There’s no hint that Carlijn Jacobs’ new photography exhibition, Sleeping Beauty, is a specific comment on the fairytale it’s named after. However, the Dutch photographer’s images show what the world might look like when submerged in a deep sleep, warped through the lens of the subconscious. Even in these obscure fantasies that she conjures, her images are still arrestingly beautiful.
Sleeping Beauty marks a return to Amsterdam’s Foam museum for Jacobs, who first presented her work there in 2016 as part of its 3h programme, which showcases the work of emerging photographers. According to Mirjam Kooiman, who curated Sleeping Beauty, the timing of the new exhibition is apt.
“This ‘retrofuturistic’ aesthetic says a lot about how we anticipated the future to look like, and what elements of the past we still hold onto,” she tells CR. “To me, it expresses the confusion of our digital age, where we on the one hand are in full control of our online identities, but meanwhile we are losing grip on reality.”
Although it’s a solo presentation, the process behind it has been collaborative. Jacobs’ work sits in dialogue with Sabine Marcelis’ design interventions throughout the exhibition space, and several of the images were produced with the help of Dall-E.
“In the exhibition, we have a dedicated space for her AI imagery with 18 images, as we wanted to prevent having people guessing what was crafted by Jacobs and what by AI,” says Kooiman, who explains that Jacobs’ original photographs forms the basis of all AI generated pieces. She adds that AI is often considered a shortcut, but that it can be incredibly “labour intensive”, with Jacobs spending two months on post-production to get the right outcome.
There’s something neatly poetic about using an AI tool named after Surrealism’s most famous export, and the fact that her work plays with visual motifs associated with the movement – namely eyes presented in nightmarish ways.
Other artistic and cultural cues are threaded throughout her work. The cover artwork she shot for Beyoncé’s latest album, the disco-flecked Renaissance, evokes the iconic image of Bianca Jagger riding into Studio 54 on horseback. Another photograph, which appears in the show, could be read as her take on the titular Sleeping Beauty, which in Jacobs’ hands is more reminiscent of Ex Machina than a Disney animation.
The mask in that image is emblematic of the symbolism that she explores in the rest of her work. “I am fascinated by the idea of the mask. You hide behind something and can become someone else,” says Jacobs, who finds there are parallels between traditional forms of masquerade, such as the carnival of Venice, and the different veneers we apply to ourselves everyday.
“The whole fashion world is actually a form of escapism: you create a new persona. Changing looks and combining the existing with something non-existent is something that plays a big role in my work. ‘Beautifying’ reality, and thus shaping a world that does not yet exist.”
Kooiman explains how Jacobs and Marcelis have amplified the effect of each other’s work throughout the exhibition space, where each room has “a completely different vibe” – from dark and surreal to clean and bright to imbued with 80s and 90s references.
“Marcelis brought different objects to each room that correspond with its atmosphere and in fact, enhances it. There’s something about her aesthetics that blends very naturally with Jacobs’ work: together they craft a universe of what they want their world to look like, which is extremely desirable but also reveals a lot about society’s tendency towards escapism,” she says. “With Sleeping Beauty, Jacobs, Marcelis and Foam have created a space to dream before returning to the grave realities of our day and age.”
Carlijn Jacobs: Sleeping Beauty is on display at Foam until January 21; foam.org