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#36 Zeitgeist

Speaking: J&B

Bert and Jacob at the opening of the exhibition, August 30, 2020 telling about their work. photo Hetty de Groot

“J&B creates video and art installations with the vocabulary and humor of the street”, tells the website of the Rotterdam artist duo. J&B, or Jacob and Bert realize projects in cities. They previously did so in Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Dordrecht. “The resulting installations are a reflection of the complex Zeitgeist and provide food for thought.” As true archaeologists, they collected stickers, graffiti, banners, posters and texts in Amsterdam North that they found on the street (the language of the street) and that reflect the atmosphere in that part of the city. “The installation gives an idea of the opinions and whims of the residents, but also of their creativity and the changing Zeitgeist.”

Automation, a curse or a blessing? Picture from the video 'Work in Progress'. photo Hetty de Groot

They also realized a project in Eindhoven. Eindhoven is known for its innovative character. They set to work with that. “We made a video installation that discusses the influence of technology and automation on our labor market and society in a playful way.” With Work in Progress they visualized a working day in Eindhoven. This time they used an actor. ‘Work in Progress’ has been on view at Pennings Foundation since the end of August 2020.

Pictures from the video installation: J&B and Hetty de Groot

The viewer is literally held up a mirror. A character wearing a mirror mask acts in a variety of work situations, from robotic production line to dishwashing kitchen. He has a Boombox with him where rap music comes out. “The character and the rapper exchange ideas about the work and its influence on our lives.”

Picture from the video istallation. photo Hetty de Groot

The rap was specially made for this video work by the Eindhoven rapper Miggs de Bruijn. The video work is shown in an installation with moving sculptures reminiscent of wheelie bins.

“We are inspired by the work of the British artist duo Gilbert & George, who, like us, take their subjects ‘off the street’.” Specifically for ‘Work in Progress’, they were inspired by Are you angry or are you boring? (1977) by Gilbert & George, a work of art that is in the collection of the Van Abbemuseum. The title is a frequent quote in the rap.

'Are you angry or are you boring?' (1977), in the collection of the Van Abbemuseum since 1978. photo Van Abbemuseum.

The promotional photo of 'Work in Progress' is clearly inspired by 'Are you angry or are you boring?' by Gilbert & George.

Gilbert & George's work ‘Are you angry or are you boring?’ consists of 16 parts. The top, divided into 4 parts, shows the text in graffiti on a wall, from which the work derives its title. The pictures in the middle and bottom can evoke associations with civil disturbances, riots and activism, although the young people in the pictures do not take an aggressive attitude. These hectic images contrast with the images of Gilbert and George, neat men in suits. Men in suits as the foundation of society? Or as an example of the established order, against which young people want to resist, because they feel neglected? Gilbert & George make no statement about it and leave the interpretation to the public. “In the context of contemporary society, you can see a similar contrast in our work between 'boring' technicians and the turmoil their technologies and automation create. Future phobia, or is the unrest justified?”

Recording for 'Work in Progress'. picture from facebook account J&B

Gilbert & George's work is in black and white with some images in the center in red. The promotional image for J&B's ‘Work in Progress’ exhibition is also in black and white, with a single red accent. Just as Gilbert & George explored and showed the fringes of society, J&B do this too, including the graffiti on the wall.

The film includes striking places in Eindhoven. Thus we see the Van Abbemuseum, whose original building was designed by architect A.J. Kropholler. (Also pay attention to the sticker on the lamppost.) But we also see the Water Globes by the architect Wim Quist and the Blob by Massimiliano Fuksas.

Pictures from the video installation by Hetty de Groot

Meanwhile in Amsterdam

While the playful 'Eindhoven - Work in Progress' is still on show at Pennings Foundation, J&B show their latest art project in Amsterdam, the impressive Divided State of America, prior to the presidential elections in the US. At Galerie Eenwerk, a projection of the American flag (reversed) can be seen from the street. We read fragments of conversation on the white lines separating the red lines. And we see a time display that increases and stops at 8 minutes and 46 seconds. We immediately recognize this as the last words in the last minutes of George Floyd (a black man under arrest), killed by a (white) police officer because he was pressed to the ground with a knee in the neck. Also notice the stars in the flag that represent the different states and that go out one by one.

Around the elections in the USA, J&B show the video work 'Divided State of America' in Amsterdam. photo from facebook page of J&B

About the artists

The Rotterdam artist duo J&B work together since 2015. Jacob (1967) studied Physics at TU Delft. Bert Frings (1972) studied at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy and the Ateliers in Amsterdam.

Eindhoven - Work in Progress is on show at Pennings Foundation until December 5, 2020. From November 5 to November 18, Pennings Foundation is closed due to the corona regulations.

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