Jorunn Hancke Øgstad

Crocodile Tears

What are you working on for this exhibition?

The exhibition centres on a group of paintings which are all in the same format, around 158x75cm, though the width varies a little. I’ve been working on the show for the last year, but it takes a long time to get into the material, so the paintings I’m going to show have more or less happened within the last few months. I’m excited myself to see how it will look, because I don’t really know at this point. I had a very fixed plan for what to make and how, but in the process of making the exhibition the plan has been left behind. You come to a point where the reality of the work takes over the process. 

What was the plan, to begin with?

The initial idea was simply the question of the frame in the sense of an opening, an exposure, of an image that is made available. There was a connection between this thought to the painting as a substitute, a leftover or a trace, of the body of the artist. In the context of a networked society which more and more demands our total availability, the total exposure of our lives, our friendships, and, our bodies. The ideas can also be linked to the techniques I use, where the elements of the paintings are amalgams of authentic and constructed traces. So I began working with sizes that related to panoramic flatscreens, with a 21:9 aspect ratio and variations of that. 

And what has changed as you have been working on the show?

Now I’ve turned them through 90 degrees, so suddenly they are more like bodies. When turned on their end they are quite close to the proportions of an average person, once you hang them on the wall. They are all different, they’re not a series in that sense, because with each one I am working out the consequences of a different approach. Because they all have the same format, you automatically try to relate them to one another, but in fact they are so different. I think it´s interesting to group paintings this way, it is a play with our need to make sense of what is in front of us, to make conclusions and define things, to create meaning. 

And the hanging will play a big part, how the paintings are paired or separated, what you add or subtract. I am trying hard not to fall back on old tricks, and working at this scale makes things harder and more interesting. The canvas is just small enough to restrict what you can do, and you have to think more economically. 

With the bigger canvases in the show, you're working more with the motif of the square, the frame, the window, the question of the centre of attention - is that important?

It is, yes. The squares, frames, windows are not there to represent, they are ways to define and direct spaces. Framing things means to make specific elements central and more meaningful, and I use it to do exactly that, to divert the center of attention. Once an object is distinguished from the suroundings, it is given a value. The background disinguishes the object by surrounding it. Looking means scanning for meaningful elements, at the same time we are filtering out lesser important ones. These translations are of course coloured by our personal experience, temperament and situation. 

So the larger paintings are more like battlegrounds, assemblages or planes of co-existence. I kind of see them as beginnings, potentials, the space where ideas first take shape.

What led you to become a painter?

Painting was a no go at the time I went to the academy, but still I started painting in my final year at art school, small paintings, very simple and somewhat naive. They resembled abstract expressionist paintings, but they were more like paintings of expressionist paintings. They were like self aware, naive actors, and I was directing them. 

I became very aware of the hierarchy between the brain and the body in art and performance. The improvised and the intuitive are seen as more authentic and more honest. There was a very macho milieu at art school, where it was good to be ruled by your impulses, but bad to examine them, good to have authentic feelings, but bad to talk about them. 

So how did you escape this closed situation?

I went to Berlin, I took a year out of school, and it was there I discovered a different approach to painting, artists who were very aware of this staging of authenticity: Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke; Martin Kippenberger and Jutta Koether; Michael Krebber. This inspired me, and I stayed on in Berlin and started exploring paitning. And now I have been painting for almost ten years, but somehow I’m still not totally immersed. I still think that maybe one day I’ll get to real painting. 

What is your process like now?

What I do now is often a play with water and powdered pigment, exploring the planes of colour  made by layering these ready-made colours. Some of the process is “blind”, I lay the canvas on the ground and spray it with water, then the colour comes afterwards and gets fixed where the canvas is wet. But I use several different methods, often mixing and layering them, to the point where I’m not always sure exactly how the image came together. I use tape to mask off layers, to open up a space behind. I use bleach on the canvas. I even sometimes paint with a brush, with acrylics, or with oil. 

For me this combination of different methods, gestures and constructions is a way of opening up the painting. I want to create a kind of uncertainty for the viewer, to draw out the process of understanding. I don’t want the painting to reveal itself all at once, I want the viewer to look more closely, and then to look again.

It seems that the way people see your paintings is as important as the way you paint them?

I’m interested in the way perception works, the way our brains always try to predict what they’re looking at. It’s when we’re tricked, when our prediction is wrong and we have to correct for an unexpected reality, that we experience things more intensely, and everything becomes more meaningful.

Is this element of trickery reflected in the title, «Crocodile Tears»?

The title of the show, “Crocodile Tears”, is of course about this question of what constitutes an authentic expression, or an authentic sensation for the viewer. I think it’s a relevant question now, when so much of our experience and our self-presentation is not spontaneous but constructed, mediated by online networks and screens. There’s definitely something ironic, maybe even absurd, about painting in this digital age. I am choosing to work with these ancient forms and materials, to work and think in physical space. I’m withdrawing from the computer, the place of «progress», from the demand to be logged on. I’m escaping from this networked reality, into an abstract space of the imagination. But there is of course also a dilemma there, it can be hard to justify that position to yourself. What are you ultimately doing and making, for whom? To create something that only struggles with itself, what does it yield? I always hope that the questioning in the making puts something else, some kind of soul, into the works that might get through to whomever wants to look at them. 

Do you think about the fact that your pictures will, inevitably, circulate as online images?

Of course more people will see images of the paintings online than will see the originals. But paintings in reproduction become something totally different, you don’t see the struggle. For me painting is less about the image and more about a way of thinking, and it becomes more, not less relevant in a digital era. Painting embodies a self-reflexive process that is central to what art is.

Would you say that you are trying to refine, or to follow, this self-reflexive process of painting?

I don’t have a defined path. You’re always on the way to an expression you feel is interesting, being articulate enough but still strange enough. I like it when paintings give you something unexpected, when there is not a concluded unity. A better painting is a thousand different questions. The process is always filled with doubt, I guess that is what makes it meaningful. Technically of course you get better, you learn, you get closer to being able to do what you want to do, maybe, but then that changes. 

So what would you say is the most difficult part of your working process?

The hardest part is not to paint, but to stop painting. When you work you always open up possibilities, you lose yourself in it and it’s hard to leave the studio and go home. And it’s much harder to stop the process and exhibit what you have, because you always want to go on to something new. 

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Kunstkritikk. 18.09.18, Simen Joachim Helsvig

Dagbladet. 24.09.2018, Arve Rød

Klassekampen, Line Ulekleiv

Morgenbladet 21.09.2018, Aleksi Mannila