This summer’s exhibition at Camden Arts Centre housed totem-like forms that were dotted around the white gallery space. Books by authors including Anthony Burgess, James Baldwin and Alice Walker – on topics examining identity and deep human emotion – were piled on a wooden chair by the window. A chunky knitted piece of material resembling a blanket or rug, described as a ‘floor piece’ lay in the centre of the room while two other multi-coloured, almost Aztec-style ‘floor pieces’ lay on the far side. Bulbous ceramic pods were placed in and under and around, some attached to the wall as if a breath of air could breathe life into them and they could instantly scurry off up the wall and out of reach.
Jennifer Tee’s work delves into craft, sculpture, performance and collage, to express concepts of cultural heritage. Her work divides into two: a more personal project that explores her own heritage background through the medium of tulip petals (more of which later) and her sculptural, stage-set installations which examine a fusion of eastern and western supernatural concepts, including Occultism and Taoism.
Her installations are layered in esoteric spirituality, celebrating all the connotations that come from the handmade, creating talismanic objects that invite the company of human presence around them. Her ceramic wall pieces, some of which have names such as ‘Tao Magic’, have shapes and surfaces that resemble something in between the astrological and geological.
The idea of the crystalline-shaped floor pieces came to Tee whilst doing yoga and facing the restrictions of the rectangular mat. Yoga has its origins in religions such as Buddhism, it is an activity that anchors the body to one particular spot and like many forms of prayer requires the worshipper to stop and position their body in order to feel a higher power – whether that be coming from outside or from within one’s own body.
In her exhibition at the Camden Arts Centre called Let it come down (a title derived from Shakespeare) she incorporated a performance by contemporary dancers on top of the ‘floor pieces’, and people reading aloud from the pile of books on the chair.
The interweaving of western literature in this exhibition highlights the creation of a hybrid multi-cultural space, perhaps a space in limbo, ‘The Soul in Limbo’ being a running theme through her work. The concept of limbo sounds static, in between, lost and desiring to be liberated somehow. But also, one could argue that by being forced into such conditions allows the soul to reflect, to unwind, to escape.
Jennifer Tee also uses this concept of ‘The Soul in Limbo’ in her wall-sized collages of dried Rembrant tulip petals, which are symbols of her own diasporic background. Born in 1973 in Arnhem, Netherlands, her mother is half-English and half-Dutch and her grand-father and great-grand father were tulip growers. Her father is Indonesian and came to the Netherlands by ship. Her vast collages, one of which will soon decorate the entrance hall of Amsterdam Central Metro Station, employ imagery from ‘Palepei’ – ship cloths commonly found in South Sumatra – and the tulip, a Dutch icon connected to her own family’s past. These beautiful collages use the rich natural colourings from tulips to make sophisticated, abstract designs that again form a fusion of the East and West. Some of these tulip collages will be displayed at the stand of Galerie Fons Welters at Frieze London next week so if you plan on going, do look out for these ornate designs.
There is fragility in Tee’s work. From the velvety tulip petals to the handmade woven floor pieces and through this fragility the work radiates reverence. Her heritage and her interest in the dialogue between cultures run fluidly through all her mediums, opening a space for contemplation.