Jennifer Tee


Straddling the boundaries between sculpture, set design, and street furniture, a series of large multicolored objects, made from familiar materials such as metal, painted ceramic, and wood, cluttered the gallery. The overall effect was precarious, as if these were a child’s toys, only enlarged; paradoxically, this same displacement of scale was what seemed to call for a mature, practiced eye to plumb the reasons behind the choices of materials and the precariousness of construction of this fragile and colorful world. One felt that Jennifer Tee, the thirty-three-year-old Dutch artist behind this oneiric domain built with a handyman’s tools, wanted to shake viewers up, to visually project them into situations that are difficult to categorize, and in which they recognize even themselves only partially.

As its title suggests, Tee’s show, “An Outburst of Passion in Limbo,” meant to evoke strong feelings along with the idea of a confined and muffled place. Its totems and large chandeliers, and the colorful benches on which viewers could sit, were silk-screened with a series of images (birds, plants, crystals) that may have seemed childlike, although the thought behind them certainly was not. Inspired by Claude Lévi-Strauss’s Tristes Tropiques (1955), nineteenth-century illustrations from Un Autre Monde (1844) by J. J. Grandville, and the Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx, with his interest in intimate places within the frenzy of urban settings, Tee arrived at moments of perception and experience completely different from those offered in daily life. She has constructed an enchanted garden for adults, where the interpretive key for every detail can in principle be identified, but only through a cultural and intellectual capacity incompatible with any childlike “outburst.” But the artist’s message is that the shift into “another” place—limbo, precisely—must be a conscious experience. In other words, once we get past the initial moment of amazement and fascination in the face of the new, everything must be consistent with the whole, and everything must respond to a construction that is initially unknown but potentially knowable, traversable by way of clues that should have something familiar about them.

In the end, Tee’s art is a sophisticated form of exoticism, and it is no accident that she travels incessantly, residing in ever-changing locales from which she extracts not so much a series of cultural references as an awareness that there are innumerable possible models for the horizons of life. She does not present her art in the guise of an anthropological study (or vice versa), as is so often the case with younger artists these days; rather, her art constructs a world capable of borrowing its vitality from anywhere, in both time and space. This is why the references she has gathered, all derived from Western culture and therefore, despite appearances, not really exotic, seem so—they become fresh and unfamiliar because they belong to an idea and a project rejected by the present. Limbo does not enjoy great favor today, but it is potentially a place of great interest.

Marco Meneguzzo

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.