The Venice Questionnaire: Larissa Sansour

The artist representing Denmark on climate apocalypse and the Middle East

Larissa Sansour and Søren Lind, In Vitro, 2019. Photo: Lenka Rayn H. © the artist

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.

Danish-Palestinian artist Larissa Sansour is representing Denmark. The pavilion is in the Giardini

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

I will present Heirloom, which focuses on the ideas of nation building after a climate disaster and essentialism in identity making. The show will comprise of a two-channel film, a sculptural installation and an architectural intervention.The film revolves around a conversation between a leading scientist and her successor, who is tasked with the project of restoring life to the surface of the earth. The conversation takes place in a hospital room in a bunker below the city of Bethlehem, where we hear the dying senior scientist reminisce about her past and tell stories of humanity before the apocalypse, to her younger successor, who was born underground. The dialogue oscillates between questions of inherited trauma and historical narrative to personal and collective memories.

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

I think it is a great honour to be asked to represent your country. It is also quite overwhelming as it seems I am working on an exhibition that is not just my own. There is a bigger sense of responsibility involved.

Is your work transnational or rooted in the local?

Although my work deals with the political situation in the Middle East, it deals with questions that are universal. I think locality cements the argument to a specific place and makes it stronger when applied to a wider debate. What is happening in the Middle East right now is central to many of the world’s problems and should concern all of us.

How does having a pavilion in Venice make a difference to the art scene in Denmark?

Even though it is easy to see how national pavilions could be restrictive in a transnational context, there is still this incredible sense of excitement that art is given such an important platform. I think having a pavilion in Venice is vital for promoting your own local art scene as it is where the entire art world meets every two years.

What’s your earliest or best memory from Venice?

I think the first time I visited the biennale was in 2003 and I was so awestruck by the experience. It felt like the entire city of Venice was transformed in one immersive art exhibition. I have never missed a biennale since and it is always as magical as the first time.

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

That’s an interesting question and makes me understand how busy I have been in the last half a year. I haven’t really considered that, but I am looking so much forward to finally seeing everything we have been working on installed and materialised. I am working on the project with a very big team, so I am looking forward to the opening, when we can all celebrate all the hard work.

The Venice Biennale runs 11 May – 24 November