Jenny Hval

The Practice Of Love

On The Practice of Love, Jenny Hval reveals her sensitive humane core, finds Danijela Bočev

Edit Piaf once said, “Use your faults, use your defects; then you’re going to be a star.” Jenny Hval knows it, for her “combined failures” have served her well across her liberating bodyssey of articulating the semiotic flesh and singing it back into language, now reaching a seventh full-length release.

Never a mere provocateur, always peeking through the keyhole of the self into the human condition on the art-life intersection through her radically intimate magical feminist lens. Hval has always been a relentless explorer of the dark corners of visceral emotionality, body horror, and delight in the accidental profundity of things brought together in unexpected juxtapositions. Hval’s liberating affair with her second language is consistently resulting in hard-sell lines of unfiltered naturalist poetry. She has left no hierarchy unturned.

The Practice of Love reveals the sensitive humane core that was always behind Hval’s practice of enlightened dissent. The album develops an elegant approach to solving the existential problems of love, care and intimacy from the position of otherness. Hers is a margin taking over the centre. For all its epic signalling, the romantic immediacy of love as a disruptive big bang-like event is here missing, the title proving to be a bait. Instead, Hval harnesses the subversive power of gentleness.

Her true pop artistry is revealed in the sophisticated domestication of larger ideas, carefully evading any trace of banality. The artist’s already engrossing subjectivity is here distilled into a universal truth, and the expansivily airy sonics being all the lusher for it. This supremely uncluttered album’s eight tracks are teeming with a mysterious musicality. Hval deserves high praise for her seamless blending of a lighter pop song format with a more experimental montage of spoken-word content, resulting in some of her finest compositions. Sax-tinged jams reminiscent of Julia Holter are embedded into transcendental synth anthems for the 4 AM club where you can casually bare your soul to a stranger on the dancefloor.

The delicate power of Hval’s piercingly clear voice is like Ariadne’s blood-red thread, leading us out of the labyrinth of the messy realities of embodiment experienced by the twenty-first century female with the minotaur of capitalism guarding its centre, its heart. “The narrative of what love is is taken completely by capitalism, I find, even more than sex,” Hval remarked around her Conceptual Romance period. “We all want something better to get us close,” as sung on the enigmatic ‘High Alice’, beyond the engineering of what Mark Fisher called the “libidinal technicians of capital”, that myopic desire pre-packaging romantic goods for the single(s) market, algorithm-arranged marriages and screen-mediated second-hand experiences. Love in the terminal stages of capitalism calls for radical and careful emancipation from the internalised oppressive power structures parasitising on our energies. Valie Export’s film, The Practice of Love, which the album borrowed its title from, finds her heroine looking for love but finding only power games. We must, together with French philosopher Alain Badiou, agree that “love needs reinventing.”

For Badiou, love is a “minimal form of communism,” and not merely “a contract between two narcissists.” Its reinvention must aim towards the wider, greyer areas of caring labour. And without ever evacuating us from the safe zone of intimacy, Hval’s practice of love – without the clichéd singular object – take us to other places only art can chart the path to.

Love, as a kind of ongoing dialectical process between the mind and the body, shares a lot with art. We can imagine the latter as a vehicle for love’s post-capitalist re-invention. Hval offers a kind of “umbilical magic”, interweaving art and life, bringing together voices speaking, singing, writing together as a newfound multi-layered voice. This collaborative borrowing the voices of other women – friends, colleagues, featured artists (Vivian Wang, Laura Jean Englert, and Felicia Atkinson) – juxtaposing and overlapping them, here creates a highly introspective, confessional dialogue to structure the narrative and a sense of communal intimacy. The narrator here is no longer I, but we. “We are high Alice,” they announce, finding the way out following the red thread that, in the end, binds us. The enigmatic ‘High Alice’ functions as the female genius archetype, building on the spirit of the surrealist literature of Clarice Lispector, elevating the practice into a flight above the labyrinth.

The practice of love here is existential, political and artistic. It is a lifelong process, a rearranging of the self in context with the environment. Only art can offer a loving virtual container for our senses, for us to fall apart and transform in.

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