The Venice Questionnaire: Iris Kensmil and Remy Jungerman

a two-part pavilion for the Netherlands

Iris Kensmil, Archiving future History, 2017, pastel on paper, 227 x 125 cm. Photo: Gert Jan Rooij Remy Jungerman, INITIANDS, 2015, painted wood, cotton textile, kaolin, bottles, 284 x 244 x 41 cm. Photo © Aatjan Renders

ArtReview sent a questionnaire to artists and curators exhibiting in and curating the various national pavilions of the 2019 Venice Biennale, the responses to which will be published daily in the lead-up to the Venice Biennale opening on 11 May.

Iris Kensmil and Remy Jungerman are representing The Netherlands. The pavilion is in the Giardini.

What can you tell us about your exhibition plans for Venice?

IK: My work depicts an inclusive history from a black feminist perspective. I laud black authors, philosophers, activists, musicians and in general this counter-movement that is an undeniable part of modernity. My plans for Venice have 3 departing points: the modernism and utopianism of the Rietveld-designed Pavilion; Black feminist thinking about the future, and the position of the artist and protecting their authenticity against institutions and critics. Together, this evokes Black modernity and the position of art which wants to liberate itself from the all too self-evident. Formally these elements come together in an installation covering several walls to create a multi-layered referential space.

RJ: My exhibition will consist of two large-scale installations. In the first room of the pavilion, visitors are greeted with a vertical installation entitled Promise IV. In the central space of the pavilion the installation entitled Visiting Deities consists of two parts: the Kabra Tafra, a long table which rests on a dry riverbed and, hovering above the table, are three spatial structures entitled Horizontal Obeah Geengesitonu.

Certainly, elements of De Stijl, Mondrian’s grid and palette, and Rietveld’s architectonic forms are echoed in my work. I also incorporate elements from the Winti faith of the Maroon peoples of Suriname in my desire to reimagine the geometries that shaped international style and marked a new relationship to urbanism.

Promise IV is a gift of the gods that suggests a game that is as playful as it is serious. Within its logic, the rules of the game give rise to freedom. The surface of the Kabra Tafra incorporates grid-patterned ritual textiles that were created long before the colonial encounter. This alter-like table, with the linear forms suspended above it echoing a judicial oracle, invites communion with ancestors. In my installation these historical and material sources collide in the same way that wind carries seeds to new ground, or people to new lands. The Kabra Tafra is not a lament; it is a celebration. Emphasising interconnectivity and echoes between our cultural particularisms, this sculptural installation welcomes an open conversation.

What does it mean to ‘represent’ your country? Do you find it an honour or is it problematic?

IK: The artists representing the Dutch Pavilion are picked through a competitive selection process, so it is an honour to be chosen. Speaking of problematic representation: this arises when I have to fit within the framing of ‘normal/native’ against ‘diverse/exotic’, which dominates Dutch cultural discourse – except at some of the main museums. But I have no problem representing the Netherlands, which is – despite all misunderstandings and obstinacy – already a dynamic and transnational society.

RJ: It means a lot to me to represent The Netherlands and it’s a great honour to have been selected. This event affords me the opportunity to share with an international audience works that are influenced by a questioning of what constitutes or defines the greater Dutch world given our colonial past. I want to acknowledge with my work that we are a diverse society that has been shaped by our shared history and that this gives us the possibility to create new works that challenge and rewrite the dominant western view of art history.

Is your work transnational or rooted in the local?

IK: My style, my themes and contextualisation transcend ethnical categorisation and also, if by ‘local’ you mean national, then my work is not local. If local means rooted in my personal experience and research, then yes, it is.

RJ: My work is rooted in the universal. African, American, and European influences mingle in my work; my art practice has very much been shaped by all of these perspectives.

How does a having a pavilion in Venice make a difference to the art scene in your home country?

IK: Yes, it makes a difference. It offers Dutch artists an international platform at a time when the Dutch art scene is much less in the lead than it was. It offers the challenge of a larger project with the perspective of working for a larger and broader public. For me, personally, it has been immensely inspiring to work on this for the last 16 months.

RJ: I don’t have an answer for this question because to me it feels like this question raises the issue of native vs. non-native. For me, who is and who’s not doesn’t make any sense in this context. We are all members of a large and diverse community.

If you’ve been to the biennale before, what’s your earliest or best memory from Venice?

IK: My first visit to the Venice Biennale was in 2003. In 2015, I liked the group presentation in the Belgian Pavilion, and Okwui Enwezor’s presentation in the Arsenale. In particular, the works of Adrian Piper, who successfully conveyed the reflective nature of her work in the images themselves, even though the way of exhibiting was not sympathetic to how she normally presents her work herself.

RJ: The biennale always gives a great view of what is happening in the art world. In the past I have very much missed the presence of countries that could not afford a pavilion, but it seems like slowly these countries are entering Venice thanks to art directors who have sought to expand beyond the Eurocentric fission to a larger world view, especially the late Okwui Enwezor.

You’ll no doubt be very busy, but what else are you looking forward to seeing?

IK: Indeed, this year I didn’t have time to read about the other pavilions, but I look forward to seeing Martin Puryear, Dineo Seshee Bopape, Laure Prouvost and there are many interesting artists in the Central Exhibition.

RJ: I am looking forward to wandering around the Venice Biennale seeing great art, meeting col-leagues, and having conversations about the impact the Venice biennale has or does not have in today’s art world. It will be a great opportunity to extend my vision and network.

The Venice Biennale runs 11 May – 24 November