For her exhibition Søvn er livets sum (Sleep is the sum of life) at Kristiansand Kunsthall, Ann Cathrin November Høibo commissioned a filmed portrait of herself (Å ligge andføttes, Top to tail, all works 2023). The 23-minute film, created in collaboration with artist Thyra Dragseth, follows November Høibo during the preparations for the exhibition. One scene, shot at an outdoor restaurant, shows her eating oysters. Close-up footage depicts the artist prying the small mollusc loose from its shell with a fork. “Now the entire restaurant is looking at us,” she says as she raises the shell to her mouth. Oysters are a decadent delicacy. You have to slurp and gobble them down, juices sloshing and spilling over; they are an aphrodisiac.
Since November Høibo’s first solo show at Standard (Oslo) in 2012, she has exhibited extensively in Norway and abroad. Previous reviews of the artist’s work revolve around her expansion of craft traditions as well as her deftness at manipulating materials and colour. She interjects smart, cool objects in her displays, and her works tend to be read in the context of conceptual art. This places her oeuvre within an exclusive branch of recent art history, reflecting the efforts made in the last ten to fifteen years to incorporate textile art into the realm of contemporary art. The intensely physical, sensuous, and coquettish aspects of her work generally receive less comment.
In Kristiansand, a large woollen rug (Pappaperm, Paternity leave) hanging from the ceiling confronts visitors immediately upon entering the exhibition and establishes a theatrical situation. Heaps of milky quartz are placed inside square metal enclosures on top of a brown coconut mat (Kriger 2, Warrior 2). The enclosure tames the stones’ tendency to form a pile, and gives them a grid-like structure that shares its form and function with the warp and weft of weaving. Like the grid, the rugs in the exhibition prevent what is behind them from escaping.
In the second exhibition hall, we find a huge wooden loom embellished with ropes, threads, beams, and winches. Unlike an electric machine, the loom needs a present body’s physical effort to work. Standing on a coconut mat, the loom resembles a piece of gym equipment. To the left of the loom is a tree root and a coil of green rope, and a rope and silver hoop hang from the ceiling like gymnastic rings. On the right is the iconic chair Gravity (1983), designed by Peter Opsvik, which November Høibo has upholstered in a wool fabric that she wove by hand. The Opsvik chair is ergonomic and adaptable; with your body weight, you can put the chair in three positions, the rear one being almost horizontal.
In the same gallery as the loom, a series of rugs is displayed in front of a pine panel painted warm yellow. The works hang from fluorescent plastic tubes: red, orange, dark red. At the top, the threads are tied together in a row of triangles embellished by tassels; at the bottom hang neat fringes. All the rugs have metaphorical titles, such as Myk i ansiktet (Soft in the face), suggesting a body and a transitory state. They all show jagged patterns in blue, brown, and green, reminiscent of lightning striking in front of a lighter background. The repetitive compositions make it easy to forget the individual rugs: the different iterations seem to flicker past, becoming one. Longer-lasting is the sense of their textures and surface tactility, which guides our gaze along the colour fields’ jagged edges; some parts are woven back to front, others consist of loosely interwoven threads in dark green. Here and there loose threads and knots protrude from the overall flatness.
While the carpets leave a sense of physical presence, the fabric and the chair indirectly point to the artist’s body. Throughout the exhibition run, November Høibo will sit at the loom making new rugs, but she will do so outside the venue’s opening hours, according to an interview in the newspaper Fædrelandsvennen. Like the video portrait, the installation indulges our hunger to witness, and get close to, the artist and her process. The exhibition plays on this desire to pull aside the symbolic curtain that separates the private sphere of production from the public display of the exhibition, while all we are left with is an ever-growing array of rugs impeding the view beyond.