vor 4 years

Fräulein cover star Kris Lemsalu’s artistic interventions and performances are reminiscent of mythical rituals, offering connection and comfort in times of lockdown.

Art has always docked with myth. Beyond the conscious, under obvious connections and effects, there is something hidden within the depths of culture: images, archetypes, stories, feelings, and memories, which, in their fleetingness, can only be grasped and best shared through allegory, dreams, hallucinations. We need people– artists– who can feel and properly express.
Estonian-born Kris Lemsalu is a catcher of dreams and myths. Her performative and sculptural works stand on the threshold, emerging in a state of which Novalis says: “We are near waking when we dream that we dream.”
When confronted with Lemsalu’s art, it becomes apparent that one is dreaming or wandering through a world that is more confused and complicated, more mystical and older, than what is seen in our everyday life. Her performances resemble shamanistic rituals; her works of art are cultural artifcats made of porcelain, fur, shells, wool, silicone. Apart from their materiality, one never knows whether they come from a distant past or a distant future. there are strange idols with eight arms and bloated bodies, and there is a mixture of shrine and fountain which could also be envisioned as a temple, of which caused quite a sensation at the Venice Biennale.

Often, it is about nothing less than the human being in the cosmos, of eternal life and death, of the transition from matter into the ether. For example, in the work Father is in Town, hybrid beings undergo artistic metamorphoses: two figures are entangled on the floor, their porcelain dog faces licking each other in a typical dog-like greeting, however their hands and feet are human.


For two years, Kris Lemsalu has worked with her husband Kyp Malone, the musician and artist. Malone created the soundtrack for a joint exhibition of theirs at KW in Berlin. At the beginning of the artistic maze, a large boat in the shape of a swan floats upon a blue tarp, awaiting the spectator. More hybrid animals and creatures follow. On the occasion of this exhibition, Lemsalu told Deutschlandfunk Radio: “I am processing the various phases of our relationship and playing with different myths surrounding the creation of this world.” The swan is a symbol of fertility as well as monogamous fidelity. The jaguar and hare represent ego, or alter egos, of the two artists. Other works negotiate gender politics and practice social criticism.

In the modern age, if not earlier, our culture seems to have become wholly devoted to logic, technology, and sciene. But the mystical and the irrational always lurks. Kris Lemsalu unveils this conflict like no other: playfully offering comfort through peculiar means. Here, the uneasiness in culture which Freud spoke of in his last great text. the conflict between drive and the rules and norms of controlled culture- is undermined and simply dissolved. This neo-modernist rituality becomes a happening through Lemsalu.

The art magazine this is tomorrow described the performance of Lemsalu during her Estonian contribution to the 58th Venice Biennale in 2019 as follows: “Music has traditionally been used in rituals to negotiate relationships among self, society, and the cosmos. It can create a fleeting sense of community. The vocalist seems to have gone into a trance, guided by the hypnotic rhythm. She emits a loud bellow thrumming with an intensity that resonates through your stomach, trespassing the surface of your body and tingling your soul. A shaman turns around the fountain, touching the lumpy and shiny ceramics, which activates the water running from twleve vuvlas.”

This is not much different from how Aztec ruler Moctezuma’s priests would have received Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés as the returning god Quetzalcoatl at the gates of 16th century Tenochtitlan, then the capital of the world. Only, at that time, no one was filming with their iphones, uploading the scene to Instagram. Through social media platforms where her performance was shared, you can see irritated, concerned, and also amusing audience members watching and following the procession as if they were a community; a growing cult. Discomfort with one’s own past culture and existence was blown away.

For the interview with Fräulein, Kris requested spitfire questions, as it is a time when the Coronavirus threatens her family and way of life in lockdown in New York City. It became a questionnaire of wondrous wordplay, which we share with our online readers below:

Interview: Tobi Mauss
Photos: Joseph Kadow

This article was first published in the Fräulein Spring/Summer 2020 print issue. 

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