Untitled Figure Study
Kees Proper is an autonomous fine artist based in Rotterdam. Through vulnerable personal narratives and with a deliberate choice of materials, Kees’ research-based practice creates fresh, queer perspectives on the conditions of life, inviting the viewer to reflect on and question their own surroundings, identities and way of seeing.
Following a recent gender identity crisis, Kees Proper’s ongoing sculpture project meditates on the influence surroundings have on identity-making.
“In me, I feel a strong desire to “be” nothing. I want to break free from the pressure to conform. Not just to the societal norm but to labels in general. I am so much more than my gender. And my gender is so much more than whatever terms are made available to me. Perhaps by saying that I want to “be” nothing, I’m actually saying that I want to be recognized for being so much more.” – Excerpt from Kees’ thesis: Embracing Ambiguity: Identity under an essentialist, capitalist hegemony.
Unfortunately, anyone desiring to live ambiguously will inevitably bump into a problem: ambiguity is nearly if not completely impossible to truly achieve under a contemporary essentialist society. Despite our bodies being inherently ambiguous, our vocabulary, laws and structured environments are not allowing them to be. This collision jumpstarted Kees’ research into the mechanisms that affect the body and our perception of it.
A combination of the critical theories in Sara Ahmed’s Queer Phenomenology and Donna Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto informed Kees’ methodology for critically examining objects in their surroundings that had a significance for identity. Ones that direct the body and become a part of its physicality. Take, for example, the urinal divider:
The object tells you what not to look at, while your nearness to it tells you what gender to be. It carries an array of social constructs: masculinity, heterosexuality, prudery. These things are internalized by the beholder, informing future behavior, thus contorting their body in such a way that it engrains itself in the very fiber of their being. Queerness stems from the persistent rejection of this process. A persistent rejection of a persistent environment leads to a constant push and pull, which Kees attempts to capture with their research. The urinal divider, along with many more objects, were examined through sketches, photographs, and comprehensive material research.
Through an intuitive process each object was then reduced to its essence and contorted itself, by creating new forms from scratch using identical materials. The forms were then assembled into a complete sculpture: one that expresses Kees’ feeling restricted, unbalanced and disarranged by the pressure to explain and conform.
Untitled Figure Study is an alternative – and arguably more comprehensive – bodily depiction. One that focuses not on a single, biological body but rather on the internalized environments and extensions of the body. It presents the (queer) body as a contorted network of objects, constructs and environments, to challenge ruling ideas of what bodies are, can be, and should be.
The full thesis can be read here.
Untitled Figure Study, 2022
AI text generator, elastic, thread, silicone, acrylic, fiberglass, metal, cement, glass, window film, spray paint, door handle, power switches, tile.
Untitled Figure Study is the first in what will be a series of sculptures that concern itself with the environmental contortion of bodies. Find the Threshold Award-nominated sculpture at the Willem de Kooning graduation show in the Autonomous Practice section on the third floor, room 3.3.
Kees Proper (they/he)
@kees.proper on Instagram