Jeroen Nelemans: Relearning to See in ARTE AL LIMITE

by Daleysi Moya

We could say the first defining event in Jeroen Nelemans’ work is having been born in Holland. Without being aware of it and in the same impulsive way in which we learn our native languages and cultures, Jeroen incorporated a certain local feel to understanding creation (a certain heritage) which makes up the fundamental basis of his interaction with art. So, it’s not strange that his main obsessions emerge from or are addressed towards elements that are dear to the Dutch visual tradition such as light and landscapes. Each one of these questions, however, go beyond themselves as a motive or reference, and end up becoming a gateway to something bigger (if something bigger than them actually exists).

Nelemans’ skill to interfuse his cultural heritage and history with a series of reoccurring contemporary concerns is admirable. The concerns range from optics and unknown paths, to important elements within art from all eras: concepts of image, representation, imagery and its means of expressing what we see. The revolution that the digital age has created in regards to constructive and receptive processes of visuality is fundamental for him, as well as his impact on the divide set between image and representation, representation and reality, reality and truthfulness. The current forms of “seeing” and “expressing feelings” are changing, to the extent that the semantics of digital images have been played down and the act of perception. In response, it has grown more complex.

The artist explains, “As the backlit image has inundated our lives, our roles of production have also shifted. We have become producers instead of only being passive consumers”. His words highlight several aspects that are part of his most recurring research and production. On first, the identified relishes in the logic of digital methodology and its establishment as a basic tool to build the visual framework of our time. This type of approach comes about from gestures that vary from one work but that, in any case, improve the variables that make up the new digital landscape.

In some pieces, like in The More I See, The Less I Grasp (2012), Nelemans stresses the phenomenon of representation and its deceitful referential and/or meaningful effectiveness of what’s real. He dismantles the photographicdocument’s threat of authenticity; he exposes it and reveals its fictional nature. What defines the veracity of an image? Can we keep talking about the documentary nature of photography? How much does the consumer intervene? Or the photographer, for that matter, in the symbolic production of what we see or read? In other proposals like to Pattern Turner (2013) and Scapes in RGB (2013-14), the leading role is played by the internal structure of the digital image and its display in contemporary electronic devices. In both pieces, he exposes a type of surgical purpose that reveals the most intimate architecture of each photograph. There is something hidden beyond made of pixels and specific patterns of color which are displayed completely unabashed. Thus, we are left facing that new anatomy of digital life. Another important question regarding his work has to do with modifying the digital file (that opportunity to –literally– build the image) and the playback devices. That which lies beneath as the structure we see is pushed to its max and vested autonomy. Nelemans accentuates the aesthetic possibilities that information technology makes viable. He turns the resource itself into an artistic object. And he does it well. In fact, we could say that he goes beyond that: not only does he authenticate the architecture of the digital world, but also remodels the role of recording by deliberately displacing it in the creative realm.

An important example of a similar praxis can be found in Between a Solid and Liquid Space (2015) and with To Be Crystal Clear (2014-15). In these proposals, different factors which intervene in the creation of the digital image and the technical devices that make it possible to see said image (computer screens, light boxes), are broken down, which highlights the technique used by Nelemans. When he ritualizes the space of what’s evolving (a type of evolution based on technology), impacts the discourse of the representational aspect within art. He also reverts back to the original materials of his work and the enjoyment in how he handles the light factor and its historical, aesthetic, symbolic and physical connotations. The light, at the end of the day, makes up an inexhaustible leitmotif in his work.

In this sense, it is fundamental in his work, given Neleman\\\\\\\'s ability to combine both elements (light and a very personal handling of digital image), in a series like To Leave an Incomplete Image of Oneself (2012-13). Taking a combination of iconic scenes from another dutch, great Johannes Vermeer, and photographs of concrete luminous systems that illuminate these works, as a starting point. Nelemans gives life to a series that juxtaposes history with present, sacred with profane, and at the same time reveals contemporary ways to write our culture\\\\\\\'s tale and condition its consumption. The coexistence of this models, in both an allegorical and factual level, put together with the title\\\\\\\'s proposal, insist on the incomplete and fable character of our perception; either around those elements of our identity that define us, or related to our look\\\\\\\'s intimacies.

Along with Nelemans obsession with digital images and his autonomy, as well as his pressing need to return over and over again, to motives like light and landscapes, we find a type of attachment to the act of revisiting the work of other artists. Is it possible that this pleasure comes from his repeated contact with the work of important figures related with Dutch art such as Rembrandt or Vermeer? Maybe not. He himself has said that his tendencies could be related to the appropriationist background of his native culture. At any rate, the idea of penetrating the view of others and practicing on what exists, the propensity to investigate, dissect, remake, and completely connect with his disassembly of the digital universe. It’s about an attitude against creation which insists on forgetting what was learned and resume the path towards the light. Relearning to look at the image that questions us.

Nelemans indiscriminately positions himself behind the lens of Sugimoto, the horizon of Turner, the eyes of Mondrian, and when he does it, everything changes in the inside of the modified image. Something new is revealed. So, we understand that the image (the digital, analogue or rhetorical image) is nothing more than a construct and the representation, a consensus. In the end, who can deny that in the shores of Sugimoto, the Dutch light also exists. Nelemans left it there, forever, in a drop of water.