Øyvind Novak Jenssen is an artist with a particular interest in organic processes, in which organic matter and raw materials are allowed to evolve over time. The processes are ways of getting to know the materials, but they are also methods to become more familiar with a particular place. In the recent years, Øyvind has spent considerable time in Lofoten: by the seashore, on the ocean, in the forests and fields, and by the kitchen counter. For the exhibition “Sculptures from the Test Kitchen”, local materials that are native to the area – in the forms of edible plants, fish, urchins, seaweed and so on – have been the starting point for gathering, preparation and experimentation.
Centrally in the exhibition space, Øyvind has built a kitchen. It is indeed from the kitchen that he has lifted many of his methods. In the world of cookery, the test kitchen is a place for free exploration, one which the outside world rarely gets a look into, where one can experiment in order to develop new dishes that may eventually be put on a restaurant’s menu. In Øyvind’s test kitchen, it is the very nature of experimentation – with its multitude of processes, raw materials, smells, surfaces and colours – that is being highlighted. Here, time has been given an important role; the organic matter and raw materials have generally been subjected to lengthy tests in order to reveal their potential. Factors like temperature, chemistry and bacterial growth have been central to the creation of the works.
In the time leading up to the exhibition, Øyvind has among other things been working with fermentation, dehydration and making stock. Through experimentation, he has also made products such as soap out of cod liver oil, tanned cod fish skin and glue from fish offal. Tests from his production of glass made out of cockles, brown kelp and sand are also in the installation. Some of the processes continue through the duration of the exhibition: tubs for drying salt make up a part of the installation, where salt water is allowed to evaporate during the exhibition period.
As an artist, Øyvind has a particularly close relationship to his processes, raw materials and organic matter. He is very much hands-on, nothing is outsourced, and it can appear as if he is a master of self-support. More or less everything that is presented in the exhibition – down to the smallest details like ceramic wardrobe hooks, cutting boards and plates – he has made himself. A genuine attempt to take back both the creative processes behind the items we surround ourselves with, and the knowledge about how these things are made. This form of silent knowledge of the hands and the body is something that has become a natural and integrated part of Øyvind’s artistic practice, and something he has brought with him from his background as a cook. In many ways, this resonates with anthropologist Tim Ingold’s formulations, about how our knowledge of the world around us does not grow out of description, interpretation and representation, but rather by actively creating and cooperating with what this world consists of. This is a form of skill that is practical rather than theoretical, a practice which occurs in collaboration between people, tools and various forms of living matter and materials. For Øyvind, this interaction also takes the form of a generosity to the audience: we are invited into an open and rich landscape for experimentation and tasting, where fish stock and samples are handed out, and where instructions and explanations about the various processes are imparted on wall charts and through inscriptions. After the exhibition, the kitchen itself will be donated to the residency house “Kunstnerhuset”, so that others may continue the investigations into Lofoten’s local materials.
Øyvind Novak Jenssen (b. 1988, Drammen) has a Bachelor’s degree from the Art Academy of Trondheim, and is currently undertaking a Master’s at the Academy of Fine Art in Oslo. He has previously exhibited his work at, among other places, Trondhjems kunstforening. Øyvind has a background as a chef, and has on several occasions used his knowledge about food in artistic settings, among other things as part of the duo Kvae & Bark (together with Karoline Sætre). In 2019, he was one of the navigators of a workshop (together with Sarah Blisset) for gathering and investigation of kelp, as part of LIAF’s Kelp Congress.