Joakim Ojanen’s anxiety-ridden characters, sexualized undertones, at The Hole NYC
Samuel Brown writes a thoughtful review of Joakim Ojanen's recent show "Snake Pit" at The Hole NYC! Buy yourself a bus ticket and catch this quirky show-- a world building installation filled with odd, anxious, cheeky, and playful characters-- before April 14th, 2019!

sponsored
Joakim Ojanen, “Snake Pit”. From “Snake Pit” at The Hole NYC. Photo courtesy of The Hole NYC.
Joakim Ojanen, “Snake Pit”. From “Snake Pit” at The Hole NYC. Photo courtesy of The Hole NYC.

I first discovered Joakim Ojanen a few years ago while mindlessly scrolling through Instagram. I was letting the images cascade down my screen when suddenly the portrait of a duck-billed creature sitting before a pastel background popped out at me. The style in which it was painted was light and whimsical, but what arrested me was the vaguely 3-dimensional proportions that made the character feel otherworldly, like some kind of demented children’s cartoon creature. This was my introduction to Joakim Ojanen. I went on to follow him via Instagram for the next few years, enamored by his surrealist characters and goofy clay sculptures, but I never imagined that I would get to see his work in real life since he is based in Stockholm. However, the stars aligned and I happened to be in NYC last weekend at the same time The Hole NYC was debuting Ojanen’s first NY solo show titled Snake Pit.

Joakim Ojanen, “Sunday Boy Deep In The Cup, Can’t Take Another Week Like This” glazed stoneware, 21.5 x 14.5 x 14.5 inches, 55 x 37 x 37 cm. From “Snake Pit” at The Hole NYC. Photo courtesy of The Hole NYC.
Joakim Ojanen, “Sunday Boy Deep In The Cup, Can’t Take Another Week Like This” glazed stoneware, 21.5 x 14.5 x 14.5 inches, 55 x 37 x 37 cm. From “Snake Pit” at The Hole NYC. Photo courtesy of The Hole NYC.

The installation at The Hole consists of eight ceramic sculptures and five paintings of Ojanen’s imagined characters that hover ominously over a series of floor tiles on which a chaotic cluster of green and yellow snakes have been painted. The walls and ceiling of the space itself are painted white and gave me the impression that I was wandering through the inside of a cloud. The effect is remarkably disorienting—almost dangerously so considering that the ceramic sculptures rest on platforms that hang from the ceiling at different levels. Although visitors are not allowed to walk through the part of space where the platforms are suspended, there is an unquestionable sense of dread that one of these fragile pieces could be easily knocked over at any moment. What’s more, these creatures that Ojanen has crafted seem aware that they could fall to their doom at any moment and into the pit of snakes below. Many of them wear anxiety-ridden expressions like the character in the piece “Sunday Boy Deep In The Cup, Can’t Take Another Week Like This.” The worried look on the boy’s face seems to contradict his playful style (nose as long as his arms, hair in two limp strands reminiscent of a basset hound’s ears). The playful/serious discrepancy is taken to extremes in some of the other pieces such as “King Dog Feeding The Snakes.” At first glance, the characters in the piece—a dog, two snakes, and a worm—look cutsey and innocent, but it does not take long to notice the sexulized undertones of their actions.

Joakim Ojanen, “King Dog Feeding The Snakes” glazed stoneware, 20 x 15 x 15.5 inches, 51 x 38 x 39 cm. From “Snake Pit” at The Hole NYC. Photo courtesy of The Hole NYC.
Joakim Ojanen, “King Dog Feeding The Snakes” glazed stoneware, 20 x 15 x 15.5 inches, 51 x 38 x 39 cm. From “Snake Pit” at The Hole NYC. Photo courtesy of The Hole NYC.

Meanwhile, surrounding the snake pit are five oil-paintings of creatures that are similar to the ceramic figures. These characters loom over the space like guardian deities akin to the demons of Mara painted on the walls of ancient Buddhist temples across Asia. The largest of these paintings, “Tiger Dog On The Run, He’s Got A Whiff Of Something Better,” depicts the crazed image of a dog running through a field of grass. Like Ojanen’s other paintings, all the features of this animal—his ears, tongue, nose, legs, eyeballs—are elongated and convey a sense of motion that makes the piece feel frenetic and deranged. Viewing each painting is like watching an old-timey Mickey Mouse cartoon that’s taking place inside of a technicolored hellscape.

Joakim Ojanen, “Tiger Dog On The Run, He’s Got A Whiff Of Something Better,” oil on linen, 59 x 118 inches, 150 x 300 cm. From “Snake Pit” at The Hole NYC. Photo courtesy of The Hole NYC.
Joakim Ojanen, “Tiger Dog On The Run, He’s Got A Whiff Of Something Better,” oil on linen, 59 x 118 inches, 150 x 300 cm. From “Snake Pit” at The Hole NYC. Photo courtesy of The Hole NYC.

All of the pieces in the installation interact with each other seamlessly. Like different characters on a Sunday-morning cartoon, they each have their own personalities and quirks. I find a strange sense of kinship with Ojanen’s creatures. They seem to tell me that life is both nerve-racking yet silly, dangerous yet playful. Ojanen’s work is teeming with contradictions like these, and it’s for that reason I find them so fascinating.

“Snake Pit” at The Hole, March 1st – April 14h, 2019, 312 Bowery New York, New York

Tags

anxious, cartoon, ceramic, Joakim Ojanen, NYC, otherworldly, painting, sculpture, sexulized, Snake Pit, Stockholm, The Hole

sponsored
sponsored

Hello!

Sign up to receive Artblog’s weekly updates and monthly Our Picks sent directly to your inbox.

Subscribe Today!

Send this to a friend