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Sybren Renema

Dürst Britt & Mayhew
Van Limburg Stirumstraat 47
November 14, 2015–January 16, 2016

Sybren Renema, Study for the death mask of an average Romantic, 2012-2014, plaster cast of a 3-D print, 11 x 7 x 5".

Sybren Renema is a man of tall tales, and in this exhibition he seems particularly inspired by the larger-than-life artists and explorers of the Romantic age. Twenty-two sculptures, collages, neons, and digital prints all refer to such grand themes as exploring unknown territory (whether it be geographic or mental), the decadence of producing poetry under the influence, man in awe of nature, and the preoccupation with death. The show’s title, “The Milk of Paradise,” refers to the last sentence of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s 1816 poem “Kubla Khan,” alluding to the delight of opium use. Renema also used a sentence from a letter written in 1800 by the poet as the title and material of a 2015 sculpture, in which the words are rendered in cold white neon: “I would that I could wrap the view from my home in a pill of opium and send it to you.” The deadpan character of its austere lettering and the steel bars on which it is mounted, however, contradicts the ecstatic feeling of an opium trip and instead reflects the flip side of escapism and Coleridge’s indulgent life. Franz Schubert’s 1817 song cycle “Der Tod und das Mädchen” gets a similar treatment in Renema’s neon Death and the Maiden, 2014, its title spelled in white lights as pale as a dead face. The words hang distortedly from the ceiling, as if reflecting the composer’s own inner torment.

Elsewhere, the artist also pays homage to this era with a 3-D-printed death mask, Study for the death mask of an average Romantic, 2012–14, built using the combined measurements he made of thirty-two artists’ death masks. By averaging their individual physical traits, he arrives here at what is frankly quite a bland face, questioning the very underpinnings of uniqueness and individuality so dear to the Romantic ideal.

Robert-Jan Muller