|click on image to enlarge|
About Nothing and Everything simultaneously
The works of artist-duo Lisa Jeannin and Rolf Schuurmans are fascinating, though not easily situated. Some explanation might be in order, especially considering their current solo exhibition at the Base-Alpha Gallery in Antwerp.
Somewhere, deep in the Swedish midland the Swedish/Dutch artist couple Lisa Jeannin and Rolf Schuurmans are working on the construction of a parallel universe which contains its own inhabitants, landscapes and spaces, and above all its own logic. Their studio isn’t confined to the wooden walls of their base – a former small church building – but stretches itself into the surrounding pine tree forests, the bright, clear lakes, the moss overgrown rocks and strange local edifices. Also, they don’t limit themselves to one dominant medium but they use stop-motion animations, sculptures, video, 8mm film, music, sounds, drawings, murals, neon-lights and hand-colored prints of film stills. This arsenal of media is combined in rather alienating installations.
Though the artists largely use recognizable, figurative elements, the works are close to incomprehensible within the laws of ratio. They respond to ‘affect’, a term originated from psychology that can be described as a ‘primary, physical reaction which proceeds consciousness’ and is impossible to be translated into language (*). In each work Jeannin and Schuurmans provide us with a huge amount of information, manifested as images and sound, and trust your subconscious processes to connect all this.
This ‘affect’ takes effect due to the many references to a universal imagery of myths and legends from eras when people from all over this planet had a necessity to convey their mental worlds into image, sound, ritual and narrative.
Jeannin and Schuurmans explore and exploit the embedded tendency of our mind to give meaning to what we see. In cases when what we see is difficult to be explained with rational logic, we fall back on a more intuitive, symbolic interpretation. This is both the foundation for religion as well as for interpreting art. Traces of illusionism and animism, next to notions of shaman storytellers can be reconstructed from the duo’s works. Yet you don’t need to consider yourself a spiritual shaman to appreciate the work. On the contrary: you can be a nihilistic atheist just like the writer of this piece.
The nucleus of the installations often consists of multiple, inter-related and interactive projections. The convincing amount of details in the often space-filling installations guides the viewer to effortly access their universe. Sometimes the viewer is a physical participant: in ‘Enter theWild’ (2009) the visitor has to walk through a door that is simultaneously part of a projection screen on which a filmed door opens. Their latest installation ‘Hokus Pokus’ at the Base-Alpha Gallery in Antwerp, reveals itself only after the viewer has moved through a lightning-strike-like crack in a wall. The darkened space that follows is lit by black-lights which reflect a forest of birch trees. The animation in the back space connects an animated skeleton walking through blossoming flowers with, amongst other things a hybrid between a tree and a human, a fluorescent three-dimensional pentagram and a cool magician who turns a normal sized wrapped Swedish cheese into the proportions of a huge building. The pentagram – in the animation a scale model – is in this space present as a life-sized sculpture.
At first glance the stop-motion animations - in some respects related to the work of another Swedish artist, Nathalie Djurberg - combined with the nostalgic use of 8mm film makes an almost childlike impression. In ‘Crossing’ (2006) a chain-smoking, drumming spider presents a film to an audience of characters in the setting of a forest. In its turn this 8mm film shows a herd of zombies – played by friends and acquaintances – being tamed by three martial arts specialists. In ‘GGG&G’ (2007), next to some sort of cult of small trolls and a camera-eyed gorilla, children in green bodypaint are presented. Together the children give shape to a cheerful interpretation of the Hindu goddess Shiva. This character wears a necklace of singing skulls.
The description of this chain of events seems lighthearted but within the works of the artist duo much larger themes are addressed than the short-term tendencies the contemporary art world often prefers to deal with. Jeannin and Schuurmans wish to cross the boundaries of space and time, of scale and of thought; of imagination itself.
It’s of no use attempting to explain what their self-constructed myths are in fact about. It is sufficient to remark that they’re about Nothing and Everything at the same time. This might sound non-committal but the couple doesn’t have the luxury to work like that when the production of an animation is accompanied with the building of large scale models of landscapes and sets or filming growing flowers frame by frame for three weeks.
In fact their works and methods represent mainly a limitlessness between everything and nothing: their environment is integrated in films, outside becomes inside and vice versa, their friends and family members are actors and heavy, metaphysical narration becomes comical. Every kind of media that is at their disposal is explored – I didn’t even get around to mention their performances with the keyboard playing turtle Vilhelm -, objects reincarnate into characters or the other way around and even between an object and a character the difference is diffuse: a tree becomes an actor, a spider exists simultaneously as a character and as an object on variable scales.
This duplication and re-duplication also recurred in ‘Beyond the Sea’, their retrospective at the Malmö Konstmuseum in autumn 2010. The exhibition assembled a large part of their installations and sculptures. The word ‘sea’ from the title not only referred to large surfaces of water but also to ‘see’ or ‘seen’. This presentation stressed the coherence between all the works and made clear that every work can be considered as a chapter from a non-linear, or rather a Multi-linear, narrative that takes places on several levels.
The relevance of their work derives mainly from the necessity of actually making it. This is transferred to the visitor who, though he might not be able to make any sense of what he’s presented with, for the duration of his stay in an installation irrevocably becomes part of Jeannin and Schuurmans ever expanding universe.
(* cf. Nat Muller, ‘Feeling it in your guts’, Metropolis M, nº6, 2009)
www.lisajeannin.com / lisajeannin.blogspot.com/