Folkert de Jong’s figurative installations combine a touch of ironic Old Master tableaux vivant-style composition with a strong dose of the macabre. His polyurethane foam mannequins have an arresting life-like quality, which makes their dirty and broken down facture all the more affecting.
Frozen in permanent gestures like ventriloquist’s dummies (The Peckhamian Mimic, 2007), sometimes quasi-drunkenly gurning or grinning, as in Asalto de la Diligencia (2008) or expressionlessly looking on, these posturing figures have an eerie charge, like carnivalesque puppet grim reapers rising from the detritus of post-industrial culture, poignantly made out of a material that will not last.
Thematically, De Jong’s carefully decayed constructions often deal with unfair deals, profiteering, and the ghosts of colonialism and imperialism. The figures in The Dance (2008) all happen to be made from a single mould, based on a composite of a 16th-17th century trader character amalgamated from historical figures such as Pedro de Alvarado, Peter de Minuit and Hernan Cortes, as well as Rembrandt’s Nightwatch.
The installation recalls the monument in New York’s Battery Park celebrating the Dutch purchase of Manhattan for some beads and mirrors; here, as the artist explains, “the clones are trading with themselves, their own kind, ripping off each other and dancing towards their destiny; self-destruction.” The characters’ grand, nightmarish song and dance has a deathly tone, with its symbolic black coating, like dripping tar.
There is something inherently perverse about making such carefully crafted figures out of a material so trashy, fragile and ephemeral. The desolate figures in The Shooting Lesson (2007) recreate characters taken from Picasso’s Les Saltimbanques, melancholy harlequins reminiscent of the cycle of life and of human powerlessness. “We humans have to face the fact that we are part of a natural process, no matter who or where you are on planet earth. It is embedded in our system, but there is hope! Morality, intelligence and compassion can save us.”