Beyond Reason: On the Wet Side of Thought (On Folkert De Jong)

Following the visit to the Berlin Art Fair 2006, where de Jong’s installation “The Sculptor, The Devil and The Architect” could be seen, one thing became immediately clear. Together with Patricia Picinni’s “The World According to”, FdJ’s work was one of the few also dealing with dream, imagining worlds and fiction. Indeed, the general tone of the Fair was a very different one, since the greater part of the works was deeply rooted on reality, putting a strong emphasis on documentary issues, the major subjects being Portrait and Landscape.
In this context, though as different and brave as “imagining new worlds” might be, the truth is that the exaggeration, the tasteleness, fakeness and horror vacui in de Jong’s pieces makes them “disgusting” for some viewers. Some might refuse its humour and playfulness on a bad taste ground basis. Folkert de Jong´s work hasn´t stopped challenging me ever since I saw it… Here follows an excerpt of my text: “Beyond Reason – On the Wet Side of Thought“, written as a result of a happy coincidence; the discovery of the amazing text “Disparities & Deformations: Our Grotesque” by Robert Storr (2004) and the wish to understand Folkert de Jong’s installation pieces.

Folkert de Jong’s background with performance and video, has lead him to produce installations using the same strategy as B side movies and mixing heterogeneous, alternative and underground references, redrawn from cinema, graffiti, the street, the media, the artist’s personal vision of the world, etc. His works can be said to convey a certain sense of “spectacle”. This “entertaining” mood is exactly underlined by the exaggerated dimensions, the positioning of characters in space, as if in a stage or a set. This dramatic quality becomes evident when we are before a group of characters, for they unravel a series of narratives. There is much to observe. De Jong is incapable of iconographic austerity, undermining the purity of the medium itself. The result lays on the realm of kitsch. At the very same time, his works inspire both genuine delight and disquietness.

Indeed, his art installations are full of dark humor and visual playfulness, they attack formal purity by unleashing humor, invention and impiety. After seeing the installations as extremely expressive, decorative, full of agreeable details for the eyes to follow, with plenty of narratives to survey and even playful, we begin to sense something rather different. Suspicions are then raised. We become aware that de Jong is delivering the darkest of characters – political fanatics, murders and witch-hunters – in agreeable pastel tones, only punctually interrupted by electrifying colors, as if a warning. His works express an interest in anomalies, a fascination with damage, deformity, destruction and death.

“There are transformations in the work and the moment when you go over the line of morally acceptable behavior interests me, where people turn into monsters, maniacs or killers. That moment where you can´t tell if it will go one way or another. I like the moments of transformation in my characters. I guess I am getting into the area of horror and what people are afraid of. I like to explore horror in an almost theatrical way while also being wary of it becoming too theatrical because I am trying to visualize extreme transformations and not produce merely illustrative or titillating work”. (Folkert de Jong interviewed by Simon Walls in Folkert de Jong, Shoot the freak, NAI Uitgevers / Publishers, 2004).

The assemblage of such unlikely characters, engaged as if on a play, built on such an incredible material – as PU foam and Styrofoam – with unbelievable colors – that somehow remind us of pastry and artificial cakes – stresses their odd and artificial feeling. The love for soft materials and pastel colors is exactly, inducing us very wrongly. Surrealism, for example, always made abundant use of soft and melting materials, subjected to significant distortions, as metaphors for sexual impotency, the passing of time, the unconscious, the repressed, etc. Thus, this artificiality, this fakeness, is underlined over an over, taken to its extreme, made redundant. We cannot overlook it. It is impossible to forget. The colors don’t agree with what they are representing and, the materials are completely “inappropriate” for producing artwork.

Through its extreme artificiality and immoderation, use of metaphors, symbols and allegories, Folkert de Jong´s work is showing how the subconscious processes ideas and emotions (Freud´s dream work). As such, De Jong´s installation pieces are not dreamlike they are in fact, nightmare like. For most nightmares are intriguing and exciting at first, then suddenly turning into something quite different and threatening. Folkert de Jong´s installations just seem delightful up to the moment when we realize there is something profoundly disquieting and strange about them.
They look as if redrawn from a fairground, with its ghost- trains, props, artificial and suspicious puppets, mischievously playing with our senses, just waiting for us to turn our back to come alive and take revenge.
As installation, we can surround it and take a look from all sides as if we are entering a different world. We are before the work and increasingly conscious that we stand at a border, between reality and a world of dreams. We are just a short moment away, before its frozen charm is broken, just about to take that turn where everything goes wrong. Evidence that this may be a bad trip is the presence of such characters as Freddy Krugger, Kali or Medea.

Thus, it may be said that, de Jong´s works are denouncing illusion and fiction as a strategy in art, showing its failure. We are not, to believe in representation anymore nor, to forget that we are before a work of art, as intended traditionally through out History. Definitely, in de Jong’s work we cannot forget that we are before a work of art, we cannot join in and find comfort in oblivion. It is representing an illusion before our eyes and friezing it as such. We just remain sharply aware of its artificiality. Sublime contemplation is not given as an option. Folkert de Jong´s installations unfold before us the cold and sharp frontier between real, illusion and dream. Folkert de Jong´s installations are all about the malfunctioning of illusion today, since they are not reconciling us with the world anymore but, forcing us to feel alienation instead. Exactly because, these works speak of opposites such as agreeable and distasteful, funny and horrifying, that they can be thought of as grotesque. In the end, there isn’t anything else besides our own sense of separation, of division.

In “The Sculptor, The Devil and The Architect“, de Jong includes himself in the work and among other things, is talking about his own activity as a sculptor or, a producer of illusions. Traditionally, the artist is in the place of God (or preferably working effectively for Him), producing a coherent vision of the world but de Jong’s works are showing the impossibility of keep on doing this.

The Sculptor, the Devil and the Architect

De Jong shows that art is no longer the place for miming life, nor it can continue to speak of truthful things, much less represent reality. Art can only try to show the flaws in reality, talk about its absurdity, violence and non-sense, of all that no longer fits into our given, and supposedly stable, understanding of the world and human nature. Speaking of all that challenges human understanding, all that remains unthinkable of and defies our very notion of what Humanity is. A mass murderer, a religious fanatic or, a terrorist remain an illogical irruption in the fabric of reality, with whom we don´t know neither what to do nor, how to reflect about them. These works challenge all preconceptions of what reality and Humanism are supposed to be.
It is exposing the artificial division of worlds (rational vs irrational, reality vs fiction, life vs spectacle, truth vs “mediatization” of reality, etc.). It is telling us that reality is not trustworthy, unfolding dark forces and its effects before our eyes.
And thus, the question would then be: what is it intending by showing this malfunction? Is it only satisfying its own weird logic and the dictates of pleasure? Is it showing alienation just for the twisted pleasure of showing it? Does this exposure to grotesque images and imagining worlds – were perversion, desire, abnormality, the repressed, obscenity rule – make us more alienated? Or, does it make us more conscious? What is in fact this malfunction aiming for? (this is an excerpt from my text: “Beyond Reason – On the Wet Side of Thought“)

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