The Elixir of Chaos, Babel and Bedlam
Ole Jorgen Ness

Issue no4
Aug - Sep 2019

Mythology is still very present in Norwegian cultural life. Due to extreme weather conditions, long periods of darkness, coldness and snow, Norwegian people have always been forced to gather inside their house around the fireplace,which just happens to be a great place for storytelling. Thanks to this they still have an extensive mythology and lots of folktales. It’s no surprise then that in the work of Ole Jorgen Ness (b. 1961) - a key figure within the Norwegian contemporary art scene - mythologies have played an important role for years. But The Elixir of Chaos, Babel and Bedlam, Ness’s latest solo exhibition at Gallery Riis in Oslo, did not relate directly to Norwegian mythology, instead focusing on another kind of 'mythology': psychoanalysis.

After graduating the Royal Collage of Arts and Design and The Royal Norwegian Art Academy in Oslo., Ness used a series of alter ego’s to develop heterogeneity of works in different media, themes and styles. Through his alter egos he dealt with questions of artistic identity, authenticity and opened up the possibility for himself to work within different artistic traditions. The artist ‘Ole Jurgen Ness’ played different roles as well, among others he was a social figure, a co-ordinator of his alter egos, and a gallery owner. For several years Ness ran a dynamic exhibition space which showed work of artists from his own generation In a small space at Herslebsgate 10 in Oslo, The exhibition space closed and at the end of the nineties Ness’ different personas merged and formed a project called Nessstudio. Nessstudio was an in situ installation, which united the artist’s nine different personae, and existed of ready-made objects, toys, grass mats, ink drawings and dried-up paintbrushes.

But in The Elixir of Chaos, Babel and Bedlam only Ness’s most recent works (2008/09) were shown. It’s a mixture of works on paper, sculpture and a video work. At first the individual works didn’t seem to be connected, but gradually a pattern emerged. Pandemonium is a series of pen and marker drawings and according to the artist they are the outcome of long lasting mental associations, which he sees as visual manifestations of glossolalia (speaking in tongues). The title Pandemonium reminds us of John Milton’s capitol of hell, which was built by the fallen angels in his book Paradise Lost (1667). Ness’ use of tattoo-like, meandering patterns also trigger associations with Viking and Celtic times, the dark, tough times when hell seemed much closer than paradise. The chaos that rules hell is mirrored by the meandering patterns of Ness and finds it’s climax in the triptych Chaos, Babel & Bedlam. Due to it’s vertical alignment the dynamics of the triptych are even more dazzling than al lot of Ness’s other drawings.

Besides the mythological hell and chaos, Ness also delves into psychoanalysis. Especially the Panacea series is rife with psychological references: Each of the reworked photographs depicts a masked woman on high heals wearing a corset, tights and a garter and includes references to Freud’s penis envy, Jung’s anima/animus projection, and Lacan’s law of the father. The image Panacea (The Gift) shows a female creature posing with her legs crossed and arms at her side wearing a large phallus. The gift that this female creature has received is the penis she, according to Freud, was longing for during a certain stage in the sexual development. In the Panacea series the Gift is - among others - guided by the Beacon, who is depicted in the image: Panacea (Beacon) . The beacon is a female creature as well, standing with wide spread legs leaning a bit to the left, looking straight at the viewer from behind her dark veil. Her small antennae ready to send out a signal to guide the gift (and the viewer) in the right direction.

On a whole, the pieces in this show seemed much more related to one another then one might think upon entering the space, but without knowing their mythical and psychological background it might be difficult for viewers to gauge their full quality. Visually at least the abundant darkness, chaos and psychoanalysis are kept in check. The triptych and another, very present series - Dark Matter, which exists out of three drawings built up out of different hues of dark brown - are kept safely apart in the exhibition, saving the show from getting too depressing. So in the end, the elixir of chaos, Babel and bedlam Ness served up, turned out not to be fatal to the viewer, making him an artist worth keeping track of.

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Metropolis M Magazine for contemporary art No 4 — 2019