Credit: Courtesy Suzanne Jongmans/Galerie Wilms
Recycled plastic gets a second life in Renaissance-style portraits
Modern materials and traditional iconography entwine in the work of Suzanne Jongmans, who uses her skills as a costume designer and her photographer's eye to bring new meaning to household trash.
In her series "Mind over Matter" and "Kindred Spirits," she has models adopt Old Masters-style poses in period costumes made from packaging materials like foam, bubble wrap and jar lids.
Jongmans believes the act of making something out of nothing changes the way we look at reality. Where one person sees trash, she sees a lace veil or a silk sleeve, and she hopes to help viewers bend their understanding of beauty in a similar way.
"As I see it, every subject has two ends of a stick: the one that is unwanted and the one that is wanted," she explained in a phone interview. "There is contrast in life, and to appreciate both ends is the way we manage to balance ourselves."
In her work, this contrast can be seen in the disparity between the dark background and the light costumes, as well as in the foam and old blankets combined with silks, velvets and laces.
According to Jongmans, this desire to recast trash as treasure stemmed from her childhood, when she would collect items like toilet paper rolls and try to transform them.
Similarly, the idea for her 2012 portrait "Julie, Portrait of a Woman," which borrows its pose from 15th-century painter Rogier van der Weyden's "Portrait of a Lady" (1460), came from a discarded tomato sauce lid ring. In her photo, the lid is worn as a ring on the model's right hand.
"It's a kind of discovery. I see the material, I start to play with it and put it on the mannequin, and all of a sudden it's a piece of clothing," Jongmans said.
"But then I can also see the work of an Old Master, and one of the clothing items (in the portrait) reminds me of one of the materials I have lying around in my atelier. So, there is a kind of dialogue between the old world and the new world."
Her reuse of waste materials can be seen as an obvious statement about sustainability, mass consumption and contemporary throwaway culture. And yet Jongmans says her work isn't intended to be political.
"I'm not judging people for buying things. I'm not an activist like that. I just want to share the beauty in every material. In my new series for example I use things that I find in nature. If something catches my eye, I want to share it," she said.
"I don't want to judge, everyone buys things," she added. "I'm subtle about it (the message of sustainability). You can read into it that way, but it's not the main goal."
For Jongmans, beauty is relative. All it takes is a shift in perspective to see the definition change and the true allure to come out.