Words: Anna Cafolla
Photographer: Henry Gorse
Styling: Ade Udoma
Makeup: Eri Sawamoto
Hair: Yusuke Morioka
Disembodied arms flash up on Jenny Hval’s phone screen. With synthetic fingers crooked in a petting motion, they’re so-called ‘assessor hands’, used to interact with touch-sensitive dogs. “I’m into that fake intimacy, this play at connection to establish trust,” she tells me, leaning across the table of a Hackney coffee shop as she scrolls through visual references for her new interdisciplinary live show. Past performances have seen the Norwegian musician, author and artist costumed as if her skin had been turned inside out, veins and intestines on display, or caped like a huge bat.
Hval flicks through the iMessage conversation with her costume designer, pulling up occult imagery; etchings of women sprouting extra limbs, surrounded by blackberries the size of watermelons; the hand of God emerging from clouds to be bitten by a snake in an image archived by 16th century French writer and emblem collector Claude Paradin. It’s a gallery of the wide-ranging inspirations that feed into the aesthetic of the pop experimentalist, bringing life to her new album, The Practice of Love.
Jacket & Bottoms: Per Götesson
On her seventh album, Hval explores the love of outsiders, how those on the fringes fight to feel secure. It’s a familiar struggle to Hval, having grown up as an out-of-place punk kid kitted out in leather and velvet in Oslo, finding solace in local goths and her doom metal band. On this record, Hval continues this search for community, which plays out in thoughtful and fruitful collaborations with artists like Vivian Wang, Félicia Atkinson and Laura Jean.
The Practice of Love, Hval says, picks up on the protagonist voice of her forthcoming book Girls Against God – her second English language novel. It traverses the lines of queerness, sensuality and desire that Hval has drawn and redrawn, this time from within an Oslo witch coven. On this LP, Hval imagines the same character’s perspective but years later, calmer and reflective, interrogating connectedness and how we move through the world. To describe the album, Hval uses an allegory of a porn magazine in the woods, a salacious object known to all the locals, that will soon rot into the ground – and yet, “I was not going for bold statements this time,” she asserts. “I’m striving for nuance.”
“People often think about sexual or familial intimacy, but I am much more fascinated by that between strangers. Maybe you catch a disease or get injured, and a doctor mends your broken body. I want to reflect on the more bizarre experiences of connectedness – some of your most fragile moments you'll spend with strangers.”
The sepia-toned album artwork depicts a woman, her third eye chakra open. The collage features a decapitated arm, reaching into the tarot card border to caress the woman’s cheek. It’s a startling illustration that suggests both closeness and distance. This paradox expands across eight tracks, as Hval harnesses lilting synths to touch on tough topics, from childlessness to alienation as a woman in art.
Not that she’s ever shied away from the intimate and uncomfortable. “I arrived in town with an electric toothbrush pressed against my clitoris,” opens her 2011 album Viscera. Her celebrated 2016 record Blood Bitch meditated on the mystical female body, desire and death. With The Practice of Love, Hval leaves behind the frantic gore for something more gentle and profoundly human.
Top: Jean Paul Gaultier
Trousers: Per Götesson
Shoes: John Lawrence Sullivan
The album is named after Vallie Export’s 1985 Der Praxis de Liebe, a conceptual anti-romance film with a ferocious female gaze. Shrouded in its murder mystery plot are questions about sexual repression and how language is insufficient in articulating personal moments. A record that percolates with pop cadence, The Practice of Love employs the structures of 90s trance. Six Red Cannas could soundtrack a DC10 sunrise rave on the cusp of the millennium. I point to one Ashes to Ashes YouTube comment that reads “EDM in a world without humans.”
“That’s perfect!” she laughs. “Trance is cinematic. I like that trance songs don’t offer solutions – just pure euphoria, a neverending screensaver of an Ibiza beach.” Hval recalls respecting trance culture from afar; Norwegian teens would blast the big hits from their cars, or rave in nearby forests. With those soul-affirming sonics, Hval weaves in armageddon-laced anxieties, personal truths and hopes. “More music needs those empathic tones. I think it is the perfect vehicle to question our mortality, our binary ways of thinking about gender and sex.”
Hval says she wrote two further albums worth of music before distilling it. “It sounds nice to have an idea of what you want, but that's not how things unfold. The listener or reader should know how messy it gets,” she says, combing a hand theatrically through her hair, covered in wax from the Crack Magazine photoshoot. “It's the joy of making art.”
Messy is right. The photoshoot features more than a dozen bananas and punnets of strawberries as props, the former being a recurring motif in her work. In one show, a supporting dancer aggressively ate a banana onstage, meanwhile 2015’s Kingsize used a confrontational visual allegory of the rotting fruit as the stigmatised human body.
On Ashes to Ashes, Hval sings: “Put two fingers in the earth/ Into the honeypot/ I was digging my own grave.” Like a decomposing banana, she looks to the earth for a biological end. Hval says it’s her way of connecting with the world. “Digging into the earth is my instrument,” she explains. “It’s my vocation, to connect with my mortality in that dirt. I want to destroy the Western, Christian ideas of fear and death the same way I do the ideals placed on our bodies. Ashes to ashes, image by image.”
The Practice of Love is released on 13 September via Sacred Bones
Bottoms: Per Götesson