Essay by Eirin Andresen Betten
Illustrations by Helene Egeland
There is a picture of Angela Carter, the English author and journalist, sitting quite relaxed in a chair in front of a desk and a window that are both hidden outside the frame of the photograph. Carter is leaning into the soft back of the chair with her head turned towards us. She looks into the camera with an air of serenity and a sense of that wit she was so known for, you can glimpse it in her left eye. And she looks into the camera as if it was always there watching her, and she was always there, sitting in that exact chair, writing, and slowly, in that foggy cold light peering in from the window, she looks into the eye of the camera as if to confirm her own existence like we all do sometimes, but we look in the mirror and try to see ourselves; she looks into that perpetual eye that freezes time, because she seems to know something that the rest of us do not; that sometimes you can actually freeze time as you like it, if you have a room of your own and a proper chair.
Carter gained what was needed from her chair, a place where she could write her novels and essays; a place where ideas and thoughts could thrive and turn into sentences and paragraphs and whole novels. In an age where creativity (I am referring to this concept rather loosely here) is a more common occupation than ever before. A time where most of us have both the availability and resources to be that creative person we perhaps imagine that we are; a time where the expression 'everyone’s a critic' is not an ironic phrase used by someone who has earned the right to say it, but a truism. I you can easily imagine the Bloomsbury group or the writers connected to les temps modernes throwing this phrase out into a smoky room when someone would criticize their philosophy, novels, or paintings; they knew their work was impeccable. In such an age the need to “sit down” is perhaps more crucial than ever. There really is no way of creating unless you are left to your own devices once in a while, why else are so many artists considered recluses? This might be Virginia Woolf’s secondary meaning when she claimed that women needed a room of their own. It is not just for the privacy and the act of writing, you simply need to be alone. You need to be able to sit down, to breathe, and collect your thoughts, sorting them out and then airing them out like you wash away the winter when spring comes. You open your windows and let everything breath for a while. This is what sitting down in a comfortable chair feels like; the mental equivalent of spring cleaning.
But a chair is not just a chair, and it is not supposed to only be comfortable, it is supposed to look nice as well. Why else do most of us want the suntanned leather version of The Egg or a blue Eams chair? We want that piece of impeccable design to be the subject of a room, the protagonist in the narrative of our homes. That is what furniture is supposed to be, and a chair is often in the center of that narrative; the soft leather that after years of use is nicer than when it was new; you run your hand over it and you can feel the rough leather under your fingertips; or the wood that grows patchy with time, the oil is gone, the wooded skin is coming out beneath the layers of protection that time wasted away; the fabric loses its color, you worn it away by sitting in it too much, or the sun has made the color fade away over the years, time is a frail character. The chair becomes part of your routine, part of your daily movements, a place associated with esoteric feelings of pleasure. It is simply made for the purpose of being used.
I want Carter’s chair, or the chair Woolf imagined every woman would need in her own room. Right now I have one, but it does not feel right. It is a simple white wooden chair with a grey sheep skin thrown over it for the sake of comfort. It is neatly placed in front of a teak desk from the 60s that I inherited after my grandfather. They do not do each other any aesthetic favors, nor to my back. But I seem to be unable to find a chair to replace the old one because I keep looking for a piece of furniture that will complete the minutiae of that room. The task is always more difficult than you imagine. I want that old leather and the worn-out wood that says that this is a place of comfort. I want to lean back into the chair like Angela Carter and look out into that grey foggy air and imagine that this is how everything should feel like.