“I am my own tool”: Weaving and materiality in Ann Cathrin November Høibo’s work

Weaving is central to Ann Cathrin November Høibo’s art. It is the main medium that she works in, but also a spatial metaphor used to create tenuous links between the disparate objects in her installations. Weaving is the anchor, the framework, around and through which the narrative in her work threads.

The natural and synthetic sit side-by-side in Ann Cathrin’s work like flotsam and jetsam washed up on the shoreline. The artist seems to make no distinction between the two vastly different kinds of material. Her installations, which include stretched fabric framed works, woven tapestries and loosely sculptural pieces, are studies in materiality and sensory tactility.

Yet the subtle contrast between handmade and readymade makes a quiet statement on the ubiquity of synthetic materials today, which have become intertwined with the fibre of contemporary life. Ann Cathrin’s work is neither explicit nor didactic. She makes no bold statement nor asserts any direct message. Rather, between the strands of natural wool, raw ash branches and mass-produced plastic objects, she weaves a subtle protest against speed and convenience that underpin consumer culture. Weaving by its nature offers a counterpoint to this, requiring patience and time; it is slow, laborious, meditative. “Weaving is a workout in being patient”, Ann Cathrin says of this ancient craft that is more than 12,000 years old.

Ann Cathrin’s art reflects the pared back aesthetic of her Nordic heritage. The colors in her work echo the northern landscape—whites, sage greens, small flashes of yellow, black, grey and bone—with interruptions of bright artificial colors and synthetic textures.

Ann Cathrin studied at the National Academy of Art and Handcraft, Department of Textile in Oslo, Norway. She received her MA from the Department Art Academy before furthering her studies at Städelschule in Frankfurt, Germany.

Photo by Thyra Dragseth

AMM: Hello Ann Cathrin. To begin, can you share your earliest art-related memory?

ACNH: Hi! One early one is of my mother leaving me and my older brother at the National Museum of Art in Oslo. It was raining a lot and she had to fix something, so she left us there. I didn’t really get along with my brother as a kid, so I wandered off by myself, it was wonderful.

AMM: In your growth as an artist, what have been some of the pivotal learnings or experiences or teachers that have shaped you and your work?

ACNH: I think I have learned a lot from the really good teachers and the really bad ones… also lovers and older friends who wanted to become artists. I think also being sick as a child changed the way I see things. Or maybe the time I randomly read an article at the dentist, about Hannah Ryggen. That moment changed my life a bit, I found true love.

AMM: Weaving and textiles have historically been associated with the female domain and crafts. In what ways do you engage with and subvert these traditions in your work?

ACNH: I have always been really proud of the feminine vibe of weaving and craft. It’s always been empowering to me, not the opposite. I also saw all of that as a good thing for me, that weaving and craft had a lower status in the contemporary art scene, at least in Norway. I saw it as a great opportunity to change that, a purpose. I intentionally only applied to the craft school to learn some weaving skills, the rest I could manage I thought.

AMM: Weaving enacts a bringing together of disparate parts into a new whole. How might this metaphor relate to themes in your work?

ACNH: I never make sketches and I never unravel what I do. I just continue and try to make the best of what is happening in front of me. It does not always look good close up, and it’s a shitty feeling and I give up, and then do other stuff for a while. But the bad parts or the mistakes often look really good in the end. Also color combinations, colors I do not like so much often end up more interesting than what I am really into. When I weave I think about my life, my current situations and everything that comes to mind and what’s important kind of unfolds in front of me. Mostly the work finds the themes as I go.

Untitled, handwoven wool, tulle, silk, cotton, nylon, cord stop and metal pole, 265 x 183 x 10 cm

AMM: Your aesthetic doesn’t try to hide or obscure the structure of an artwork, for example the loom of a tapestry, or soldered brass rods. Instead, these seem to be emphasised as another material and element of the composition, drawing attention to the handmade quality of the artworks. Can you tell us more about this?

ACNH: I guess I try to be as honest as possible in my work, so to hide important details like this or try to cover up something feels so wrong to me. I think I try to transfer this honesty into the materials. It’s like I’m trying to be a better person through my work.

AMM: In contrast to this, you often incorporate mass-produced found objects in your installations. What is the relationship between the handmade and the mass-produced in your work?

ACNH: Balance. It’s the personal meets the impersonal… I don’t know the exact word… I don’t like it when it’s too much of one vibe in my work, it has to be diverse. I want my work to contain as much as possible, but in a light and elegant way. I want lots of references that you can understand, instantly or over time. Or both. Also the mass-production tells something about the time we live in right now, and the craft for me is more timeless. Or maybe not. I aim for complexity to look easy.

AMM: Please tell us about the specific materials you choose to use in your art and about mixing natural and synthetic materials?

ACNH: I guess it’s the balance again. They have different qualities. Same color in different materials gives many colors if you know what I mean. I want the materials to change attitude in my work, by saying that I think I mean that I want them to change their personalities and become something new. I’m also a bit curious about how the materials will age in contrast to each other.

AMM: Weavings and the materiality of your work have a strong tactile quality, inviting notions of touch and skin. In what ways do you engage with these ideas in your work?

ACNH: I’m so into qualities of the materials, I feel it with my eyes I think. The skin is so sensitive; it’s our biggest sense organ they say. I had really bad allergies as a child; it had its own language of telling me things. So this goes back to your second question. I think this forced me to be very concerned about my clothes, second skin. Then again materials.

Flukt forover, installation view, Kunstnerforbundet, Oslo courtesy of the artist and STANDARD (OSLO), Oslo photography: Thomas Tveter / Kunstnerforbundet, Oslo

AMM: What ideas are you currently exploring in your work?

ACNH: I just down-scaled my studio from 360m2 to 60m2, from the seaside to the city. So I think that will have some effect. And I just arrived in Berlin to an empty studio. So I think about that, downscaling, in general. Buying less, eating less, pollute less, travelling less, stressing less, spending less time on the internet and all that. We all need to change the way we live. That’s what I really like about weaving. It’s so slow. I only use a fork and scissors and mostly daylight. A longtime dream of mine is to have some sheep and spin my own yarn. I used to say that to people I wanted to impress, as a very young artist. But life has been too hectic, I need to calm down.

AMM: How do you conceptualise and incorporate negative space into your compositions and installations?

ACNH: Interesting question. It’s more intuitive for me I guess.

AMM: In what ways does your art relate to your own emotional or psychological state of being?

ACNH: I think I have answered that in every question? I am my own tool.

You talk, I listen, handwoven fabrics and acrylic pole, 227 x 160 cm

AMM: Weaving is a laborious medium that must perhaps be quite meditative. What is your process of working?

ACNH: Weaving is a workout in being patient, it’s been very difficult. I used to say weaving is hardcore boring and splatter romantic. I moved one of my big looms home. I bought a house in a small town on the Norwegian coast. So now the loom is in the library, at least it looks great. It’s hard to sit still, and weaving takes forever. But it feels a bit like reading or running, the more you do it the faster it goes. Some days I can weave for hours, other days it’s impossible. It all depends on the mood and the time pressure.

AMM: How does your studio look and feel?

ACNH: My studio feels a bit like a girl cave. My private room with my own rules. Clean but messy, kind of cozy but practical. Full of textiles, clothes and yarn. And most important, a daybed.

AMM: Do you have any daily habits or rituals that feed you creatively?

ACNH: No, but often I change clothes all day long, to inspire myself and feel different. I probably should have more rituals, but I’m not good at following rules. A plan is to walk more.

AMM: Do you have any shows or projects coming up? What’s next for you?

ACNH: Next is a solo show at STANDARD (OSLO) in March, and one in LA which is still in the planning. I’m just starting research for a public project. Stage curtains for a new prison in Norway, which I am very excited about. Oh, and I’m doing a book with a project I curated back in 2017 at Kristiansand Kunsthall together with Linn Pedersen.

Find out more about the artist: www.carlfreedman.com/artists/ann-cathrin-november-hoibo

Interview by Layla Leiman for ArtMaze Magazine.

Untitled (Alpelue #04) , tapestry made of wool, yarn, nylon threads on nails / 223.5 x 196 x 47 cm courtesy of the artist and STANDARD (OSLO), Oslo photography: Vegard Kleven / Henie Onstad Kunstsenter