Jan Hakon Erichsen @ Instagram (@janerichsen)
Emoji summary: 🎈🔪🍝
Every few weeks, I come across tweets or things on Instagram’s Explore page that look similar and weird, and they are like, memorably weird. they’ll involve a white man on his own, doing something in front of the camera, often with wood, balloons, knives, spaghetti and various contraptions. For example, in one video he stands with a square of wood out around his hips like he’s holding a hula hoop, except this one has about 40 knives taped to it all pointing down, and then there are balloons around his feet aaaand he lets it drop. In another video, the guy stands before a V shape of wood with two perfect rows of spaghetti poking upwards out of them. He has a longer piece of wood with two handles and just pushes forward, cutting the spaghetti down like grass as he swipes. These are all one guy in a corner of the room, plain background, just doing. He might have a lone balloon stuck to the side of his head and then tilt so that the balloon comes into contact with a cactus. Some are more complicated and exact, with strings, pullys and all sorts. there’s a clip where he’s flipped a scooter upside down and attached it to a stick which is, further down, connected to a piece of wood on the floor so the whole thing can oscillate. Then he lets the scooter go so that when it falls back down and around to earth, it smashes a coffee cup on a small table 2 metres or so away from him. The caption below is ‘🛴Monday morning commute 🍵.’ This guy is from and based in Oslo, Norway, where there are scooters everywhere, where it is not not-cool to use them. His name is Jan Hakon Erichsen and according to his website we have the same birthday.
For about a year I’ve let these clips pass me by but i’m putting my hand out for the bus now because i want to stop, look them in the face, and figure out how they make me feel. I mean, of course it’s an artist to blame; it just somehow took me a while to catch up to that fact because the internet seems too cool a place for an artist to be presenting this mad aesthetic DIY playtime; it feels iffy to me that it’s happening here somehow, weird that this is where an artist can be thriving, and going semi viral every few weeks. but then again, it’s the right time for it isn’t it. The past few years have seen a very mainstream Instagram go west. kylie jenner’s most recent post might still be at the top of everyone’s timeline but the Explore page has connected users with slime, soap cutting, magnetic sand cutting, icing videos and the wider Satisfying Videos genre, alongside ASMR and Refinery29’s weird makeup tutorials. Social media has a largely boring same-y aesthetic where the timeline is as useless an experience as listening to other people’s dreams. so it is kind of a relief when people and/or artists intervene in great and upsetting ways (for example, see Alex Frost’s wet unboxings). Whyyyyy shouldn’t one of those interveners be a man who seems intent on stabbing every balloon that comes before him? Erichsen’s work fits into this internet narrative where people are doing the maddest shit in short inexplicable clips, post-vine and postmodern. who gives a shit why he’s making this stuff, it’s just so interesting that half a million people are following along - that this has impact for them, Public Value if I might. Why do we, as humans, unfortunately on earth right now,, feel the need to watch this man snap spaghetti in such a clean way?
I enjoy them but still, not actually enough to follow. I < do > like the aesthetic. it is ordered and chaotic. frenetic, specific. It makes the artist into the character of a crazed design and technology teacher who microdoses. He kind of reminds me of my granddad, but if he was rich and didn’t need to ensure any of the DIY he did had a point to it. For context;; my granddad practically lived in the garden building things. he fixed everybody’s watch. he fixed everybody’s bike. when i said i wanted to be an artist, he made me a big wooden easel; and when I was little he made me and my sister a tiny shed for the cat to sleep in when he was outside and stressed (the cat I mean, not my granddad). also he painted everything he made the very same shade of green and I don’t know if that was out of choice or if it was because he got/robbed a tonne of this one shade of green paint once upon a time. maybe it’s the unity of the aesthetic that reminds me of Erichsen, the constant tinkering, or maybe I just want an excuse to remember my granddad. But i definitely enjoy that very focused energy of people who can do things with wood, who can figure out these movements and functions that come to look like Mousetrap but bigger. it’s Mousetrap on the internet isn’t it, him being here; like the internet is snakes and ladders, somewhere between an obstacle course and a board game, you land on squares on the timeline and up pop these strange little videos of a man expressionless and showing you what he’s decided to do today with all these sharp things. I like the energy the work gives me. I trust people like this to make good dens, to be good at lego. I guess I trust them to be quite fun. I think this breed of people don’t have the gene where you get bored because they are always getting on with something weird. You know, putting frogs in a bucket or making a kite from scratch. But the fact he is an artist kills me a bit and I know that’s a mad thing to say but I mean it.
I think him being an artist is what’s stopping me from really committing to enjoying these videos. Sometimes I just want a thing to be a thing, I don’t want to find out it is an art thing instead. That might be because white men seem mildly more tolerable than white men who are also artists; u kno suddenly he’s not just a weirdo on the internet but another white artist destroying things AS PRAXIS, urgh. It might also be because an art thing is immediately under the pressure of a whole career, money, getting shows, sales and so on. This guy has a whole artist website with CV, even an email address in his bio to a talent management company for any business enquiries. I think maybe the reason I don’t follow any of Erichsen’s accounts on Instagram, Twitter or YouTube is because the fact he is an artist breaks the dream of it all for me. Now he can’t be adjacent to my granddad or to kids on summer holidays who build magnet runs or draw maps and go on made up adventures. The videos suddenly feel encumbered with real life, when what I think I enjoy about them is the very opposite, the impossibility and ridiculousness that someone might be spending their time doing this. When they were brought before me because one was trending, the algorithm thought I might enjoy it, or it was on the timeline because his videos had been shared by someone else, his aesthetic momentarily brought me out of this dry dry world and into a more cartoonish place. but now that I have stuck around, spent all this time looking and writing a whole ass review, the sharpness on that cartoon has been turned up to the max and suddenly the whole project is looking like Spongebob in that episode where he needs water. I haven’t watched Spongebob since i was about 12 but that one sequence still stands out in my head and it’s the analogy i am deciding to use on my big grown up international art criticism website. It’s from the 1999 episode ‘Tea at the Treedome,’ and according to our trusty KnowYourMeme, ‘Spongebob attempts to woo an air-breathing squirrel named Sandy. While becoming increasingly thirsty while sitting in Sandy's treedome, Spongebob attempts to resist drinking a glass of water by telling himself ‘I don't need it’ before finally giving in and yelling ‘I need it!’ As he’s staring at the water getting more and more desperate, the audience is shown a closeup of the character and he looks SO DRY he looks MOULDY you can see his weird spongey pores and bloodshot eyes. it’s a whole separate art style inserted quickly into the rest of the episode to convey how out of sorts he is feeling, and it’s very successful tbh. But in the same way, the lens of my own experience as someone working in the arts makes the experience of Erichsen’s work into another thing entirely; suddenly it isn’t funny tinkering but it is privileged, capitalised upon, and not just tinkering but Performance. That’s it, isn’t it. Because I haven’t been following Erichsen, my interaction with his output has been casual, but now that I’ve stopped to pay attention to it, it’s lost its magic and maybe even the purpose I was taking from it. Looking at them all together, i realise each little clip is one of hundreds of a more intense and serious Making - a whole career I hadn’t seen the edges of until I made him the subject of this week’s review. if i wanted to carry on enjoying them, I should never have stopped to write this review, but I didn’t know that, and now it’s too late.