Nostalgia for the past… Artist Suzanne Jongmans explores the theme of time in her ongoing series Kindred Spirits using interesting materials such as upcycled styrofoam and bubblewrap.
By Sonia Kovacevic.
Dutch interdisciplinary artist, Suzanne Jongmans’ oeuvre is both intensely personal and socially significant, as she uses art to meditate on greater questions of life. Through meticulous collection, curation, and patience, Jongmans’ explores themes of time, vulnerability, sustainability, and consumerism – all with the grace of the renaissance.
Jongmans’ spirit for creation was ignited by her mother’s inventiveness and creativity in providing for Suzanne and her two brothers. Growing up in a small village in the Netherlands, Suzanne speaks fondly of her childhood, where her days were spent gathering and creating things for herself. This innocent eye of appreciating the world around her fostered her spirit for creation, and mantra to always look for the positive aspects of life. She says “I was always looking around in my childhood for beautiful things to collect.”
Jongmans’ first became intrigued by the old masters as a child looking at her parents artbooks. “Those faces really intrigued me, as they were so silent and introverted”. During art school, she studied their work and idolized them for their lighting and composition. “All my artwork has that basis [the dark and the light] to have balance. I find it very beautiful, because that is true about most things in life. You have to have both to see the other.” Jongmans is so entwined with her craft, her words mirroring powerfully deep and human moments of life.
“I always tell people I am not a photographer, but I always use the medium of photography because I do work like a painter.”
Her work draws you into the past, but before you completely succumb to the era, you notice something that looks a little too familiar… bubble wrap, styrofoam, and plastic sheets, which take the form of garments, accessories and textile detailing.
The upcycling began unintentionally when Jongmans was dressing one of her models in a Medieval cloak, and picked up a piece of foam that was lying around in her art studio. Not only did she find it simple to put together, due to already having form, but she was struck by its beauty against the skin, resembling silk. “I thought, this material is made for a product to keep it whole, and this characteristic translates to the portrait, and its vulnerability as something which has a protective shield.” She goes on to say “It’s like when I was a child, I picked up what looked beautiful to me, and then made something out of it”.
I ask whether she has a favorite material, and she thoughtfully responds, “the styrofoam with the infinity symbol; the mark for recycling.” She continues to explain the history of the symbol and its ancient representation of the cyclicality of life. Contrasted with its use on plastic; the material of this era, which literally lasts forever, represents a number of layers for Jongmans, and contributes to the strong social significance of her work.
This dialogue between the past and the present, both throughout Jongmans’ personal history, and the societal shift through the centuries, is a constant in her work as she draws connections between time, peace and aesthetic. “Everything goes so fast, there is so much to see, so much to hear – everything is made with machines, and less and less by hand. In contrast to the earlier days from the 15th century, everything was more quiet and calm, and I think that’s a desire of mine to feel that quiet and inspire people to turn more within.”
“It’s like when I was a child, I picked up what looked beautiful to me, and then made something out of it”.
This theme of time is mirrored in Jongmans’ design process – “I always tell people I am not a photographer, but I always use the medium of photography because I do work like a painter.” Each portrait can take anywhere from several weeks to a few months, and it often begins with a question circulating in her personal life. As the process unravels – the sourcing of materials, the model, the hundreds of frames she takes to ensure she has every detail, to the editing process, the story evolves and allows her to craft the essence she is always looking for; the model turning within. Jongmans’ relishes in this slow process. She says “It’s not just about that one moment. It feels different than if you would just take a picture”.
The most intensive portion of the process, is on the computer, where she carefully curates details and edits frames. During the process, she says “it becomes clear to me that it’s almost like a self-portrait, or it is a strong question within me, and it’s almost by making the portrait I am answering myself.”
This meditative process is continually evolving, for her personally and in society, where people are craving connection and meaning. “I think people in general really need to turn inwards, because that is where the answers are.” She continues, “It’s something you can feel. I cannot put my finger on it, but it has something to do with what it reflects – the time that was taken to create it.”
This theme of time inextricably weaves itself through all her work as she plays to collect, transform, and connect. Her sincerity and spirit exude through her voice – “this is always the now, what I just said has already passed, it’s now, it’s now, and you can do something in the now, but that which has passed, you can’t do anything about. So you can always start fresh.”
I ask her what’s next? She giggles and says “the “Kindred Spirits” series is not finished, and I’m not dead yet, so I will keep going.”