Writings

As appeared in Artvisor.com

Original article accessible at https://www.artvisor.com/2017/08/25/artist-spotlight-folkert-de-jong/

Artist Spotlight: Folkert De Jong

Born: 1972 in Egmond aan Zee, The Netherlands

Lives and works in: Amsterdam

Latest Exhibition: Weird Science, Gem Museum of Contemporary Art, The Hague.

Folkert De Jong creates macabre sculptures from polyutherene and Styrofoam. His human sized figures are dismembered and reattached in bizarre poses. They often come dressed in theatrical clothing and splashed in lurid colours. His work often focuses on the history of his native homeland, Holland, and draws the viewer into an introspective state.

De Jong pairs a classical figurative focus with a lexicon of unorthodox materials. As a key substance in his sculptural works, Styrofoam serves as a weightless and artificial construct that imbues De Jong’s figures with an otherworldly presence. However, the lightness of the objects does not diminish the menacing air which surrounds them. Although his creations are bathed in vivid colours, they are dirtied, scratched and weathered. The fragility of these sculptures is a ruse; Styrofoam does not rot like wood, and cannot be corroded like stone. Its very essence contains contradictions that are a running theme in De Jong’s work. Not only is it featherlight and likely to outlive us all, but the unassuming material is also the product of a deadly epoch. Styrofoam was manufactured during World War Two by a company that went on to develop the deadly chemical Agent Orange, and was then marketed by the makers of the Zyklon B gas. These incongruities are echoed in De Jong’s work – the sculptures seem clownish and humorous but appear more and more monstrous on closer inspection. The artist dribbles polyurethane down their faces and gouges their limbs, revealing a rough texture beneath that is unnervingly similar to raw flesh. They do not seem to mind this treatment. The expressions of the characters are often ambiguous. Influenced by the gothic genre, they mimic gargoyles perched atop an imposing cathedral, looking down impassively at passers-by.

One could almost imagine that these are creatures from a nightmarish dimension not too dissimilar from ours; the context of De Jong’s works are often based on dark chapters of our own history. His protagonists seek to examine his motherland’s destructive colonial past. Take his ‘Traders Deal’ sculpture series, for example. This series was inspired by the sale of Manhattan to the Dutch settlers, allegedly sold for worthless glass beads. Historically, it was a story used to insinuate the ignorance of Native Americans, and how the clever settlers therefore ‘deserved’ the land. This mockery is evident in the theatrical gestures of De Jong’s colonists. They are filthy and blackened, dancing atop oil barrels and pallets like lowly street hustlers performing for scraps. All the gloating dummies have the same face. De Jong says that they ‘are copies made from one mould, from one single character. The clones are trading with themselves, their own kind, ripping off each other and facing their destiny; self-destruction.’ [Daily Serving] ‘Ripping off each other’ is a fitting description of what actually took place. As history later proved, it was the Dutch who were duped – the land they paid for never belonged to the tribe in the first instance. When the Wappinger Confederacy (another group of Native Americans and the rightful owners of Manhattan) contested the Dutch claim, the settlers ended up paying twice.

De Jong also uses his mannequins to investigate the depths of the human psyche. Traditional Dutch garb often adorns his characters, harking back to the past, creating a sense of alienating the viewers with garish poses and mottled flesh. This alienation is created by both a distance from the events and the other possible historical perspectives we can now contemplate. Moments of victory and cunning are revealed to be pitiful, shameful actions. The very appearance of his sculptures encourage us to reconsider notions of colonialism while bright childlike colours suggest an immaturity or ignorance in his ancestor’s actions.

However, the grimy stains and disfigured bodies allude to the fact that these events cannot be absolved by time, or by being explained away as actions typical of the era. The violence and exploitation of colonists should not be justified by pretending that the oppressors didn’t know any better, as if they were like children. De Jong’s effigies are psychologically complex, as is the dark history of his homeland.

It’s worth noting that De Jong began his career as a performance artist. For this he often made costumes and sets, and has since gone on to design clothing for theatre companies and fashion designers. Pictured above is a product of the collaboration between de Jong and Dutch designer Walter Van Beirendonck, where De Jong created a vibrant series of hats to clash with Van Beirendonck’s pristine suits. The artist believed that the suits served as a modern day armour. His hats and collars further guarded the models behind the traditions and prestige of an old world.

One can see this theatrical influence in his sculptural works. His figures are not separated from the audience by plinths, but instead their feet touch the floor as ours; they walk among us. This integration into the gallery space only adds to the threatening auras of these highly expressive creatures. His characters are sometimes based on real people. For example, De Jong’s latest solo exhibition: ‘Weird Science’  focusses on the artists and designers of the De Stijl movement.

Critic Sue-ann van der Zijpp has referred to the feeling that arises from gazing upon De Jong’s statues as a ‘historical sensation’: the sensation that one is actually facing an authentic presence from the past, an experience similar to the sublime. We couldn’t agree more.


 

As appeared in Artvisor.com

Original article accessible at https://www.artvisor.com/2017/08/10/artist-spotlight-salvatore-arancio/

Artist Spotlight: Salvatore Arancio

Born: 1974 in Catania, Italy

Lives and works in: London, UK

Current show: A Tranquil Star, Malta Contemporary Art, Malta

Salvatore Arancio’s work is characterized by juxtapositions: natural forms and artificial compositions, beauty and imperfections, science and legend. Following the recent conclusion of his solo show in Milan, And These Crystals Are Just Like Globes of Light, Artvisor takes a closer look at the artist and his practice.

Growing up under the dark shadow of Mount Etna, it is no wonder that Arancio looks to geology and the violent power of the earth for his etchings and sculptures. Influenced by 19th century scientific sketches and studies, Arancio’s etchings capture the wonder and adventure of the intrepid frontiersmen seeing a strange new world for the first time. His landscapes portray towering smokestacks, gorged earth and mountains which are twisted and barren; they are wild and untamed. Previous scientific documentation of the 19th century had elements of folklore mixed into sketches. Following in their footsteps, Arancio merges myth and fact in his etchings to create a disturbingly familiar fiction. The outcomes are like a glimpse into the past, or perhaps a warning from the future. With the precarious balance of the environment as it is today, one has to wonder whether these works are simply forged in imagination or whether Arancio knows something we don’t. In this narrativized state the etchings bare an unsettling air, and it would do good to heed the possible environmental warnings one can find in them.

His sculptures follow the natural forms depicted in his altered landscapes. Smooth and rippled stacks of ceramics create lava mounds that sometimes come in the form of brightly coloured neon shades, or sometimes glisten in black. These bulbous formations, although naturally inspired, appear alien and disconcerting. Arancio achieves this by contrasting materials, symbols and forms to create disquieting imagery. A somewhat apocalyptic theme runs through all of the artist’s oeuvre. In his sculptural works, one can be reminded of a bleached, dying coral reef, or even an ash sculpture from doomed Pompei. Some take the appearance of calcified sea organisms, fossilised for centuries and lost in the deep.

The same vague yet lingering unease can be traced in the title of his installation at the Venice Biennale this year, entitled It Was Only a Matter of Time Before We Found The Pyramid and Forced It Open. Totemic, and almost primordial, the installation allegedly came as an aftereffect of a hypnotherapy video session the artist found online. The same video was used for his performance at the Whitechapel Gallery in 2015 entitled MIND AND BODY BODY AND MIND. Listeners would become better artists, so the video claimed. The mystical formation of the sculptures in Venice hark towards a religious ground, a sacred place. Arancio calls it a ’healing area’. Lava moulds of tree trunks in Lava Trees State Park on Hawaii Island inspired these sculptures.  However, in contrast to a place for healing, a petrified graveyard of trees is a jarring image. Paired with the ominous title, the installation seems more set to summon spirits than to soothe them. Arancio claims that the title refers to his obsession with the monolith in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Would be worshippers at the Biennale are faced with totems that seem displaced in time, with their own presence and gaze.

In his third solo show, And These Crystals Are Just Like Globes of Light, Arancio descends from the volcanoes and moves deep into ‘The Cave of Giant Crystals’, the caverns located beneath the Niaca Mines in Mexico. Containing the largest crystal structures known to man, Arancio had aimed to visit the caves to source inspiration for his sculptures… except the caves have been shut to the public since 2009 due to the vandalism and theft of fragments of the great structures. Despite efforts, the artist was unable to see the caverns in the flesh. Marrying myth with fact once more Arancio opted instead to create work based on his own imaginings and research of the cave. Blurring the line between science and fantasy, Arancio’s sculptures echo the now tenuous situation the caves are now confronted with.

The builders who discovered the crystals did so by accidentally draining a subterranean chamber full of water untouched by man. Where the presence of water allowed the crystals to grow undisturbed and at a gargantuan scale, its absence now threatens the shine, quality and even stability of the structures. Arancio’s gleaming black ceramics hint towards a pollution or degeneration; a rotting with time. Their phallic shapes are reminiscent of objects found in a plurality of ancient religions and spiritual practices, like talismans, idols or markers on a gravesite which vest the installation with a sense of foreboding. Like in his etching, Arancio captures something beyond our time; he is erecting a memorial for a natural wonder that is nearing total devastation. Soon all that may remain of this cavern could be man’s own memories and fictional accounts, and when that happens, Arancio’s will be one of them.

 

Futher articles in the Artvisor Spotlight Series (2017) written by Marylyn Molisso:

Carla Busuttil

Sari Ember

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