Kris Lemsalu (1985) is sculptor and installation artist often experimenting with ceramics. Her art combines porcelain with fur, wool textile, silicone, found objects, sounds and other materials. Lemsalu’s work is characterised by her attention to colour and surface effects, an interest in archetypal and symbolic motifs, and an ironic and reflexive relationship to the media she uses, as well as staged scenes and the absurd. Her work often touches upon timeless and profoundly human themes such as birth, transformation and death, pain and grief, passion and love, and a celebration of life. Lemsalu’s installations sometimes act as a stage for her performances; the sculptural artworks become props or part of her costumes.
Lemsalu’s “things” – this is what the artist calls her installations – are imbued with a wayward sense of humour, ironically looking at things we have come to consider necessary, beautiful and desirable. She draws her inspiration simultaneously from pop culture, religious cults, death rituals, parties, friendships, and intimate relationships. Her poetic titles open an affective and Dionysian perspective that cannot be put into words. The curator Tamara Luuk has said that with her background in ceramics and the lifestyle of a nomad, Kris Lemsalu fills the gap in Estonian art history, which lacks artists with “primitive energy”, who create authentic and wild imagery.
In addition to installations, Lemsalu also creates musical performances. Both in her performances as well as in many of her installations, birth and death are a natural part of life, laughter and sadness help to cope with loss (e.g. “Going Going” with Kyp Malone at the Performa Biennial in New York, 2017; “In Heaven Everything is Fine” at KOKO London, 2017; “The Birth of Venus”, 2010). Lemsalu blends art and life in the everyday, as well as in her work and her public presence. She often wears theatrical costumes and make-up, and uses her artworks as a stage or props.
The circle of life and the celebration of life are recurring motifs in Lemsalu’s works and exhibitions. In 2018, Lemsalu’s exhibition “4LIFE” (at Goldsmiths Centre for Contemporary Art in London) presented installations depicting human life from birth to death. In 2019 Lemsalu represented Estonia at the 58th Venice Biennale with the project “Birth V – Hi and Bye”. At the heart of the exhibition stood a three-level and four-sided fountain/totem sculpture depicting ceramic vaginas with arms and legs, symbolising the three stages of life: birth, transformation and death. The show highlighted the matriarchal power in the context of birth, and drew parallels between the magnificence of creating art. The exhibition sound was created by Kyp Malone.
The ongoing creative collaboration between Kris Lemsalu and Kyp Malone, an American artist and instrumentalist, began during preparations for Performa 17. Since then, the couple has presented performances or visual art together, and Malone has created soundscapes for Lemsalu’s shows. The 2020 exhibition “Love-Song Sing Along” at the KW Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin brought together performance, music, sculptural works and installations, intertwining animism and mythological motifs. The main characters of the show’s central creation myth, a swan, a rabbit and a jaguar referred to the duo’s intimate relationship, as well as animal tales found in many cultures. The next chapter of the exhibition “Love Song Sing Along (Once Again With Feeling!)” was exhibited at the Kai Art Center in Tallinn in summer 2020.
Kris Lemsalu studied ceramics at the Estonian Academy of Arts (BA, 2008) and at the Danish Design School (2009–2010) and sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. Lemsalu represented Estonia at the 58th Venice Biennale with the project “Birth V – Hi and Bye” (2019). She has exhibited since 2008. Lemsalu received the Young Artist Award (2018) and the Grand Prize of the visual and applied arts endowment of the Estonian Cultural Endowment (2020).