Jabu Arnell(E)

Conceptuitive works of Jabu Arnell

Jabu Arnell http://jabuarnell.com/ (1967) is planning to make miniatures of the sculptures that he has created in the past years. He does this to see what the spatial result will be. From hall to display case. He does it also because many of his works have but a short lifespan. Not by choice, but by necessity due to the lack of storage space. He never makes sketches, so digital images and memories are the only, permanent, fleeting results of an intensive production process.
Arnell was born on St. Maarten. He ended up in the arts by way of a long detour. He studied International Relations first in the USA and afterwards for a short time in the Netherlands. This was something that his father in particular had insisted upon. After various little jobs (…) – “I have wasted ten years of my life” –he chooses for an education at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam in 2006. It was not only an artistic choice; it was also a choice for freedom. Freedom to finally do what he preferred most and freedom to live as he wanted to live.
I first saw his work in 2009, at the final exams presentation of Rietveld. Disco Balls, three large balls made of scrap carton, made into a whole with the help of threads hanging down sloppily and gray tape. An ‘ugly’ sculpture with an irresistible force of attraction. A hermetic work that emotionalized. The type of work that stays with you, long after you’ve left the building.
Jabu Arnell does not work from a detailed plan. The prospect of an exhibition spurs him on to start working from a then still vaguely defined idea. The work process is necessary to materialize it. It is not until then, that he knows which media to use. If video has something to add, then he uses video. If painting proves functional, then he uses paint. He prefers to use existing material as the point of departure for his work. He likes it when it has already had a life. He roams all around the city in order to find it. During the work process it is possible that new materials are added on. In a number of sculptures he adds a fluorescent tube. “Dan Flavin http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dan_Flavin was one of the artists who moved me.” Occasionally sound is a component, because music plays an important role in his life. Craftsmanship and beauty are of lesser importance in the work process. “Working on a piece of art is a struggle and this is something you can indeed see when you look at my work. That struggle is visible and palpable.”
He describes his work as conceptuitive. Idea and intuition are initially fused into a whole that is not very accessible. It is filled with contradictions. Old-new, ugly-beautiful, real-unreal, light-dark, smooth-raw, flexible components that lead to a compact whole etc. Those contradictions cause tension and friction and because of that they inspire curiosity. Sometimes the symbolism points the way. NikkerFlikker from 2005 is a good example thereof. The black-and-white prejudice that is hidden within it, is portrayed with a vulnerable image of a black man on top of a surface that is clearly divided in two. Personal experiences or a referring title can also open up the way to the content.
De krul (Icebreaker) from 2012 is exemplary thereof. It refers to the public toilets that used to be typical of the street scene of Amsterdam in the past (they have almost all been removed by now). As per subject they are beautiful, but the nasty condition they are in, takes all the beauty out of them. They provide in everyday human needs, but they are also meeting places for homosexuals. They have been painted in fresh bright green, but they stink of dirty yellow. They belong to a big city, but they are also abused. In fact they are compact summaries of a large city. All those aspects that clash with each other have come together in that work.
Acoustic Fear (Blauw Bloed) from 2011 is more puzzling. The hanging construction seems too small for the space. The corrugated sheet refuses to become an inviting stairway. The weathered voice of Nina Simone on the video – which seems to nullify the difference between beauty and ugliness – on the one side fits well with the obviously weathered material, but on the other side her Royal status cannot be separated from the blue stains on the floor. The fluorescent tube on the ground should counterbalance the light source of the monitor, but the red color that surrounds it conjures up less formal associations.
Many works of Jabu Arnell attest of a certain amount of torment. He portrays places and locations that attract, but at the same time also repel. In this regard he himself speaks of ‘escaping’ as the common thread. Not literally escaping from one place to another, but emphasizing that his presence is not an obvious matter of fact and is not necessary. The artist whom as a young man organized carefree parties, literally and figuratively has a black side to him. Although he does not claim it as exclusive for a black artist, he is sometimes painfully aware that “we have to eat the frame”. The music fits well.
From among other things, the way in which he assembles existing materials into a striking and surprising whole, his admiration for an artist such as Jimmy Durham http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jimmie_Durham becomes clear. And even if it is perhaps not that visible, even his sense of humor shines through here and there (in Holland Speaks for example). And also the ‘stapelingen’ of Carel Visser http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/carel-visser-2108 and David Hammons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Hammons are probably not unfamiliar to Arnell.
Jabu Arnell is just at the beginning of his career. Nevertheless, he has already set out a personal and recognizable course. He gives a new definition to a source of attraction.
The miniature versions of his works indeed have a reduced effect, but they do effortlessly succeed in conjuring up the original. •