Our furniture, ourselves — middle-class existence as revealed by Nina Saunders

Sometimes, it is our most habitual, routine actions and the things that are so close to us as to pass unnoticed that tell the piercing truth about who we are and the world we live in. This can be a grounding – and for that reason a slightly uncomfortable – realization but it can also be liberating and constructive. Which is why artist Nina Saunders’s chairs plunge the viewer into a self-examination that can deflate complacency but at the same time come as a wonderful relief. Her work, a representative sample of which is currently being shown at the artist’s one-woman show at the Apartment gallery, addresses family relationships and emotional ties. However, it also contains a social and political subtext; it encompasses both the private and public sphere through something as mundane as chairs, sofas and decorative motifs taken from bourgeois domestic interiors. For more than a decade, Danish-born and UK-based artist Nina Saunders has made surreal-like sculpture out of objects she had picked up, mostly discarded furniture found in flea markets or on the streets. Reclaiming furniture is important to Saunders since the idea of something old and used ties in with the notion of time and her aim of evoking childhood memories and encrusted social values passed on from one generation to the next. Saunders’s work delves deep. Subversive and confrontational, it is also humorous and witty (not in a shallow sense) and embraces life’s contrasting but simultaneously complementary aspects («organized Chaos» is how the artist likes to describe her work). Exposing the precariousness of domestic bourgeios order is often her target. In «Squirrel» (one of the works at her current show), the effigy of a squirrel munching at nuts is seen atop an upturned footstool. Nature intruding into the domestic sphere, unpredictability versus domestic order: These are some of the underlying concepts. Like most other works, «Ever Onwards» (the only work not made especially for the exhibition) twists a sofa’s original shape, its functional purpose and its associations of comfort, into something dysfunctional and utterly bizarre. A chesterfield armchair filled with a large ball occupying its center, or an upholstered pink satin chintz chair with one of its arm swollen into a huge sphere are examples of past works that show – respectively – Saunders’s subversive angle on male self-indulgence and the precariousness of domestic comfort. Saunders scrutinizes and exposes middle-class values while also reminding us of everything that is so endearing and comforting about them. Like floral wallpaper, they can be warm and welcoming, but also unimaginative and constraining. She shows the trap of comfort and the comfort of being trapped, thus confronting us with a ruthless but affectionate mirror of ourselves and our contradictions.