Reflet dans un oeil Dior
IF YOU BELIEVE IN FOREVER, THEN LIFE IS A NIGHT ON ACID.
A PAINTER AFFILIATED WITH THE COBRA MOVEMENT, FOUNDER OF THE AVANT-GARDE MAGAZINE THE SITUATIONIST TIMES AND DESIGNER OF JEWELERY, JACQUELINE DE JONG WENT THROUGH THE 20TH CENTURY WITH AN INSATIABLE APPETITE. THIS IS THE STORY OF AN EPIC WHICH CONTINUES TO BE WRITTEN BETWEEN LOS ANGELES AND HER HOUSE IN THE BOURBONNAIS.
L'OFFICIEL ART: Originally you wanted to become an actress rather than an artist?
JACQUELINE DE JONG: Actually, I started taking theater classes in Paris in 1957, when I was working at Dior. In London, it was more prestigious, I entered the Guildford School of Art and Drama. My parents wanted me to become a painter but I wanted to become an actress. I was encouraged by an actress when I was in high school in Holland, who thought that I had talent ... After London, I returned to Holland. I wanted to work at the dramatic academy but I failed the exam.
That was when you worked for Willem Sandberg when you came back from London?
I decided to find a job, to find my way. I worked at booksellers and then wanted to study literature. Then I saw an announcement for an assistant position at the Stedelijk Museum. I went to work there, even if my knowledge of art was limited to what had been transmitted to me by my family's cosmopolitan and cultural atmosphere. I worked there from 1958 to the end of 1960 in Industrial Art and Design section.
What were your initial contacts with the Situationists?
That happened through Constant and Armando, but it was above all Constant's influence.. When I Met Jorn in 1959, he very quickly spoke of Gruppe Spur in which there was Nele Bode, the daughter of Arnold Bode. At the time, she had a small exhibition of engravings at Stedelijk. She also told me about this group of young Germans whom I absolutely had to meet. Gruppe Spur was the German section of the Situationist International. It was thanks to them, and Jorn of course, that my interest in the movement deepened.
When did you start painting?
I was working at the Stedelijk and I thought that I could attend the evening classes at the Academy of Fine Arts, but the director did not want me because I was a “leftist”. He was very conservative. Instead, I learned other things. Typography with Sandberg, the setting up of exhibitions of industrial art and publishing. I started painting when I was working at Stedelijk. During the summer of 1960, I was Giuseppe Pinot-Gallizio's assistant in Alba. Yet another excluded situationist. He was doing his industrial paintings. From then on, I started doing drawings in small books – self-taught, but still very influenced by Jorn. My first paintings were done at the age of 15. Then later, in January 1961, when I left the Stedelijk Museum to go learn engraving In Paris, in the Atelier 17 animated by Stanley William Hayter, I utterly immersed myself in painting. Jorn, and above all a lot of surrealist painters like Max Ernst, Man Ray or Matta, worked there. In particular, I became friends with Hans Haacke. In the end, I spent two years at Atelier 17, and was in Paris until 1971.
Can you tell us about the Situationist Times that you founded in 1962?
It all started with the exclusion of the Dutch section of the SI, on the grounds that one member of the group had participated in the construction of a church. In a case like this, it is quite normal to be excluded from an avant-garde movement. Debord sent me a letter saying “Holland is yours”, so I was, from then on, the only representative of the Dutch section. But six months later I moved to Paris. I announced the creation of the magazine in 1961 in order to have a Situationist review in English. There was Spur in German, IS Bulletin for France, and so I called it The Situationist Times. Everyone was very pleased. Debord was very enthusiastic about having all the IS texts translated into English. He sent me several texts to translate, but I did not want to make a copy of the IS Bulletin in English. No one helped me, so in the end the review did not see the light of day. My exclusion from the SI in solidarity with Gruppe Spur gave me the opportunity to do it. I called the Pataphysician Noël Arnaud, a friend of Jorn and me. He had already done the review Le Surréalisme Révolutionaire in 1946. Together, we very quickly managed, in May 1962, to do the first issue of the Situationist Times. We did the first two issues together, and then I went on alone. The magazine explored concepts related to topology and mathematics. Each issue revolved around a figure: the ring, interlacing, the labyrinth, and finally the spiral. The 7th issue should have been on the wheel, but in the end it was never made.
How did you come to mathematics and topology?
It was through Jorn. He had been interested in it since 1957, when he wrote the book Pour la forme. He had done studies on the idea of interlacing, especially in churches. Through the study of interlacing, I began to take an interest in mathematics, enough to do the magazine.
Were you in touch with Gérard Fromanger during the events of May 1968?
He made films with Jean-Luc Godard. Not at all. But by the mid-1960s I participated in a series of happenings. In particular, I made a wardrobe as part of an overnight exhibition with Antonio Segui.
In the 1970s, you participated in television programmes in the Netherlands?
It wasn't a programme. But I started to be a
little more well-known in Holland because of my participation in the events of May 68. At that time, the VPRO broadcast a one-hour portrait of me. At that time I was still in Paris. I played pinball, especially on this show. We talked about politics, in May 1968, in a very French way, in contrast to what was happening in Holland.
In the mid 1990s, you bought this house in the Bourbonnais?
In 1996 in fact. At first, with my husband we were looking for a house in Italy, around Umbria – there were ruined villages but it was far too expensive. In the end, we found a house in France by way of an ad in a Dutch newspaper. We went to visit it on the weekend of Pentecost, passing through by Paris to get to know how long it took from Saint-Germaindes-Près. We discovered that the landscape was rather like in the south of England. The place was beautiful and without much work to do. We immediately decided to buy. There is no real explanation for this purchase. I wanted to make a kitchen garden. My husband said to me, “If you make a vegetable garden, I want potatoes, because of the war”. So I began a potato farm. The seeds were like hair, and I started making them into objects. The great jewelry collector, Clo Fleiss, had bought Jorn's jewels from me and she wanted me to make a jewel. I said to myself: “These potatoes could do something good.” I started to paint them gold, but finally I went to a jeweler to make them.
Can we get back to your newer paintings?
In 2013, I started a series entitled War on chemical bombing in the First World War and in Syria today. I also did some portraits of Arthur Cravan as a boxer. I also made an artist's book, published in New York in 2015, and presented at the Blum and Poe Gallery in New York, called The Case of the Ascetic Satyr.
Your mini-retrospective, organized by the Chateau Shatto Gallery, reveals another facette of your work, namely eroticism.
In a way, yes. There has always been eroticism in what I did. Eroticism is inherent in life. A series of diptychs that I made in the 1970s are more particularly concerned with homo-erotic aesthetics.
This might suggest Agnès Varda's Patatutopia, on the potato as a desire for existence. You also develop an eroticism of the potato, right?
It's not only the potato, but the potato flower that is erotic. There are, for example, what I call the potato's balls. In these little balls are found the potato's seeds. So there is an erotic confusion in the potato. Out of these, I made cufflinks for men that will be exhibited at the exhibition “Jewelry for Men” at the gallery MinimasterPiece in Paris in September.
Can you tell us about your next projects? You wanted to adapt the 7th issue of the Situationist Times on pinball into an exhibition?
Indeed, the idea is not based on a simple pinball machine but on the one I saw at MIT in Boston last year. It impressed me a lot, and reminded me of the 7th issue of the Situationist Times, which was interested in pinball topology. There was a symposium on topology in the Situationist Times at the Oslo Kunsthalle. As a result, Torpedo Press offered to organize an exhibition in November 2017.
Jacqueline de Jong, Horsemen, 1918, (détail), 2014, de la série War.