Billboard Series #31:
Jennifer Tee

Tampan Chelonian Creatures #2
23/02 – 23/06/2024

Jennifer Tee (°1973, NL) attempts to situate mankind within the vast context of the universe. Tee is aware that human culture is only a small part of the constellation of beings that inhabit this world. She delves into the complexities of existence with a profound understanding of the interconnectivity between species, cultures and time periods. By seeing what came before and what comes after as overlapping layers rather than distinct eras, Tee allows new ways of understanding an increasingly complex world.

Tee’s ceramic spheres, knitted floor pieces, pineapple cloth tapestries and tulip collages all direct attention to the delicate interplay between nature and culture, language and perception, beauty and destruction. They delve into how these concepts intersect with issues of land rights, nationality, belonging, and ecology. Combined in exhibitions, all these works form imaginative environments, which Tee occasionally activates through readings with poets and writers, or through performance in which the performers bring her textile sculptures to life. These participations foster their own unique rituals. They blur the boundaries between reality and an imagined world, merging physically and mentally, serving as a powerful metaphorical connection. Jennifer Tee’s work yearns to redefine humanity’s relationship with the natural world and the cosmos. It encourages us to adopt a more rooted, immovable stance, embracing ecological time and our place within it.

Jennifer Tee is Dutch with Chinese-Indonesian roots, and in the Tampan Tulip works, she intertwines two recognisable national symbols. Tulips are the national symbol of the Netherlands, and represent a vast industrie and important source of income. Tee’s collages of cut-up tulip petals are inspired by Indonesian tampans from the Sumatra island. These ceremonial textiles that are used during important moments such as births or marriages. The tampans often depict a ship with humans, plants and animals aboard it. Sometimes the mast of the ship can be in the form of a tree, representing the tree of life. While the ships could be a woven representation of Indonesian trade ships, they can also be interpreted in a spiritual sense. Sometimes, this ship is seen as the passage to an after-life.

This double-vision of history and spirituality is very present in Tee’s work. The way that Tee creates her tampans is a process that intertwines research and intuition. The colours of tulips that Tee uses in her work depend on the seasons and what the harvest yields. She works primarily with Rembrandt tulips which have streaked petals. Not only do the Rembrandt tulips offer an extra patterned visual element in her collages, the tulips are also associated as well with another Dutch icon, painter Rembrandt van Rijn.

For this particular billboard, Tee made a diptych called Tampan Chelonian Creatures #2. Chelonian is the scientific name given to turtles, tortoises, and terrapins. In Tee’s billboard, we can find figures that resemble turtles. However, Tee wanted them to look different from a real-life turtle, so she gave them split fins and elongated heads. This gives the turtle figures a mythical aspect, perhaps linking them to folkloric creatures of the sea.

For Tampan Chelonian Creatures #2, Tee wanted to focus on the dual visual element of the mast of a ship or the tree of life. The figures are separated by a dark pink stripe that has smaller lines branching off. If we see the central stripe as the tree of life, it could be hinting towards the kinship between humans and all other creatures such as Tee’s Chelonian ones. However, if we read the stripe as the mast of a ship, we can find a strong connection to the ocean and could imagine an ocean setting. The work speaks of connectivity. As creatures that evolve, we are all part of a long history that follows an ecological timeline. Similarly, Ghent is crossed through by the rivers Leie and Scheldt. These rivers eventually reach the ocean. Water circulates the planet and the water you see here at Dok Noord probably passed through the many Indonesian islands as well. Perhaps we are closer to turtles than one would think.





All images courtesy of the artist
Installation photography: Michiel De Cleene
Text: Max Ferguson

Billboard Series is a long-term art project in public space, for which every three months an artist is invited to create a new, site-specific work for a 50 m2 billboard on Dok Noord, Ghent. Through changing presentations, Billboard Series wants to build a sustainable and productive dialogue with the surrounding neighbourhood and urban landscape, reflect on the changes that this neighbourhood is currently undergoing, and introduce a broad audience to different visual languages and ways of looking at the world.

Billboard Series is a project of artlead, together with 019. Billboard Series is curated by Thomas Caron, takes place within a scenography by architect Olivier Goethals, and is being developed with the support of the City of Ghent.

Jennifer Tee: Tampan Chelonian Creatures #2 is also generously supported by the Dutch Embassy in Belgium. 


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