The work of Oslo-based artist Martin Sæther references Scandinavian decorative traditions from the popular vernacular that are on the verge of disappearing. In his show at VI, VII, most of the works are wall-mounted reliefs crafted from paper bonded to canvas, their off-white surfaces patterned with barely visible bumps that repeat at regular intervals. The effect is recognizable as an imitation of the fiberglass “strie” wallpaper commonly found in middle-class homes in Norway from the 1970s until the late ’80s.
Today, it isn’t unheard of for trend-conscious Norwegians to renovate spaces that are only a few years old. Sæther’s reliefs seem to suggest that a subtle sense of character—perhaps even a social-democratic commitment to temperance—has been lost in this constant cycle of renewal. Yet these works are also arresting in purely formal and aesthetic terms: Their minimal surface treatments playfully obfuscate any distinction between surface and picture.
Many older Norwegians can recall collecting single-use paper napkins as keepsakes from family get-togethers or just for their pleasing floral patterns. Untitled, 2022, comprises six vintage napkins in a striking blue adorned with stylized oak leaves. The artist has fused these onto a billowing sheet of cotton paper, whose pure white surface is visible in patches where the napkins don’t align perfectly. With Sæther’s work, there is a refusal of conventional aesthetic hierarchies and “refined” taste, as well as a commitment to craftlike processes that welcome imperfections. It is the opposite of sleek, though also minimal to the point of bordering on the anti-aesthetic.