Into the Zoo - Felieke van der Leest

Poster 'Into the Zoo'

01.02 until 25.05.2015

A cute piglet in red boots, a tree frog wearing flashy pantaloons, Snow White with a wolf’s head and a Bambi with beautiful eyes, wrapped in swaddling clothes. These are all jewels made by Felieke van der Leest. Splendidly crafted, mostly quite wearable but never without a story. With striking clothing and accessories, Van der Leest’s animal jewels acquire a new identity and comment on human nature and behaviour. Sometimes sharply critical but usually with a generous smile.

Felieke van der Leest’s (1968) jewels are best described as portable miniature sculptures. For example, in order to wear Haas O’Harix en zijn Zes Worteltjes (Hare O’Harix and his Six Carrots) as a bracelet, one has to disconnect the carrot carts and leave the hare behind. Inside the Zwangere IJsbeermin (Pregnant Polar Merbear) there is a gorgeous swaddled cub that can easily be worn as a brooch. The names of her jewels are gems in themselves. Billy Bang, Peace Puffin, Peek-a-Puma; they are rich in humorous language and tone play, sound repetition and alliteration.

Although Felieke van der Leest’s animals are mostly comical at first sight, the story they tell is never childish of frivolous. With eye-catching attire, Van der Leest gives her animals a different identity and context. Anti-War Warrior, for instance, has the head of a bull terrier and an athlete’s body. At first glance a warrior and a muscleman, but he is holding a broken arrow which, right on the break, points to the red hole in his chest. The target on his chest makes him an obvious victim but the arrow is broken and the target displays all colours of the rainbow. This is no fighter but, paradoxically, a ‘warrior’ against violence and war. Moreover, by combining materials like plastic with gold and gemstones, she points out the contrast between valueless and valuable, real and fake and ironises conventional jewellery. Van der Leest: ‘My jewels are also means of communication. When you wear a tree frog in pantaloons or a deer with golden sunglasses on your lapel, you draw a lot of attention. While people talk to you, they keep looking at that brooch, so the brooch will become the topic of conversation at one point.”

Second Peleton
Second Peleton
Billy Bang
Billy Bang
Half Moonwolf
Half Moonwolf

Too young to enjoy the free summer weeks on her own, Felieke van der Leest was obliged to go on holiday with her parents as a teenager. To avoid endless boredom, she brought the crocheting and knitting techniques her mother had taught her into practice while travelling on their holiday boat. Still, some time passes before she chooses textile, thread and their attendant methods as the principal techniques of her work. Ruudt Peters, jewellery artist and her teacher at the Rietveld Academy, notices how original and personal a piece of crocheting on her desk is. He encourages her to use this in her work. Felieke van der Leest graduates in 1996 with a collection of jewellery consisting of jewels that are all either sewn, crocheted or knitted. Van der Leest: “Originally, I am a goldsmith. But I have a great predilection for textile, crocheting and knitting. My house is filled with plastic animals. I saw these animals into pieces, only to put them back together with rings and necklaces. My jewels start with a clear idea. I want to make, say, a necklace of a crow with golden feathers. I resolve whatever I encounter as I go along. How do I attach the wings, for instance? And is that crocheted leg actually nice? I have considered everything. Nothing is coincidental.”
Over the years, Felieke van der Leest’s jewellery has become more complex. It has gradually assumed the character of a ‘tableau’. This way, she shows how her jewels take on a life of their own when they are not worn but are, for example, exhibited. This applies specifically to her series about the Wild West and sports. A good example is the bracelet The J. Russells, named after the dog breed that she uses for the bodies of these football players, who stand in line for a free kick with their hands covering their crotches. The striped apparel does not only refer to the football outfit but also to a prisoner’s suit. Van der Leest has linked the footballers at the ankles with chains, thus turning team spirit into captivity. 

This exhibition is partially made possible by a contribution to Felieke van der Leest by the Norwegian trade guild Norske Kunsthåndverkere.

Source: The Zoo of Life – Felieke van der Leest, Jorunn Veiteberg and Ward Schrijver, Arnoldsche Art Publishers, 2014
 

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