Care, Community, And Queerness In Ak Jensen’s Studio

Ak Jansen caressing a quilted glove in his Boylan Hall studio. / Jack Coleman

When he moved to New York in 2015 from a small town in the Netherlands, Ak Jansen had already completed his undergraduate studies in textile design at the Design Academy of Eindhoven. As the fifth largest city in the Netherlands, with a population of around 200,000, Eindhoven was not exactly the place where Jansen saw his career, or life, taking place. In 2013, after completing an internship with a fashion brand in New York City, Jansen decided that he had to move here.

This fall semester is his first as an MFA student at Brooklyn College, but ever since he moved here, Jansen’s life has been steeped in the arts. After crashing at a friend’s place for a while, he eventually moved into artist Izhar Patkin’s iconic East Village loft (formerly a school) with his now-husband, Sunder.

“The place is like nothing you’ve ever seen,” said Jansen. “The whole thing was crazy. It was a real New York story. Patkin’s boyfriend, Scooter Laforge, did all these paintings on the walls; there’s a room with a guy sucking himself on the wall, an Egyptian room. You’ve never seen anything like it.”

But Jansen and his husband eventually moved out, and now reside together in Park Slope.

His studio, on the fifth floor of Boylan Hall, is riddled with fabrics, quilts, chicken wire, and clay sculptures — or as Jansen calls them, “vessels.”

It’s evident that Jansen’s history with textile design still greatly informs his work, even though his scope has grown to encompass different mediums and broader concepts. Above the sewing machine hangs a piece of off-white fabric with steadily stitched thin blue lines which contrast with the sewn drawings on fabric of flowers which hang on the adjacent wall. Though the sewing process is anything but delicate, these gently rendered floral forms are abound with loose threads unfurling from their petals and stems. Jansen describes it as constantly pulling and turning the fabric in order to create them, and leaves the loose threads on purpose.

Pinned to the outside wall of his studio, a soft-spoken royal and dark blue quilt also includes loose threads which are stitched into the body of the piece, resembling the body of a hairy bear (more the human than animal kind).

Though he initially wanted to step away from an artistic practice which relies heavily on what he was doing in his undergraduate years, Jansen realized that as he began working with clay, the same concepts were still present.

While at Eindhoven, Jansen created a book of self portrait photographs called Process. The book is an extremely intimate look at a young queer kid yearning for community and care in a small city.

“I was 25, struggling with identity, relationships, feeling not cared for,” Jansen said about his earlier years. “It’s a small city, and I never really felt at home in the Netherlands. Coming to New York, where nobody knew me and I could do whatever I wanted, was such a relief.”

Though his new work is still in its early stages, his recent interest in sculpture totally reconfigures these concepts, and opens up new possibilities in terms of form. The “vessels” are often adorned with pillow-like quilts, and filled with foam and other substances which Jansen sews himself. It’s not a reversion to old or tired ideas; it’s a revision, or a reinvention.

“These clay vessels are just like the body in the Process book,” Jansen said. “This project is about care and community, and I’ve been looking for a way that a sculpture community could exist on terms where they take care of each other.” The concepts the work tackles are familiar and prescient to many queer peple, especially in the Trump era.

As he looks into different mediums and forms for relying these interests, Jansen is unafraid of prevailing ideas that many artists seem to be affected by.

“I’m actually very interested in crafts, which for some reason has a bad rep in the art world. But I don’t care, I think it’s beautiful,” said Jansen.

Whatever he gets up to in the future, I’m certainly excited to see it. Look out for updates from the Art Department to get a look at some of Jansen’s work – as well as that of other BFA and MFA students’ work, on- and off-campus.