We Live in Mythic Times: The Art of Jenny Ollikainen

Indiana artist Jenny Ollikainen tells tales inside her dream world of masks and performance.

“Everything is gross and everything is beautiful,” says Jenny Ollikainen of ‘Mythic Times.’ "How do you not know this? We’re floating in space and we are on this crazy planet. WE are having an alien experience.”

Jenny’s pop-up installation at Meow Wolf Santa Fe features a buzzing and bumbling plant pod that vibrates when you touch it, a hand-painted muslin curtain featuring bustling, plantlike matter, and, of course, her collection of astonishing ceremonial creature masks.

These masks are individual beings with souls, names, and unique characteristics, like intricate glitter placement and acrylic nails for teeth. They will also stare through your skull holes down to your worm-like guts, urging you to take on their personas.

Black Bird, Jenny Ollkainen, Space Goat in the Mythic Times installation at Meow Wolf Santa Fe, Halloween 2019. Photo by Kate Russell.

The bones of Jenny’s work arise from a disharmonious blend of culture and mother nature. She cultivates soft sculptural ecosystems from hand-sewing, mask-making and painting, her concepts stemming from dreams or tentacling from shamanism.

Growing up in Indiana, Jenny was raised Catholic, and spent a lot of her childhood around the bible. These early religious views later progressed into a deeper understanding of different religions and myths as a whole. “I am very interested in origin stories from around the world and the similarities they share.

I love the story of how the Buddha came to be and the journey he took, but also in Jesus and his journey with the (dead) sea scrolls indicating he went to Tibet and India.”

The journey that her work has taken embodies one that is both healing and integral to the grotesque truth of human nature.

Photo courtesy of Jenny Ollikainen.

Alongside her fascination with mythological tales, Jenny’s work stands still between imaginative science and artistry, inspired by shamanism.

Ocean life, and it’s deep, dark mysteries, were some of her earliest incentives to create, but many of her pieces came to her in dreams, like her tentacle friend on wheels, called ‘Mama’.

“I had a dream that I danced with Mama on my childhood basketball court,” she says. “There were other weird creatures that lived on top of her, and she was feeding them with her tentacles. She was supposed to represent mother earth because she was all oozy and gross and full of life. She’s falling apart in my garage right now.“

Interactive Plant Pod and Black Bird in the Mythic Times installation at Meow Wolf Santa Fe, Halloween 2019. Photo by Kate Russell.

Mama was one of many dream creatures that were made to become Jenny’s friends/children. One of her first masks, named “Star Nation”, was used as a performance tool in her musical group, “Trance Dancer”, to fight her deep anxiety of being in front of crowds.

“It was a way for me to experience performance art when I was way too anxious to be in front of people. I could barely talk in class without getting anxiety and adrenaline.”

It’s no surprise that incorporating masks into a performative discipline would be the next phase of the Mythic Times journey, what with her fascination for the classics and all. After Star Nation came a plethora of masks that seemed to multiply. From Monkey King to Harpy the Eagle and the adorable Fuzz, all arising from different sects and attributes.

King Goblin for example, a trickster yet protector, was the first to be sold to a gallerist in Miami. “I think I’m the first artist to be sad about selling their art,” Jenny states. “I miss King Goblin every day.”

Dragon Male/Female, Butterfly Flower Queen, Monkey King, in the windows of the David Loughridge Learning Center at Meow Wolf Santa Fe 2019. Photo by Allyson Lupovich.

Mask-making has been around for centuries, used primarily for ceremonies and healing, like in ancient rome for funerals as theatrical representations of ones who have passed.

Considering our current “modern times” and being held captive by high-powered technology, an important part of Jenny’s work is filling that empty void with opportunities to perform as a healing method. “I tell people when they wear my masks, it explicitly is for THEM. My goal is to help people feel community and to give people experiences.”

Jenny is an artist who gives us the alien life we never knew we needed and brings importance to the individual heavens, hells, and space goats of our brains. Her ability to mash together religions, myths, and science into glittery shamans gives deep meaning to the relationship between art and humanity.

Join us on Halloween from 12 p.m. -  3 p.m. in the David Loughridge Learning Center for a master workshop inspired by her work, where you can learn the ins and outs of how to make a creature mask unique to you and your dreams! She invites any and all people to wear her creations as immersive experiences, but she also urges everyone to make their very own!

The Mythic Times pop-up installation will also be on view during this time and open to the public until November 18th.  

Space Goat and Blackbird at the El Rey Court in Santa Fe. Photo by Allyson Lupovich.

A very special thanks to the El Rey Court for their support!Follow Jenny on Instagram.