untitled (bull and fish, pastoral)
untitled (Jupiter in bed)
Installation view at Big Art, Amsterdam, 2022
series 'Inderterminate'
Untitled from the series 'Limp Wrist'
series 'Limp Wrist'
series '...and suddenly, all is revealed'
It turned out it wasn't a situation, but a person
Installation view of diorama 'Window'
Installation view '...and suddenly, all is revealed'
'Haphazard monsters', installation view at galerie dudokdegroot, Amsterdam
I'm a myth
'Algorithm corrupted (though sheer comedy, of course)', installation view
Installation view 'Algorithm corrupted (though sheer comedy, of course)'
Da-ta, da-ta
untitled (crouching figure)
Cover girl
Group show Loods 6
three bearded baby's
The Foundling
Three figures in an artificial surrounding
White sheet
Mirror no. 2
untitled (figure seen from below)
untitled (figure seen from below)
'The future is old', installation view
You may grow up to be a fish
Straight story
The middle place
Roberte wants to be kidnapped
Th future is old
The fraud
In the hedge
'How does your garden grow?', installation view
Nurse with cup of hot choco
Doctor putting on gloves
A company of three
untitled (tree)
untitled 5, from the series The teddy-bear conventions
Boy and militaryman
Sketch book
Sketch book

There’s no place like home

Gudrun Bott, director Schloss Ringenberg / Derik-Beagert Gesellschaft (Hamminkeln, Germany)

Looking back on childhood and remembering what life was like back then, we might recall a time when trust and admiration were unconditional, when dependency and security were inextricably bound up together. Possibly the roots can be found here for our later efforts to understand complex personal relationships by making polarizing judgments – searching for standards by which to orient ourselves and to act. Collective narratives from the fairytale to the TV soap opera reflect this universal longing for tangible patterns in their stories that pit good guys against bad.

As male prototypes, the doctors, soldiers, pilots and grandfathers in Marijn Akkermans’ early large-format drawings (2000 – 2003) seem to stem from a cosmos of virile mythical creatures. Over-life-sized, self-assured and domineering, they proudly sport the insignia of their work and sphere of influence and squarely occupy the center of the pictorial space with their physical presence. The smaller-proportioned, childlike figures take up the role of their seemingly ingenuous and innocent counterparts. Once the roles are thus ostensibly clearly distributed in these carefully constructed scenes, the stage-like compression and difficult-to-unravel physical entanglement of the figures already gives us a presentiment of the multiple layers of meaning they evoke. What at first glance seem to be static arrangements unfold subtle subliminal energies and a patchwork of contradictory emotions in which the borderline between victim and perpetrator, between strong and weak increasingly overlap and dissolve. Are the smaller, usually more active figures pulling the strings, or do the mysterious events depicted here threaten to imperceptibly slip through their fingers?

The scenes in the series “The Teddybear Conventions” (2004-2005), in which humans meet up with stuffed bears just like in a children’s book, are steeped in intimations of violence. Foam stuffing bulges from the teddy bears’ ripped off arms and legs; their missing glass eyes are sewn onto other figures’ faces like capriciously transplanted body parts. The apparently brutal events evidenced here by dislocated limbs and injured bodies seem however to strangely leave those affected cold, or at least their facial expressions reveal nothing but serene composure and playful eagerness. As if they didn’t know what they were doing and what is happening to them, the figures remain caught up in a playful mode of action, so that the explosive situations are undermined by a dreamlike, light-hearted mood. Complex interdependencies, suspended identities and unclear roles create a surreal meshwork of bodies and emotions, evoking contradictions that are multi-layered and irresolvable. In analogy to the physical amalgamations, paradoxical levels of meaning intersect here: dream and trauma, play and drama, passion and pose.

In the artist’s recent works these scenes are replaced by a more portrait-like presentation of the figures, to the extent that they look out directly at the viewer in classical portrait poses. Like vague memories, echoes of early 19th-century portraiture shimmer through the surfaces, recalling a time when the emerging bourgeoisie began to define itself by way of the inwardness and intimacy of family relationships. Did this promise of warmth and security not at the same time secretly entail a loss of personal autonomy and psychological integrity, making room for a kind of dependency on others that was heretofore unknown in the firmly defined roles of earlier eras? When in Marijn Akkermans’ drawings monstrous metallic-looking women’s hands encircle a child, or hair cascades down to form a cage that constrains movement, the borders between emotional bonds and ties that bind, between protection and possessiveness begin to blur. How else to escape such dependency than by hatching impenetrable strategies culled from unfathomable depths, appearing at best as blind spot? As we scrutinize the drawings, the way the figures are built up out of layer upon layer of glaze seems to invert on itself, generating the impression that the artist has skinned his figures in his urgent searching for what is hidden beneath the surface. Only in the end – cognizant of how he has injured his own creations – does he stop at the border marked by the edge of the white paper and listen to the echo of his mental images, without being able, however, to get a grasp on them.

The fragmented flow of the narrative thread corresponds in Marijn Akkermans’ works with the technical breaks in his graphic rendering. Delicate, transparent shadings in colored pencil and touches of color as filmy as clouds directly abut rough-contoured monochromatic acrylic surfaces. Next to these silhouette-like passages, trickles of black ink continually destroy the illusion of corporeality and assign it a fixed place in the pictorial events that is dictated by the artist. Precise dissections open the paper plane for inserted cutouts, generating – not only as technical intrusions – an immediate feeling of injury and intimacy.

The ambivalent game with proximity and distance between the depicted figures is transferred onto the relationship between picture and viewer. The scenes’ power to draw us in psychologically is countered not only by the fragmentation of the bodies but also by their rootlessness, suspended as they are on neutral white paper without any real contact with the ground and thus bereft of any spatial context. Additional distance comes from the unmistakable feeling we have of recognizing these faces, without being able to identify them precisely. Their origin in the familiar repertoire of the machinery of popular illusion and the trove of art historical images renders them interchangeable projection surfaces whose dramatic tenor the artist ironically unmasks. The fact that despite their ambivalence they serve the observer as a foil for latent and enigmatic memories, longings and feelings raises the question of how what we believe to be our innermost thoughts are actually controlled by media. Is all that’s left to us in the end for expressing our authentic, radical subjectivity the theatrical pose in the form in which it is presented to us constantly by the mass media and pictorial conventions? Or do we perhaps want to hold fast to our sentimental emotional surges and continue – headlong and against our better judgment – to revel in navigating the realm of the threatening, fictional and trivial?

At once close and yet far away – too near to seem unfamiliar, too remote to be true – an emotional involvement emanates from Marijn Akkermans’ images that stays with us long after we have turned away. What is at first perceived as a disturbing irritation continues to resonate as an echo of precious feelings we had long thought lost. This is an ambivalent experience, one that results from our childish uncertainty on the way toward playfully finding out who we are, and which only seems like an irretrievable loss once we have become rational, sensible adults. It’s just like when Dorothy’s fascinating and colorful journey to see the Wizard of Oz ends with the yearned-for and yet undeniably sobering return to the adult world:

Aunt Em: Wake up, honey.
Dorothy: Oh, Auntie Em, it's you!
Aunt Em: There, there, lie quiet now. You just had a bad dream. 
Dorothy: But it wasn't a dream. This was a real, truly live place. 
And I remember that some of it wasn't very nice - but most of it was beautiful. 
But just the same, all I kept saying to everybody was, 'I want to go home!' 
And they sent me home.
(All laugh)
Doesn't anybody believe me?
Uncle Henry: Of course we believe you, Dorothy.
Dorothy: […] Oh, Auntie Em, there's no place like home!"

Taken from "Back Then, The World Was Bigger", monograph Marijn Akkermans, published by galerie Gabriel Rolt, Amsterdam, 2008