Remy Jungerman (b1959, Suriname) and Iris Kensmil (b1970, the Netherlands), both artists of Surinamese heritage, are representing the Netherlands in the 2019 edition of the Venice Biennale. The exhibition, The Measurement of Presence, is curated by Benno Tempel, director of the Gemeentemuseum, The Hague. In solo presentations, the two artists explore current issues of race, identity, culture, history and art history within the context of Dutch and European modernism. They also pay homage to stanley brouwn (the lower case spelling intentional), also a Surinamese artist who was arguably the only non-white artist of renown in the country and paradoxically (and ironically) celebrated for his stance of invisibility.
Iris Kensmil, The New Utopia Begins Here #1, 2019. Acrylic paint on wall, oil on canvas, 500 x 1596 cm. Installation view, Dutch Pavilion, Venice Biennale 2019. Photo: Altripiani Photography.
Kensmil’s installation of eight forceful portraits of black women and utopian feminists from Europe (mostly the UK), the US, and the Caribbean are hung against a modernist wall painting that refers to Kazimir Malevich, Piet Mondrian and others. She emblematically introduces female intellectuals and creators of colour into the foreground, inserting them into the primarily white male narratives of modernism.
Iris Kensmil, The New Utopia Begins Here #2, 2019. Ink and acrylic paint on wall, 580 x 390 cm. Installation view, Dutch Pavilion, Venice Biennale 2019. Photo: Altripiani Photography.
With a nod to the pavilion itself, built by Gerrit Rietveld in 1953, the installations – The New Utopia Begins Here #1 and #2 and Beyond the Burden of Representation – Kensmil offers their countervailing presence as antidote, resurrecting voices too often overlooked or misrepresented.
Remy Jungerman. Visiting Deities, 2018-19. Cotton textile, kaolin, dry river clay, water samples, painted wood, 58 table legs (meranti), yarn, mirror and nails, 384 x 138 x 102 in (975 x 350 x 260 cm). Photo: Aatjan Renders.
Jungerman also discusses, overtly and subtly, the complexity and inextricability of these issues. In his two elegant and monumental installations, Promise IV, vertically oriented, and Visiting Deities, horizontally directed, he muses on the routes taken by patterns and motifs, travels that reflect his personal history, the history of his ancestors and that of the Netherlands and its once far-flung dominions (Suriname was still a Dutch colony when Jungerman was born there), of global history and the countless ensuing connections and repercussions.
Remy Jungerman. Promise IV, 2018-19. Painted wood, cotton textile, kaolin, yarn and nails, 52.7 x 53.5 x 193 in (134 x 136 x 490 cm). Photo: Aatjan Renders.
Iris Kensmil and Remy Jungerman
The Measurement of Presence
Dutch Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, Giardini, Venice
11 May – 24 November 2019
Interview by LILLY WEI
Filmed by MARTIN KENNEDY