Interview with Yngvild Saeter

Firestarter (altar XIV)

Text by Molly Cranston

Total and burgeoning, Yngvild Saeter’s portfolio gives the term ‘body of work’ a renewed purpose of meaning. Her sculptures demonstrate a harmonious exploration of materials, repetition and form, invoking the thronged collective ‘body’, but, more precisely the bodily. Her’s is work of the body, that expresses a body, heals a body, envisioning something both inside and out of a body’s experience. Saeter considers questions of her lived sensations, searching above and outside, as well as underneath and within.

In 2017, while undergoing major brain surgery, Saeter died for a short amount of time on the operating table and was greeted by visions of angelic guides made up of motorcycle parts, symmetrical and fluid, ushering her safely and euphorically onwards. She has been preoccupied with these images ever since she came back to life – gathering, revising and building them into being. Each piece is a “holy object”, not remotely religious, but sculptural messages and memories of safety beyond the living world.

Saeter works slowly and gradually, subverting semiotic notions of the heavenly and the hellish. What can initially be interpreted as sinister – growling, flaming, chained and dripping, misconceived aesthetics of punk, goth and BDSM culture – is in fact a proclamation of safekeeping and metaphysical benevolence. As I look up the words for specific motorcycle parts that could be used in Saeter’s sculptures, they all seem serendipitously named: absorber, guard, cover, hugger, support, fixation, protection…

Valkyrie Chair

Who are your shields protecting?  

Everybody! The shields came to me when I had a near death experience during brain surgery in 2017. They protected me and filled me with a sense of euphoria and safety. I experienced death like a wave of safety and fulfillment, and in some ways it saved my life. I went through a lot of really tough stuff during the following months in hospital, but due to the residual feelings of safety and euphoria stemming from my death I was able to cope with it quite well, making the grueling process easier for me and my next of kin. To me they are holy artefacts. When someone buys one of my works I feel like a wizard casting a protection spell over their home haha!

 Is your work intended to induce fear? 

Not at all, they are made to make you feel safe and protected. It’s funny, many of the collectors who have bought my work tell me the piece eventually ends up in their bedroom, above the bed! One father even installed a big piece above his child’s bed.

 What are you most afraid of?

I have a malformation in my brain which is going to affect my health increasingly trough my life, possibly paralyzing me and in the end killing me. I am afraid of losing my cognitive and physical abilities, I am afraid of the increasing pain, but I am not afraid of dying. I live with a chronic illness that has partially paralyzed the left side of my body, and I have chronic pain and brain fog. There are so many people living with chronic illness who hide it and are ashamed of it. I also tend to hide it and feel ashamed, but feel every voice matters towards bringing lives with chronic illness to light, diminishing the stigma surrounding mental and physical illness.

Atreyu (altar XIII)




Do you believe in ghosts or demons?

No, not at all! I am fascinated with the cultural importance of folklore surrounding supernatural phenomena though.

Do you believe in magic?

I believe in the magic of the natural word, how atoms and cells work to create life and consciousness is truly magical when you think about it. Also, space! It’s so huge and inconceivably magic, I am lost for words.

Can you tell me a bit about your process, and how you title your work? 

The works are made by collecting readymade materials that inspire me, like motorcycle chassis, horse bits, chains, spikes, faux fur and piercings. I always work with the underlying shape first, and that process is like a spiritual puzzle. I combine different pieces until I basically get chills, and that warm reminder of my death experience.The next step is melting the pieces together, customizing, painting, covering with clay and epoxy.

My work does not carry the names of demons, but rather the opposite: characters, bands and animals that fill me with wonder, joy and most of all a sense of safety. Lika Atreyu, Artax and Morla from The Neverending Story, Shai Hulud from the first band I fell in love with, Shadowfax and Snowmane are horses from Lord of the Rings, Spike from Buffy etc.

What possesses you to create?

My death experience combined with memories of films, music, people, places and animals that give me a sense of safety. I was introduced to punk culture at an early age and started traveling alone, knowing that I always had a family of strangers in the scene was amazing. I grew up with horses, they are really the wonders of this world, giving me a sense of power, safety and connection in an otherwise scary world when I was a teenager.

What does the distant future look like to you? 

Realistically, the distant future looks grim. We have wrecked this planet beyond repair, class gaps are expanding and it’s all going straight to hell. I can see the human race dying within the next couple of hundred years, ushering in a new age for our planet.

What are your favourite scary films? 

I don’t like scary films at all! I hate violent movies, books and podcasts. If I would have to choose one it would be the first Alien movie, I love the H.R Giger aesthetic but have grown to resent the man himself for his blatant sexism, I guess that makes the Alien movies even more unsettling.

Have you felt able to be creative in the past months throughout the pandemic? Is there anything in particular that you have turned to for solace or inspiration during this time? 

Yes and no. I had three large solo shows this year, Stockholm in January, Mexico City in February and Copenhagen in March. I had just opened my last show on march 6th, and then everything shut down. I was a bit creatively fatigued, as I had been preparing for the shows for 8 months. I am an at risk patient so I had to stay isolated for the first couple of months, which was both scary and kinda nice. From June on I´ve been working a lot again, I live in a very picturesque place, and have found a lot of inspiration in nature.

I love how many of your pieces seem to be ruled by a sense of symmetry that is then slightly warped, or made just imperfect, by a more organic, uncontrollable material or an added part. It feels really humane and also poetic to me. Can you talk about the importance of symmetry and its breakdown in your work? 

I’m so glad you asked about the symmetry! It’s kind of mind-blowing, but death is symmetric to a lot of people. After my own death experience, I have spoken to a lot of people who also died at some point and then came back, we all had different experiences but we all saw the symmetry! And not only that, a lot of us saw the same symmetric angel wing type shapes! I am not a spiritual person, I do believe my death experience was a combination of endorphins, DMT and synapses firing wildly. The angel wing does however explain the origin of belief in angels! I think the first people that “saw” angels actually just died and came back.

Is there something you wish more people understood about your chronic illness? Or working with a chronic illness?

I’m not going to speak about the particulars of my chronic illness, it is important to recognize that so many struggle. The art world is so cut throat and image is everything, so a lot of people choose to hide their condition. I think we need a lot more understanding and openness around chronic illness. I talk about my illness in a roundabout way though my art, the more organic work directly linked to how my physical body was feeling when I sculpted, making it a snapshot into my body.