Influenza in Paramaribo
Rotterdam based Jeroen Jongeleen a.k.a. Influenza is known for his humorist public interventions and the impossibility to pin down his work to a single style or approach. By manipulating urinals, introducing urban games, fingerprint stickers, ‘pointless oneliner’ (a black spray painted line that moves along streets, across walls and windows), marking and measuring the length of a wall, and installing plastic bags as Jolly Rogers Jeroen introduced an abstract approach to urban art rarely seen before.
What many people don’t know is that Jeroen spent his primary school years in the former Dutch colony of Suriname. When reminiscing with friends about his childhood memories he heard about the ArtRoPa (Rotterdam – Paramaribo) project and got immediately invited to take part. Though he hasn’t been back to Surinam in the thirty years after moving back to the Netherlands he hadn’t forgotten about his childhood in the conflict stricken country. Once he got invited by the Centrum voor Beeldende Kunst Rotterdam to go back in 2007 it was a natural decision to take them up on their offer.
Together with about eight Rotterdam based artists from the most differing artistic disciplines, Jeroen went to Paramaribo three times since 2007 to realize a number of projects. Walking down the streets of Paramaribo, to take in the culture he would be working in for a couple of weeks, he felt like he stepped into a film about his childhood. Most things he remembered had changed, but a lot of long lost memories came back to him. What had changed most was his grown-up look on things and his perspective as working artist.
The colonial conflicts in Suriname, the domestic war and the December Murders in 1982 had driven Suriname into a cultural isolation that obstructed the development of art to a point, where the national art historical development came to a halt. Using art historical elements and references Jeroen tried to bring that development back and, as a consequence, give Suriname artists the chance to discover new techniques and approaches by giving them thought-provoking impulses.
During his first visit Jeroen started off with small interventions on a street art level. When he returned about a year later he noticed how these street interventions had been taken up and appropriated by local artists. Commenting on this development with a playful wink at the one-dimensional Surinamese approach to art, he spray-painted a text about conceptual art on a wall in downtown Paramaribo.
Another project involved the painting of a local house owned by a drug and poverty stricken family. Located close to the U.S. embassy the house was to be torn down and frowned upon by the local community. Hinting at the social critique implied in the work of Gordon Matta-Clark, Jeroen painted the house in playful colors. While at first he witnessed the negative commentaries the family was confronted with on a daily base, the new paint job earned him and the family a round of applause by the community.
Jeroen likes working with elements that we, as inhabitants, don’t like about our city. One of those elements is trash, specifically plastic bags. The Jolly Roger project started in his hometown Rotterdam, where he collected trashed plastic bags and installed them on buildings and other absurd places. By giving the plastic bags a second live as pirate flags Jeroen combines the elements of myth creating with his hobby of climbing impossible high urban structures into something poetic.
On the 9th of September 2010 Paramaribo Perspectives at gallery TENT in Rotterdam presented the conclusion of this three year long project by showing the fruits of this cultural exchange between Surinamese and Dutch artists. Seeing the artist as an arbitrator of shifting cultural, political and social relationships the last three years had been an inspiration for Jeroen, as much as they have been an inspiration for the Surinamese and Rotterdam artist that took part.