Frequently, bananas. And a whole lot of balloons. How do these innocuous objects relate to each other? The most obvious answer lies in their daily, bite-sized destructions, aptly titled, Destruction Diaries, at the hands of Norwegian artist, Jan Hakon Erichsen.
The artist who has taken social media by storm, finds his practice at the intersection of contemporary art and internet ephemera, using platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, Youtube and, Tik-Tok as a space for exhibition.
In the white wall setting of his studio, the focus rests on him, as his DIY contraptions made out of wood and hinge innovate themselves daily, to devise new ways of obliterating everyday objects. Obtuse and morbid, mostly funny, but at times anxious and unsettling, Erichsen employs a destructive reading of creativity to his practice. Elaborating on this aspect of his work, he says “I see destruction as a sculptural process and a way of transforming an object. Sometimes it enhances a connection we already have to an object, and sometimes it can completely change how we look at it. For instance, if someone cooks spaghetti for dinner after seeing one of my videos, they might for a brief second consider how it would be to break the pasta with their head”.
This acute awareness towards everyday objects has held artistic allure, from classical interpretations of still life in paintings, to finding similar observances in contemporary media. Coupled with a lo-fi aesthetic, Destruction Diaries is immediately reminiscent of performances by artists such as Chris Burden and Bruce Naumann, who worked with video, exploring the relationship between the body and the everyday. Yet, one can also draw parallels to popular TV series like Jackass and Epic Fail Videos on YouTube, where ingenious pranks and mishaps aspire to viral internet fame. It is this duality that garners Destruction Diaries, its diverse audience ranging from fellow practitioners to ASMR enthusiasts and looners (balloon fetishists).
Speaking about the process itself, Erichsen remarks, how he does not have a definite idea of what the end result is going to be - letting material experimentation be the vehicle that carries his work forward. The definition of the finished work is further convoluted as his intuitive process, at times it leads him to varying conclusions. Uploading both, the successes and the failures, he explains his position by saying, “When I hit the record button, I usually have a clear expectation of what is going to happen, but quite often things don´t go as planned. That does not mean that the video necessarily is without value, and sometimes, me struggling to get things right is visually more interesting than my original plan”.
In the most recent of anomalies, was a brutal accident as he fell into his notorious knife sculpture, while preparing for one of his Furniture Aerobics video. The sculpture, mounted on an old photograph of his, features nearly 100 knives that protrude through the surface. In an Instagram post, an injured Erichsen revealed how this resulted in 25 stitches on his hands and a surgery on his little finger; expressing disappointment towards not being able to fulfill his daily quota of videos in the days to come.
An alumnus of the Norwegian National Academy of Fine Arts, Erichsen is in no way an outsider to the art world, having exhibited his work in video and sculpture, nationally and internationally. The tryst with ‘the online’, especially, the daily bite-sized format began with his earlier work titled, Obvious Artworks (2010) that dealt with a raw approach to subjects such as 9/11 and the Norwegian Black Metal scene. Destruction Diaries presents a shift in Erichsen’s artistic sensibilities as he preoccupies himself with the potential in the everyday materials he uses, and finds himself physically present in the videos. “I used to do everything I could to not actually be visually present in the shot when I made a video, but at some point, I had to include myself and after I did it the first time, there has been no turning back. It’s clearly the videos where you can see me that are the most popular and I think it helps the audience to connect, when they see me. A consequence of this is that I now make a lot of videos that deal with the limitations of the body,” says Erichsen.
During this pandemic, when the virtual nature of our interactions has subsumed actual physical company, the infinite ‘online’ is finally being chartered with a hope that it keeps ‘things’ moving. So, what does it mean for Erichsen to be an online artist? “For me the biggest difference is the speed, I can make something in the morning and reach a large audience with it at lunch time. The gallery world is a very slow one filled with tons of applications. For me posting things online has given me a great sense of freedom and I don’t feel the need to have gallery shows anymore. Why make a show for a few hundred visitors when my videos are seen by hundreds of thousands?” explains Erichsen.
Interested in the way video is used by people outside the art world, Erichsen sees different creative possibilities on different platforms. Like the fact that videos loop on most platforms is what allows him to work with such short videos, that might otherwise not find an audience by themselves. Giving an example of the video-sharing platform Tik-Tok, he says, how “it has the option of adding music, which I hadn’t done before and I now do that regularly because of that app feature”.
As museums and galleries attempt to re-orient themselves to the online world, Erichsen points out the necessity to try and seek out artists and curate content specifically for the internet.