Lifting one’s gaze in Tromsø

The paintings that comprise Olav Christopher Jenssen’s series The Infinitive, which has been installed in and outside the Council Chamber in the Medicine and Health Studies Building in Tromsø, encourage one to lift one’s gaze and allow one’s thoughts to wander while awaiting a final decision.

Kunstneren er her fotografert under åpningen av utstillingen «Olav Christopher Jenssen. Estragon» i Hannover tidligere i år. De sirkulære verkene i bakgrunnen bærer samme navn som maleriserien «The Infinitive», i MH2s rådsrom i Tromsø, og har åpenbare likheter. Foto: Holger Hollemann /dpa/NTB scanpix

Tekst Mona Gjessing 

– It was important for me to make the images function actively in the rooms. I resolved this by pushing all the paintings forwards, by installing them a few centimetres clear of the wall. This has made them obstinate, so they demand to be seen, explains Olav Christopher Jenssen. Another important feature is that each of the paintings can be rotated.

Kunstner Olav Christopher Jenssen. Foto Selma Amalie Jenssen

– As such they are in a constant state of coming into existence. They can be rotated again and again, and in principle I can create the rhythmical composition that is best suited for any given moment. The paintings can be fixed in one position, or they can be rotated again. The Infinitive is an expression of openness and a multiplicity of possibilities, and the composition has been created in close connection with my ideas about the use of the specific rooms, says Jenssen.

Internationally, Jenssen is one of Norway’s most established and most widely exhibiting contemporary artists. His work is represented in institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Marta Herford Museum in Germany, the Astrup Fearnley Museum and the Norwegian National Museum.

Jenssen has lived in Berlin since the mid-1980s. He is Professor of Painting at the Braunschweig University of Art, while also continuing his own wide-ranging practice. Currently he is working on woodcuts for a book to be published in Germany relating to Jon Fosse’s short prose texts. He is also preparing for two exhibitions in Berlin, while working on another book project and two sculptures that have been purchased by Elvebredden Art Park in Lillestrøm.

Over the years, Jenssen has created a number of colossal art projects for public buildings – works that truly dominate the spaces they are installed in. Two examples close to home are Lack of Memory II in the Helga Eng Building at the University of Oslo (1994) and more recently the 15-metre-high That’s life, a freehand wall-drawing in metallic silver and grey at the Edvard Munch Upper Secondary School, which was completed for the opening of the school in 2015. The Infinitive, however, exists at the opposite end of the scale: each of the 28 circular, rotatable paintings is only 40 cm in diameter.

Sju av verkene fra maleriserien The Infinitive på sin rettmessige plass i rådsrommet i Medisin- og helsefagbygget i Tromsø. Foto: Kjell Ove Storvik
The Infinitive 8, Foto: Foto Kjell Ove Storvik

– For me, working big and working small are about much the same thing: about relating to an inner core. I project myself into the picture and then decide how big it should be. I work in different formats, preferably in parallel. I meander through different techniques, materials and sizes. I can paint tiny paintings with big brushes and big paintings with small brushes. I always devote equal attention to all my paintings, regardless of size, emphasizes Jenssen.

Jenssen has not given individual titles to the abstract paintings that make up the series titled The Infinitive, but each of the paintings nonetheless has its own unique character, both in colour and composition. Some of the motifs create an illusionistic impression of a space that extends endlessly far inwards, while others are evocative of organic, amoeba-like shapes and tiny creatures that one might observe through a microscope. Some compositions are built up of simple lines, others of layer upon layer of different types of patterns and expressive, apparently rapidly applied brushstrokes.

– My preconception of the Council Chamber and the antechamber as something rarified, shut away and slightly superior did not completely correspond with reality, chuckles Jenssen.

– Nonetheless, I ended up feeling rather pleased with understated nature of the spaces. The materials I ended up choosing – these industrial panels of aluminium and foam plastic – also have a kind of understated feel that fits in. The 28 paintings were very time-consuming to make, with the use of a gesso ground and four or five rounds of wet sanding, and many, many layers of acrylic paint before the final varnishing with gloss Lascaux varnish. I wanted to address practical issues regarding the publicly accessible location, and now it’s really the case that the paintings can be cleaned without falling apart. In a way, they are invulnerable, says Jenssen.

Read more about all the art projects in the Medicine and Health Studies Building in Tromsø, MH2.

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