mind over matter
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1978, Hoeven NL
Lives and works in Breda
1996-2000 Academie Voor Beeldende Vorming Tilburg
graduated in Textile Design and Photography
Physical Contacts with History
A Textile Background
‘A textile background’ is how Suzanne Jongmans perfectly describes the impact of her observations on her mother’s and grand-mother’s hand-made textiles from her childhood and the clothes they sewed for themselves and their families.
Growing up in an atmosphere of crafting contributed to the young girl’s future as an artist. When she was eight, she moved house with her mother and brothers and was given her own room with a closet which she converted into a doll’s house of fantasies, a theatrical den she decorated and which unwittingly revealed an early interest in the use of space and design.
Alongside that focussed passion, Suzanne was drawn to her mother’s art books, particularly those of 15th,16th and 17th century painters. That interest grew at the Art Academy in Tilburg where her lecturer showed her books from his private collection and she studied works of Hans Holbein the Younger, Vermeer and Clouet for their radical compositions and play with light. They obviously influenced her future sculptural and photographic works.
She was drawn to this Art Academy because of the department Theatrical Design but when it closed down she decided on Photography and Textile Design building up conceptual and spatial ideas in multi-media installations. She extended work with textiles, photography and film and introduced traditional craft work which looped back into her childhood.
Since her academic training, Suzanne has retained a theatrical element in the work and her multi-media processes and productions now define her as a seamstress, pattern cutter, creator of sculptural forms, designer of costumes and a photographer who compresses images from their third dimension to the flat print.
The medium discovered
In 1997, the second year of her degree course, Suzanne won a student design prize for her debut installation, ‘Mijn huid, mijn littekens’, meaning “My skin, my scars.” Its significance lay in the extraordinary material she selected, sheets of thick foam. Its characteristics, the material’s flatness and agility makes it capable of returning to its original form and that led to her cutting pieces and meticulously sewing them. Stitches holding the garments together lie tightly across the fabric and suggest human scars.
The image Mind over Matter – Patience (2013) is a work that relates to this early installation, which she created as a tribute to the sculpture and the material it all began with.
Patience shows a young woman wearing a dress with lamb chop sleeves and a high neck ruff. Looking closer the noticeably stitched seam appears to be a scar and so displays the fragility and transience of what resembles human skin. It represents the impact of ‘impermanence and vulnerability’ on mind and body, she says, the patience of subject and artist. Suzanne commented, “Sometimes we can’t rush the process which takes time until wounds are healed.”
The images also exude serenity from the young women frozen in photographic time like the characters painted in centuries past. From a different angle of her work, the meticulousness of garments made by her grandmother and mother are challenged by Suzanne who breaks away from many of their sewing rules; in places, she leaves uncut threads dangling from hems and needles lying exposed on the surface of the foam clothing. But the inclusion of a thimble on the forefinger in Patience raises timeless memories of the tradition of generations of women.
After that initial experience in 1997, Suzanne began a decade later to re-use foam textiles in very different ways but still built on the same basis of her early creations. Suzanne’s earliest 2007 piece, Meisje met Kap (2007) was created in a moment of coincidence: she was making a test costume for a model and ran out of fabric but picked up fine sheets of the packing foam she used to protect her art works, which lay around in her studio. Suzanne said: ‘I wanted to make a mediaeval cloak without a construction and when I sewed it, it stood upright – a sculpture at once.’ Stitching the garment retrieved memories of the installation which won her the prize in 1997. This foam is thinner and semi-transparent but has the same capacity to create a foam sculpture. ‘Beautiful against the skin,’ says Suzanne, ‘It looks like silk and is like a protective shield for my model.’ Later garments worn by her young models are protected by the layer of translucent material resembling a second skin. ‘The presence of a model’s skin makes it vulnerable,’ says the artist and she emphasizes the significance of ‘Vulnerability and Transience’ in her investigations into texture and feel, presence and past.”Once she rediscovered its potential she created an original method of sculpting a garment and transforming it into a photographic art object. A more complex creation, an elegant, diaphanous wrap extending into a billowing hood, marks her earliest references to the Dutch era. Even advertisements for foam packing materials boast their soft textures and protection for sensitive and delicate surfaces – descriptions comparable with the materials she works with and the centuries-old silks almost tangible in the centuries old paintings of the young women who inspired her future work.
Mind over Matter.
In the recent series titled “Mind over Matter,” Suzanne discusses her powers of observation. Since childhood she focussed on what she considers worthy of absorbing and using in her work. Her eye did the careful work in her doll’s house and later her investigative stares led to the realization that forms of plastic and foam can resemble lace or silk. And from there, she developed the detailed dress-making copied from mediaeval eras. She says that another reality exists by controlling and navigating the eye and mind and in recent works she controls what she sees in someone or something.
Since 2007, Suzanne has generated many surprises. The use of different varieties of packing foam and found materials reveal their re-use and inventiveness. ‘The idea of making something out of nothing changes our look on reality,’ she says, ‘A piece of plastic with text printed on it, used for packing a coffee machine or television can resemble a piece of silk. And the lid of a can of tomato puree can look like a ring.’ That large, abstract sculpted ring sits on the finger of the subject, Mind over Matter – Julie, Portrait of a Woman (2012) who was paired with Rogier van der Weyden’s Portrait of a Lady, 1460. The two young women separated by about half a millennium, similarly pose with fingers entwined and faces with modest expressions and down-cast eyes. They also share the pleated and visibly pinned cone-shaped head-dresses. A difference lies in the contemporary portrait’s red and black markings stamped onto the foam, instructions about recycling and warnings.
Her use of foam rubber simulates very accurately the caps and bonnets of girls and women’s swathed head-dresses, and the similarities she creates – but with subtle differences – from the wimples of mediaeval nuns to today’s beautiful variations on Islamic hijabs and head covers. The swing from past to present is now a constant in all of her subjects, materials and technologies.
The recycling symbols visible in several recent works include the closed curves of a lemniscate ∞ printed on foam and plastic and symbolizing infinity and eternity. The models for Solitude, Voltar, Julie, Dame met Parel, Room for Change and Lied van de Parel are all involved in the equivalent cycle of matter recycled, interpretations re-used from 15th,16th and 17th century paintings. Mind over Matter – Infinity I shows an inverted hour-glass while in Mind over Matter – Infinity II, a little girl wearing a foam cap like a Vermeer character, holds in her fingers the infinity sign made with a red rubber band. The beautiful Mind over Matter – Voltar has a head-dress billowing with plastic sheeting scattered with symbols which include the lemniscate. But it also reveals a red hair-net emerging from under the head piece, material created from the bags holding oranges in the supermarkets.
Today’s symbols contrast with the allegoric objects seen in paintings of the Golden century. Pairing past with present. In Room for Change, the alluring whorl of plastic and polystyrene surrounding the head of the woman sees through the veil in a piece inspired by Rogier van der Weyden and where a butterfly on the model’s hand refers to transformation.
Another example of the dresses and head-wear replicating Masters’ paintings and accompanied by today’s versions, are the two young girls both poised to be married in different eras. Holbein’s masterpiece The Darmstadt Madonna (1525-28) sees the Madonna envelop Jakob Meyer’s Darmstadt family who is positioned around her. His daughter Anna, who kneels in profile, prays holding her red rosary and wearing carnations in her head-dress. Suzanne’s contemporary version, Mind over Matter – Gratitude, sees this Dutch girl, in her stunning, gossamer-thin ‘silk’ dress and her rosary beads made from rose hips – allegoric symbol of desire – and the carnation (Dianthus) she placed in her beautiful hairpiece. Like Anna’s, it represents commitment.
When Suzanne sews with strands of golden wire, in many cases they are visible and perfectly stitched. But with Mind over Matter – Praise of Folly, loose strands hang from the waistcoat wrapped around a dress. Together with the model who is turned from the camera in a uniquely concealed pose this gives a very 21st century feel. It was inspired by the manuscript written by Erasmus, published in 1511, and illustrated by Holbein the Younger. Erasmus wrote of ‘the wise folly, Stultitia’ who said, “It is from me, Stultitia, and from my influence only, that gods and men derive all mirth and cheerfulness.” The Folly’s waistcoat, made from stitched diamond shapes cut from rubber yoga matting leaves wires hanging off the seams and edges. Unusually, bells are scattered through her thick hair in this interesting back story.
A very different story lies in the Queen Elizabeth I image, Mind over Matter – Cutting Loose. The packing clip with its expiry date, scissors and the style of the dress refers to how she cut herself loose by cutting the puffed sleeves made of layers of insulation material, and releasing the dress which was as confining as her life. It simulates the familiar classic portraits of Elizabeth while maintaining their elegance, and in this full dress, she cut herself free.
The recent work titled Mind over Matter – Gravity, loops back to the work Meisje met Kap and reveals how much more complicated Suzanne’s creations have evolved with new materials, constructions and ideas, and influences from other early paintings. The short wrap worn by the young girl has a floating feel but the physical lightness of the external foam garment is covering and protecting the woollen lining. What stands out here is the graceful , symbolic presence of small metal weights hanging off the cloak’s hem and a link to the 17th century merchants who weighed gold in the Dutch markets.
The antithesis of lightness in these imaginative designs is the astonishing new ‘armour plating’ worn by male models ready for battle. For Mind over Matter – Infinity I, the surprise is in the panels cut out from foam rubber and the discarded yoga mats. Such changes in the materials used today are a convincing dedication to Suzanne’s response to the current, gross consumerism surrounding us. She pulls materials from waste bins and constructs these marvellous works from leftovers. “Most people throw that [the foam] away,” she says, ‘I make clothing out of it; foam is my textile.’
Her beautifully created phrase, ‘Textile Poetry’ drew from a mundane visual language, a significant reminder of the overwhelming amount of foam which would otherwise be lying in landfills instead of presenting things of beauty. “Like a child, I could see a diamond in a rock.”
Sue Steward. September 2014
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