Dutch Entry 58th Venice Biennale
The Measurement of Presence
Iris Kensmil and Remy Jungerman
Curated by Benno Tempel
Commissioned by Mondriaan Fund
11 May – 24 November 2019
Remy Jungerman (b. 1959) and Iris Kensmil (b. 1970) are representing the Netherlands at the 58th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, with Benno Tempel (b. 1972, director of Gemeentemuseum Den Haag) as curator. Jungerman and Kensmil bring together influences from different backgrounds. In their work they combine the inspiration they draw from twentieth-century modernism, particularly Mondrian and De Stijl, the Russian avant-garde and artist stanley brouwn, with elements of other traditions and perspectives. The work of both artists is brought together in an exhibition in which the measurement proportions within the Rietveld pavilion will also play a role. The Measurement of Presence was opened on 8 May by Minister Ingrid van Engelshoven. Click here to watch the video recording of the opening.
Documentary The Measurement of Presence by Gerrit Scheurs
Iris Kensmil depicts in her work an inclusive history from a Black feminist perspective. She honours Black authors, philosophers, activists and musicians, and, in general, the Black counter-movement that is an undeniable part of modernity. She connects the utopian thinking of modernism with Black female intellectuals whose work offers its own perspective on modernity and the future. By adding ideas from the past to our current knowledge, she broadens our awareness, allowing room for change to arise.
In collaboration with The Black Archives, Kensmil researched Black female utopians, focusing mainly on the Caribbean, the US, and Europe. This research resulted in seven portrait paintings in The New Utopia Begins Here #1, namely iconic Black feminist bell hooks, the Pan-Africanist Amy Ashwood Garvey, DJ and singer Sister Nancy, journalist and activist Claudia Jones, communist and activist for Surinamese independence Hermina Huiswoud, anti-colonial writer, surrealist Suzanne Césaire and feminist science-fiction novelist Octavia E. Butler. The abstract composition of this mural is continued in The New Utopia Begins Here #2, in which Kensmil integrates the portrait of writer and activist Audre Lorde. In a third installation, Beyond the Burden of Representation, Kensmil reflects on the position of a number of artists who take a clear position to protect their authenticity and the interpretation of their work, such as stanley brouwn. In this work, she shows paintings of exhibitions of these artists.
In his work, Remy Jungerman brings together motifs from Africa, from Maroon culture (including elements from the Winti religion, a traditional Afro-Surinamese religion) and from 20th century modernism. He is interested in the path travelled by patterns and motifs, and its influence on visual art.
For the pavilion in Venice, Jungerman created two large-scale installations: Promise IV and Visiting Deities, in which he intends to bring together the strength of the forefathers of the greater Dutch world – ancestors from the Netherlands, Suriname, Indonesia and elsewhere – with the aim of connecting the various cultures and entering into a future-oriented, open conversation. The size and rhythm of his installations are determined by the joining of various sources, such as Winti, Gerrit Rietveld and stanley brouwn.
During 2018 Jungerman lived in New York, a city with a dual meaning for him. It is the city where Piet Mondrian, an artist that is of great importance to Jungerman, found refuge in 1940.
At the same time New York is the place where in 1674 the Dutch traded Suriname with the British. In a bilateral negotiation they made a deal to swap conquered land: New Amsterdam became New York, and Suriname passed from British into Dutch hands and became a Dutch colony. For Jungerman, living in this city in preparation for the Biennale gave him the perfect setting in which to think about the subject of measurement and globalization.
The idea for the exhibition arose from a reflection on the history of the biennale and its location (the modernist pavilion of architect Gerrit Rietveld), from conversations between the curator and the artists, and from current debates.
An important part of the concept underlying The Measurement of Presence is the pavilion, which dates from 1954, designed by architect Gerrit Rietveld. The features of this building – open space, light, modular dimensions – have been adopted in the exhibition installation. The architect wished to create a space where people could meet, like a public square. The works by Jungerman and Kensmil will emphasize this human element of coming together, sharing and experiencing.
The Giardini, where the national pavilions are located, largely reflects the geopolitical relations of the 20th century. Originally, the pavilions were intended as national showcases, based on 19th-century notions of nationalism. This view underwent a transformation in the 20th century and made way for unconditional faith in what one saw as the universal values of modernism. Today it is clear that both these views have had their day. The permanent flows of people and objects break boundaries and produce new identities outside and separate from nation states. Places and societies are becoming ever more interconnected in our globalized world. On the whole, globalization also causes alignment and imposes prevailing principles. As a result, we risk losing the specific. In The Measurement of Presence Jungerman and Kensmil reflect on these developments.
An English-language catalogue is published by Hannibal Publishers in cooperation with the Mondriaan Fund to mark the exhibition. In this catalogue, several international artists and authors present their vision on the meaning of transnationalism for the artistic practice. With articles by Jessica de Abreu; Nick Aikens; Jelle Bouwhuis; Paul Goodwin; Charl Landvreugd; Willem de Rooij; Greg Tate; Benno Tempel and Allison Young. The catalogue contains images of the works and of the exhibition itself. Hannibal Publishing generously provided financial support for printing the publication.
In addition, the curator and the artists, in cooperation with various (inter)national organizations, will organize a side program in order to introduce the concept of the exhibition, and to highlight the subject of transnationalism. The first debate was organized in cooperation with The Black Archives, and took place on 23 February 2019. A group of international artists, writers and curators have spoken from various perspectives about the meaning of the transnational for the artistic practice, both in general and in the work of Remy Jungerman and Iris Kensmil in particular. Subjects included the diaspora and the journey taken by patterns, the gaps in our knowledge of history, black feminism, and the role of the ritual in contemporary art. With Mirjam Westen, Nancy Jouwe, Paul Goodwin, Charl Landvreugd and Wayne Modest.
Click here to watch the video recordings.
Commissioner Mondriaan Fund
The Mondriaan Fund is responsible for the Dutch presence during the Venice Biennale. The presentation in the Rietveld pavilion is financed from the international budget that the fund receives from the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW). For the 58th edition, the Mondriaan Fund issued an open call to curators and artists to submit an exhibition plan. The jury selected the proposal of Benno Tempel out of seventy proposals that were submitted in early 2018.
The jury members for the Dutch entry in 2019 are the following: Carlos Amorales (visual artist, participant in the Dutch Pavilion in 2003 and solo participant in the Mexican Pavilion in 2017), Zippora Elders (freelance curator and artistic director of Kunstfort near Vijfhuizen), Xander Karskens (artistic director of the Cobra Museum of Modern Art in Amstelveen and curator of the Finnish Pavilion in Venice 2017), Mirjam Westen (curator of contemporary art in Museum Arnhem and jury member of the Dutch entry in 2017), and chair Birgit Donker (former director of the Mondriaan Fund).
Click here for the complete plan that Benno Tempel developed together with Remy Jungerman and Iris Kensmil.
The Venice Biennale: 11 May to 24 November 2019.