7. November 2018 – Design

Mind over Matter

The photo portraits of Suzanne Jongmans are in the tradition of the 15th, 16th and 17th century paintings by dutch old masters. The clothes are made of packaging materials such as foam and foam rubber

Suzanne Jongmans‘ work is interdisciplinary; she is a coupeuse, sculptor and a costume designer. Then, as a photographer, she converts the three-dimensional images to the flat surface. She uses packaging materials such as foam and foam rubber to make her clothes. Suzanne uses this foam so refined that the foam just looks like silk, it is beautiful on the skin and it works as a protective shield for her models. From the moment she discovered the potential of the foam, she developed a new way of making costumes: she sculpts her designs. The traditions of sculpting and costume designs come together in her serene photographs. The material and tradition enter into a complex relationship; a hood of foam rubber is at the same time modern as a reference to the portraits from the Golden Age. The material is meant as protection – but at the same time very refined. Letters and symbols on the packaging material emphasize reuse and refer to the protection it offers to sensitive and delicate surfaces.

In the series titled “Mind over Matter,” Suzanne discusses the powers of observation. Since childhood she focussed on what she considers worthy of absorbing and using in her work.
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, 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 works include the closed curves of a lemniscate ∞ printed on foam and plastic and symbolizing infinity and eternity. The models for Solitude, Voltar, Julie, portrait of a lady are all involved in the equivalent cycle of matter recycled, interpretations re-used from 15th,16th and 17th century paintings.

Mind over Matter – Voltar is inspired by a portrait of Isabella of Portugal from the 15th century. Voltar is Portuguese for return.
For the observant viewer (symbols on the packaging material) the lemniscate ∞ returns several times
To be regarded in the most literal sense as the cycle of matter, the re-use of material. But also the life course of man. And again in this work she quotes from 15th / 16th century paintings, which she actually re-uses.
The lady is wearing a hennin. At the time of the Gothic period, mankind reached for heaven both in architecture and in fashion, which stands for devotion.
Suzanne says, I think it is of this time, in which after a period of excess, we have to go back to simplicity and inventively deal with what we have.
The work 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.
She pulls materials from waste bins and constructs these works from leftovers. “Most people throw that [the foam] away,” she says, ‘I make clothing out of it; foam is my textile.’
Her 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 can see a diamond in a rock.”

Images: Courtesy of the Artist. Thank you