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Venice Biennale: Kris Lemsalu, the shamanic artist from Estonia


The Estonian artist Kris Lemsalu represents Estonia in the Venice Biennale. Her practice reflects the same bricolage of references and materials as her polymorphous, interspecies, transgender punk personnage.

Artist Kris Lemsalu represents Estonia at the Venice Biennale.

It would be all too easy to bang on about a shamanic artist from the depths of the Estonian forest, but no one can deny the incantatory force of a practice infused with dark and fascinating energies. You just have to look at her. A creature with eyebrows painted on like black commas, she has the porcelain complexion of a Russian doll with lipstick invariably smudged over half of her face. Whimsical and elusive, she moves in a swirl of floral gauze with a pair of neon sneakers peeking out, or hides under a second skin of flesh-coloured nylon with countless protuberances that makes of her a new Palaeolithic Venus, or nonchalantly strolls through the world in a washing-up-glove hat whose fingers softly palpitate like a sea anemone. When she’s not physically present, her works make an equally strong impression. Her practice reflects the same bricolage of references and materials as her polymorphous, interspecies, transgender punk personnage. 


Born in 1985, Kris Lemsalu initially studied ceramics at the Estonian Academy of Arts in Tallinn before moving on to design at the Danmarks Designskole in Copenhagen. From this rather practical education she has developed an almost “political” approach centred around the harmonious integration of the individual with their surroundings. Her objects mix finely sculpted ceramic parts and hand-sewn draping with all the detritus of consumer society: CDs, fake flowers, plastic baskets, rubber boots, balloons, car doors, small change – the list is endless. Each of her pieces is a narrative haunted by the past presence of a body.

“Gently Down The Stream” (2017), Kris Lemsalu. View from the exhibition at the Fondation Cartier.

In Gently Down the Stream (2017), a rowboat half-covered in vegetation lies on a bed of balloons, with two pairs of sneakers hanging limply overboard – a poetic image that announces imminent ecological disaster, since humanity is already absent, or has mutated, becoming one with nature, where animals and synthetic waste now irreversibly mingle. Here and there, a derisory object reminds us of man’s evaporated presence, like the skeleton hands hanging from freshly ironed shirts in Angels Gone Missing, or the ghostly siren of the apocalypse, formed by a ceramic hoodie with long dangling legs, that perches on the hull of a stranded boat in So Let Us Melt And Make Noise (both 2017). For the Venice Biennale, where she’s representing Estonia, Lemsalu is preparing Funtain, a collaborative installation which, she promises, will abandon death and the apocalypse to celebrate a “real and enchanted” fantastical world.