High and Cold with Influenza
Tragic Miscommunication (but not failed romance)
I spent last weekend in the Netherlands where people are nodding their heads up and down or side to side about the possibility of the first Elfstedentocht since 1997. In retrospect, it does not appear coincidental that me and William Head started at the legendary pirate bar in Amsterdam. After a couple of nice nights catching up with friends and escaping 6 or 7 black ice sort of spills, the two of us headed over to Rotterdam.
Not long after we got there, I met a German couple and the fellow asked me where the old part of the city was, which is sort of funny if you know something of the cities history and the thrashing it took early in WW2. Rotterdam remembers the destruction of the 1940’s almost everywhere. The city is a series of construction sites and architectural experimentations, a constant contradiction between old and new as they both struggle to find some clothes to wear to the party (not to mention a place to hold it). As the Erasmus bridge, one of the most prominent recent architectural contributions, crosses the Maas River, you can see the tallest contribution; the Maastoren, which city press communications likes to claim makes it the “Manhattan of the Maas.” It was up there in the clouds that I first saw an image of a makeshift Jolly Roger waving bravely in the cold wind. Rotterdam, apparently remains under siege.
Historically, Jolly Roger is the name given to a flag, which identifies a ship’s crew as pirates. While the 20th Century brought pop culture and icons like what we recognize as a pirate flag, prior to that a Jolly Roger had no skull and bones graphic or standard logo. Most ships had their own unique style signifying their independence and meaning to scare the shit out of those who encountered it.
This specific Jolly Roger could only be identified as a common plastic bag. It was placed, not beneath the bridge on the water as one might think, but high in the sky, planted in a seemingly impossible place for any unofficial army to reach. It is one installation of Rotterdam based NNE member Jeroen Jongeleen’s current work, ‘Plastic Bags as a Jolly Roger,’ which appears as both a call to action and a proclamation: The pirates are amongst us!
In subtly flying his flag, Jongeleen, whom I first knew as Influenza, seems to have taken action painting and gestural abstraction to a logical place a half-century after people starting using these definitions. If you come from a country, which has produced the likes of Rembrandt, Van Gogh, de Kooning and Mondrian, the contribution of painting may be perceived as pre-existing and therefore, sort of a waste of time. Plus, if you listen to the 2012 crowd, the world is coming to end. Do you really want to see it out in the studio with some canvas and acrylic?
Action painting was popularized as a movement, which marked both the transitioning of aesthetic judgment from an end product into a process analysis, and by emphasizing what American art critic Clement Greenberg called ‘objectness,’ a discussion that later allowed psychoanalysis and post-modern philosophy to make claims concerning the deconstruction and value of contemporary art.
Reading the work meant reading the residue in both cases and Jongeleen continues this tradition in a body were the value of the work is the action itself. The painting is gone. The product has been removed completely and replaced with a fragile plastic bag (full) of wind, flaying as an absurd challenge to an urban landscape negotiating development. A bag? There? Prior to the naming of the action, it is a purely illogical intervention. In the standard economic terms of our shared landscape, the bag/flag has no immediate signification and remains a true rogue.
Its insertion into the landscape is a gesture, which much like Graffiti at one point did, provokes question in those who recognize and consider it: Why is that there? Why would somebody take such a risk to do that? How did they do that? How did that happen? In contrast to most Graffiti however, his work is not screaming ‘look at me!’ It is not so much the proclamation of an “I,” but the announcing of a ‘we,’ even if it is not clear whom this ‘we’ refers to. It is a flag after all. Whoever it may refer to is clearly not defined by the state or industry. Some minimal amount of anarchy resists and the action appears to represent a sort communal bid to regain the natural liberty we trade in for a passport and civil rights before a pacifier ever passes our lips, an escape from urban economization and regulation. The location of the flag is always relevant.
While Action painting was used to approach Jung and Freud’s notions of Subconscious, Jongeleen’s Action series is on the contrary very very conscious. It is not concerned with personal style or aesthetic taste, so much as a more political inquiry into the living history of a particular public space; a battle the artist participates to.
After the weather, all that remains is a fallen gesture. From a critical stance this is a strong move. It is gesture as art and offers understanding through urban phenomenology as opposed to abstract deconstruction or formal aesthetic analysis. In “Plastic Bags as Jolly Roger,” we read a type of lived statement, which builds on previous projects like ‘Information Blackout,’ ‘TreeFiti,’ ‘Elementals,’ or ‘The Climbing of Buildings, Fences and Other Opportunities.’ In this project, Corporate and Private spaces are the Don Quixote windmills that artist pirate looks to conquer.