'Xanadu Universal Dream 4' (c) Nikunja 2015. Courtesy of the artist.  


“XANADU” by Nikunja

Collateral Event of la Biennale di Venezia 2015

Artist: Nikunja

Curator: Jamain Brigitha

Commissioner and Organizer: Dream Amsterdam Foundation

Production: Artrun Production

Video Production: Sami Chalak

Cinematography/Photography: Jean Marc Selva

Performer: Mannee Jeeanah

Sound Compostion: Alain Perret

Sound Engineering: Benoît Saillet

Coordinator in Venice: PDG Arte Communications

Venue: Istituto Santa Maria della Pietà Castello 3701, 30122 Venezia

Dream Amsterdam Foundation proudly announces the commission of interdisciplinary artist Nikunja (Switzerland / Reunion Island, France) for his exhibition of the ongoing and evolving project xanadu, which premiers as a Collateral Event of the Biennale Arte 2015. Okwui Enwezor, curator of the 56th International Art Exhibition, selected the project within the frame of ‘All the World’s Futures’. This is the first time that the French Reunion Island and Indian Ocean area are represented at the Venice Biennale. xanadu refers to the ancient summer palace of Kublai Khan in Shangdu, which was built in 1251 exactly according to the dream of the Chinese emperor. Like the ancient dream temples, xanadu gathers the energies and experiences of its visitors specific to each place and time the work is shown. Jamain Brigitha, founding director and curator of Dream Amsterdam Foundation, curated Nikunja’s exhibition at Istituto Santa Maria della Pietà.

“My work evokes an intimate interaction with the audience, which allows new perspectives and unforeseen artistic formulations on an infinite timeline. To me, these aspects relate closely to Okwui Enwezor’s theme. ‘All The World’s Futures’ (in its seed-form) lies in not only a new perception and growing awareness of a multi-layered present, but also the immense creative potential and exchanges that can come out of that. xanadu is the contemporary artistic formulation of this awareness, which connects various levels of time, place and consciousness. With this exhibition, I hope to offer a valuable contribution to the Venice Biennale and a unique art experience to its visitors.” – Nikunja

Open-ended poetry

Since the early 1990s, Nikunja has put at the centre of his work the progressive energy of the artistic process. Every individual visitor will add and contribute to the content of xanadu. This approach engages the audience in a form of open-ended poetry, similar to dreams.

Spectator and performer

The worldwide premiere of xanadu consists of drawings, paintings, photos, videos and an interactive, multimedia installation. When visitors enter the exhibition, they are spectators, but they also become part of the artwork as performers. On special dates, the artist will be present to create new works of art in interaction with the individual visitors.


Nikunja did his research and created the works for xanadu between 2011 and 2015 in Europe (including Venice), Mauritius and Reunion Island, where he started working at the end of the 1990s. Réunion (whose French name signifies an act and not a place) is an exceptional island that successfully unites cultural and social extremes. Established circa 350 years ago, the fairly young post-colonial island society is signified by historical crime and reconciliation, but also by a long-established multiculturalism and tolerance. Reunionese culture is a ‘métissage’: a blend of European, African, Indian, Chinese, and insular traditions. It is a country with great diversity, where physical and spiritual energies, sorrows and dreams, as well as history and legends, rooted in major world cultures and religions all merge into a peaceful coexistence. In a time where most of the world seems to be struggling to accept “the other” as equal, the people in this society live in harmony, even in the midst of the colossal extremes of an unstable volcanic landscape. Nikunja incorporates these significant aspects of hybridisation in his artwork as formal principles and psychological references to social and individual states.

What lies in-between is valuable

Nikunja’s work is in a constant flux of adaptation, mutation and transformation. The artist explores and values the nomadic, unknown intermedial space between existing media. He searches for hybrid beings or the “ultimate bastard” in the creation of his artworks. He is in continuous discovery of the in-between spaces where other elements may be born. “The condition of transgression and mutation fits perfectly well with the spirit of our current age: globalization, migration, transculturalism, the end of grand narratives, the fading of traditional values, and the steep rise of individualism. The dynamic postmodern plurality of contemporary society goes hand-in-hand with a fast-evolving diversity in contemporary art.”

Collective memory and universal knowledge

For his installation, Nikunja creates intense cinematographic material of landscapes composed through the unique light, colours and sounds of Reunion Island in collaboration with cinematographer and photographer Jean Marc Selva (France), electronic musician Alain Perret (Switzerland) and sound engineer Benoît Saillet (Switzerland). The camera follows performer Mannee Jeeanah (Mauritius) through a variation of mental states. However, she is not a representation of a character or a role. xanadu is based on an open narrative structure and (partly) on dreams she has experienced. These dreams largely transcend any links to personal or present-day life; they go beyond these associations and instead make connections between individual and collective memory and universal knowledge. Nikunja collaborated closely with Mannee Jeeanah, who was born into a Mauritian family of Indian origin with a long tradition of spiritual and shamanic practices. She explains, “The ancestral land where I was living became the platform for much agony for what it was trying to convey to me: stories of lifetimes of slavery, torture, mass killings, coming from this soil of slavery. All telling me about the ‘lived’, the memories of ‘human criminology’ contained in specific places. To me it felt like the containment of the element of crime in the bowels of the earth.”

The dream as creative energy

Nikunja acknowledges the dream as a form of creative energy. He describes dreaming as a nomadic, cultural and spiritual language that belongs to everyone, regardless of age, education, ethnicity, religion or social status. xanadu interrogates the intuitive, associative world of the dream and the creative potential of the dreamer, as well as the subjective division between the perception of reality and the various levels of dream perception. Nikunja states, “Dreams allow us to break with the patterns of day-to-day perception and convey a vaster reality of ourselves. The artificial separations in our mind disappear. Dreams connect us to the multi-layered reality of space and time. Dreams are reality. What we call awake could very well be asleep. Right now: are you dreaming or are you awake?”

Websites: http://dreamamsterdam.nl/nikunjaxanadu/ | www.artecommunications.com | www.dreamamsterdam.nl | www.dreamwoman.me | www.nikunja.org

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