Mattias Härenstam

The Diary of the Unknown Consumer

Corridor of wooden panels covered with carved bas-reliefs. Inner dimensions (width x height x length): 120 x 210 x 610 cm. This installation is to be built into the surrounding architecture, leaving only a closed white door visible from the outside. The spectators would themselves have to open it to get access to the piece, and it would then close automatically behind them as they enter. The imagery of the bas-reliefs is derived from many sources, but mainly from the natural structure of the wood itself. Small wall lamps are situated on each side at every meter of the corridor (10 lamps in all). At the end of the corridor there is an open ceiling hatch (80 x 80 cm). Nothing, but a compact darkness is visible through it. The closed door at the very end leads into another room and a screening of the video - see The Diary of the Unknown Consumer (video) for more.
   The Diary of the Unknown Consumer was first shown at a solo show at UKS, Oslo Nov - Dec 2008, and has since been presented at Kunsthal Charlottenborg, Copenhagen Feb - April 2010, the Annual Art Exhibition, Kunstnernes Hus, Oslo Aug- Sep 2010, a part of the solo show "Weaknesses, Secrets, Lies", The Vigeland Museum, Oslo Feb - May 2016 and the duo show "Branching. Lars Hertervig and Mattias Härenstam", Stavanger Art Museum Nov 2016 - Feb 2017. Acquired by Stavanger Art Museum, 2017.

"Demons in the basement
   Mom is back from work; her smiling face falls back to a blank tiredness, where she sits with her head in her hands in the row house on Lørenskog or Oppegård. During the day, she presented e-mails with bouquets of smiley's to Hansen and Olsen. Now the garage door is closed and the snow has settled like a white blanket over the housing row. The nightmare begins, the demons come, the return of the repressed.
   Man can't stand himself. His otherness, his dualism, the dark side. He can't stand a world that fails him and can't bear to fail in it. In his attempt to perfect life, do everything positive, he seeds chaos everywhere. Behind the technology is the self-loathing, an attempt to recreate the world as pure positivism without otherness, but in this attempt for perfection, man fails himself and becomes redundant. Earlier it was the task of religion to comfort us in our failure, but there is no God anymore, so we're bound to fumble, blinded in a darkened room.This is in short, the existential core of Mattias Härenstams' new works. In the series The Diary of the Unknown Consumer we see the snow-capped housing rows, the nightmare of the interior and experience the groping in the dark as a seasick instability. I rarely been so physically sick by art, as after the experience of the hand-held movie The Diary of the Unknown Consumer III, but I anticipate events. Härenstams' serial merging of several works into one whole is very good and seems stronger to me than his naive-imaginative Photoshop-fantasies from previous years, which are also on display in this exhibition.
   The first you meet at UKS is a little more than twenty minutes long deadpan film that rolls through a huge, deserted suburban neighbourhood somewhere in Sweden or Finland. Actually, it doesn't look so bad to live here. It is almost moving to notice the small differences in the homogeneous facades, small variations in the monotony. There is something almost cosy with the small candlesticks placed in the windows, they remind me of Christmas, they are indeed identical, halfway manipulated by Härenstam maybe, but still, it is not entirely unpleasant. This sequence still does signal a disquiet though, because where are all the people? They are in the depth of their cellars, in the kitschy humility of the basement living room.
   Kitsch. It is the first word that strikes me when I open the lone door in the wall that has been built for the occasion in front of the main gallery room. A long illuminated hallway in varnished pinewood extends inward, classic basement living room lamps with patterned screens hanging on either side of the low, narrow corridor. Kitsch, kitsch and kitsch again, the only thing that is not kitsch at the moment is possibly the personal nightmarish figuration, the disaster in the neighbourhood, Hieronymus Bosch visions. And indeed, that is exactly what we see carved into the pine planks: Hens with penis heads, inflated tapeworms that wind around the twigs in the boards, into the mouth of a skull and then change into a scorpion, that in turn is stared upon by a horny and strangely wise swan. Yes, the neighbours' fantasies of a Swingers Club in Hansen's basement come back here with a vengeance.
   And they come from the ceiling. Because deep in the hallway Härenstam has carved out a square hole, as if this is the passage the oppressed takes, a gut that produces an abject and unwieldy gore in its' petty bourgeois and self-righteous digestion.
   A new door leads us into the core of the basements' horror cabinet. It is a completely dark room where we are placed in Härenstams' camera-eye as we follow the groping hands going around in dark scrub forests, cellar-like ruins and industrial barren desert landscapes. I quickly feel sick because the only thing I can see is through the hand-held camera. There is no solid evidence that can act as a balance point for me. It is as if this scoped attitude finally is getting a real consequence; in principle handheld camera is used to give a sense of more "reality", as the very foundation of the reality genre. Here reality is finally de-realized. Härenstam wants to give us the same feeling as Roquentin suffers from in Sartre's book The Nausea, an immersive feeling of being a stranger in the world, a very physical experience of otherness, that the world is "the other" and that we never ever, can grasp it with our will.
   The objects that Härenstam touches are then also truly de-realized. While we hear an almost constant telephone ringing - a well known figure in existential art - he touches a flower that withers immediately, an orange that rots away, a pair of shoes that brings derisive laughter and other disappearing acts. We are on a surreal and existential journey into the depth of the Western soul. It isn't pretty."

Review by Erling Bugge Moestue, published in Norwegian online art criticism forum Kunstkritikk 21.11.2008. This review and three others are available as pdf-downloads at the bottom of this page (in Norwegian only).

Special thanks to Gry Moursund, Solveig Eidnes Moursund, Peter Huck und seine Kollegen von der Bildhauerwerkstatt.