Folkert de Jong in conversation with Sandro Droschl - June 2021

Sandro Droschl [SD]: The show is called Anomalies. The ancient Greek term anomalía, meaning ‘unevenness, irregularity’ has been adapted by Latin, French and German. The meaning of these variations tend to emphasize the abnormal. In the context of the exhibition, Anomalies refers to two different, but connected things: the physical and psychological. Could you elaborate on this?

Folkert de Jong [FD]: The title of this exhibition derives from Storm, the main character from a Marvel comic book of the same name by Don Lawrence, Martin Lodewijk and Dick Matena. As a teenager I was eagerly reading the comic books. Storm is an astronaut and gets lost in another time space dimension, in which civilizations collapse and cruelty takes over. The evil dictator Marduk is looking for Storm whom he calls ‘the Anomaly’. Storm possesses a cosmic energy that the evil dictator wants to use to become a god. I recently re-read this comic series, and what fascinates me are the parallels you can draw between today's reality and the fictional dystopian world portrayed in comics, books, and movies. Because everything has been reversed, such as the difference between life on Earth and an alien world, Storm is no longer equal to people around him, but is the exception. The norms and values he takes with him from the earth mean nothing in a new world.

What interests me is the idea of what is considered 'normal' within a society and its mutability. I have always been interested in that which deviates from what is the norm because it crosses boundaries and in doing so constantly redefines what is 'normal'. I am convinced of the beauty and fragility of that which deviates from the norm. The theory of evolution also shows the importance of deviation and adaptation for the survival of an organism; what is considered to be ‘normal’ is always changing. As an artist I give myself the space to think apart from what is 'normal'. For the exhibition at Galerie Fons Welters I focused on researching the boundaries of what is 'normal' for people, the human body and the morality of domestic objects. For this I use casts of recognizable objects such as household attributes, clothing, shoes and body parts. By transforming the cliché of these objects, they become alienated from their meaning and become somewhat banal.

By shaping objects in materials such as wax and epoxy, I actually try to disconnect meaning and appearance, and thereby create a new substantive constellation. I always wonder what happens to an object when I transform it: does it become a ridiculous object or does something new arise, something that deals with the relativity of meaning? I like to see something emerge that reveals the relativity of meaning, an object that makes it possible to elevate the material into an irrational world in which new ideas can arise about the future of our mental relationship to our material environment.

[SD]: The stylistic devices of the grotesque permeate the entire exhibition. The grotesque inherently unites two contrary aspects: humor, on the one hand, the comical and absurd – and, on the other, the tragic, the uncanny and ugly. It associates horror with comedy, dismay with laughter. Here the reference point of the grotesque is always the human body, which may be deformed in countless ways, fragmented, and transfigured. Could you tell more about your relation with the grotesque?

[FD]: I deliberately make works that are grotesque because I experience my own living environment as a grotesque decor. I sometimes wonder if I'm the only one experiencing this. In the end, all people know the same end: death. To make this prospect bearable, it seems important to me to embrace this fact. When I work on a new exhibition I look for the perfect balance between the inevitable, painful, sad and most depressing on the one hand, and the most light-hearted, ridiculous, colorful and cheerful on the other. By connecting these extremes, the artwork becomes the medium through which one can reflect on one's own position between those two extremes.

[SD]: The tension between presence and absence is intriguing. Take, for example, the works that are clearly based on objects from everyday life, but which also deviate greatly from them. Various forms of absence play a role in this exhibition. How complicated is it to include this absence in your work?

[FD]: Every technical operation in the production of a work is a real challenge, but especially when I want to make something that is absent. Although I make sketches in advance of what I have in mind, unexpected things always happen during the working process. By adjusting some aspects of the making process, I create space for things to fail. By deliberately corrupting the working process, objects arise that have their own meaning and autonomy. For example, the wrong mixing of chemicals or a poorly closed mold can cause all kinds of deformations. This makes the work not only vulnerable and unique, but also beautiful and intriguing. To me, it's a metaphor for how failure can disguise the potential of something new.

[SD]: Are your sculptures and their arrangements following performative or even filmic strategies?

[FD]: Yes, I think so. Originally, I was trained as a nurse. It was only much later that I started working with art, beginning with performance art. The link between work in the hospital and performance art is interesting: I see art as a beneficial activity as well. Did you know that in English the operating room in a hospital is called an operation theatre? In theatre or film there is always a scenario and choreography. Setting up an exhibition is the same for me. As far as I am concerned, making an exhibition also contains these two components. For me, the experience of and communication with the visitor are paramount. During the construction of an exhibition, I constantly ask myself what I am communicating to the public. I want to be transparent and grotesque at the same time; magnifying and revealing things.

Sandro Droschl is curator and director of HALLE FÜR KUNST Steiermark, Graz, AT