On Doubt, Shelter, and Air

Jantine Kremer, kunsthistoricus, 2016

The artwork on the wall of Jolanda Meulendijks's studio is freshly completed. It's so new that it hasn't even been given a title yet. About two meters above the floor, around twenty ceramic lids with endearingly large, round handles at the top, appear to float. Their interiors are covered in bright yellow pigment. Despite the fact that the discerning viewer can clearly see that the lids are attached to the wall, it still seems as if they could leave their place and float away at any moment.


On the street side of the second floor of the house where Meulendijks lives with her husband, there are boxes filled with findings. Such as the lids without jars, which she found in Greece. Just like the rolled-up newspapers with their magical letters and a box filled with stoppers from glass carafes. They stand side by side with boxes containing branches, stones, and shells found during vacations. Meulendijks, like many artists, is a true collector. She enjoys working with found materials, "because they are beings in themselves."
Sometimes she's searching by form, sometimes by the idea of form, as with a shell she holds in her hand: "It refers to what I actually want to show. Like vulnerability, that's a theme. And a shell, isn't it fantastic? That one can retreat and that it's completely legitimate, because everyone does it. It's strange that we live in such angular houses. We are not angular. If anything is angular, it's a soft corner."


Meulendijks works most at the back of her remarkably angular house, with a view of an equally angular cemetery. "It feels very familiar; I grew up in a house next to the cemetery." One wall of this elongated room is occupied by sculptures and installations in various stages of development. Meulendijks works with a wide range of materials: wool, ship rope, ceramics, chicken wire, cardboard, metal, wood, photos. Her eclectic use of materials is striking and exemplary of her inquisitive and open mind: "I find it interesting when materials do something they normally don't do. When it's something that shouldn't be possible. That's what I'm actually looking for." In the sunlight streaming through the window, a fragment of Veil (2015) hangs; a cascade of transparent, bud-like forms. The everyday nature of the chicken wire it's made of, is forgotten due to the way Meulendijks shaped it and hand-painted it in gold and copper hues. "I would prefer to immerse them somewhere so that it drips even more. The hard edges will soften even more."

Grim Fairy Tales

Behind Meulendijks's desk, there is a collection of photos and newspaper clippings pinned to the wall. "A lot of newspapers are read here at home. I notice that I sometimes get restless when I read everything for real. So I look at and collect the photos." This collecting results in an eclectic collection where a cloud by Berndnaut Smilde and pollen heaps by Wolfgang Laib hang fraternally alongside clippings with hidden dramas, such as one of a mother standing on a high point, surrounded by mountains, holding her child under his armpits, as if helping him stand. The sepia-toned photo doesn't reveal that the mother will let the child roll down the mountain.  

Much of Meulendijks's recent work is soft, fragile, and somewhat fairy-tale-like. But like this photo, some of her works contain an inconspicuous dark edge, a glimpse of harsh reality. This seems to manifest particularly in works where Meulendijk deliberately allows chance to take its course. For a recent piece, Meulendijks crushed two plastic sugar pots. "I had them for a very long time; they had been in the cupboard for years." She drilled holes in the resulting shards to be able to connect them again with string. The lids are attached to the pots with embroidered web-like lines, giving them a new, unique skin but rendering them unusable. "It uses itself, it's not a sugar pot anymore." Nothing can go in. Or out. Perhaps it contains a secret. Or a feeling. Or maybe the viewer him or herselve.  

In a similar manner, Meulendijks created the components of the installation Expanding Universe (2016). The ceramic pots were smashed and then reconnected with metal wire. The inside is coated with a layer of pure pigments in a beautiful deep blue hue. The smaller the opening, the more it seems like you're peering into a black hole.


"I prefer to create large things, like installations, with which I define space by adding an extra skin. But it's enough that you can enter them in your mind." Like Meulendijks's numerous jug-like sculptures; using large, handmade crochet hooks, she knots the hollow shapes from various thick ropes and arranges them in clusters in trees and other locations. "I started approaching it more from the inside. The work I graduated with in the late eighties couldn't be touched because of the pigments on the outside." The untouchability is enhanced by the pointed, angular shapes that keep the viewer at a distance. That's different now. "My work is becoming increasingly transparent, open, and fluid." And due to its somewhat organic nature, some works unexpectedly bear a strong resemblance to naturally occurring forms, like Meulendijks's crocheted elements in her installation Clouds (2014), which she exhibited as part of the Castles in the Air exhibition at Museum Castle Sypesteyn; they bear a striking resemblance to the hanging nest of the weaverbird, an African songbird.

The Beautiful

Meulendijks's work is shamelessly aesthetic now and then. Her quest for beauty is well-documented in her photo sketches and collages, where she zooms in on hidden gems and wonders in nature. Sometimes found, sometimes constructed, like the green leaves forming a flower, held together by small white stitches. But whether it's a discovery or a creation is often not clear; her interventions are subtle, and the boundaries are vague.

Is it possible for an artist to create something that is actually only beautiful? For Meulendijks, there is no doubt; "I truly believe in dreams. 'Beautiful' is an annoying word, but it is a necessity to show the Beautiful, with a capital 'B'. I don't mean this in a grand way, but for me personally, it's elemental. Like when you surface after swimming underwater for a while and then take that breath of air." She takes a deep breath while raising her hands up from her belly to her chest. "That."

Jantine Kremer
August 2016

Art historian Jantine Kremer works as a writing art reviewer for art magazine Tableau and various Dutch web journals, such as Lucy inde Lucht, Publiek Gemaakt and 8Weekly.