Kirsten Leenaars (NL) is an interdisciplinary video artist based in Chicago. Various forms of performance, theater, and documentary strategies make up the threads that run through her work. She engages with individuals and communities to create participatory video and performance work. Her work oscillates between fiction and documentation, reinterprets personal stories and reimagines everyday realities through shared authorship, staging and improvisation. Leenaars examines through her work how we relate to others and explores how through the production of the work itself new forms of relating can be created. Recent projects include Beyond the Box: Reimagining Freedom (2021): a collaborative video project with the restorative justice organization Circles & Ciphers, rewarded with the DCASE Artist Response Grant ($100,000). This project asks what does collective freedom look, sound, and feel like? This question and its political stakes guides this multimedia project. Young people that are part of Circles & Ciphers, as well those who are currently incarcerated respond to the notion of collective freedom based on their personal experiences, including considering the ways Covid-19 and the prison industrial complex have impacted their lives and communities. The produced videos and performances will serve as interventions in public space. Another recent project is The Broadcast (2019), a video project co-created with local youth in East Lansing. This project looks at how reality is produced, and considers truth and distortion in public address and media representations. This video installation was acquired in May 2021 by the Broad Museum of Art MSU. An additional example of Leenaars' work is the documentary project (Re)Housing the American Dream (2016-ongoing). This multi-year project with American born and refugee youth, commissioned by the Haggerty Museum of Art in Milwaukee, considers the lived and imagined ways the American Dream shapes our lives.(Re)Housing the American Dream is a deeply textured work that is not only a moving portrait of a group of students coming of age in a world saturated by media, during a highly divisive time, but is also an investigation into the imagination of filmmaking itself: the ways we see, the ways we tell stories, the ways we transfer and construct meaning. Over the course of almost five years, the 24 participating young people will have reflected on the medium and addressed issues of racism, discrimination, and representations of power and identity most affecting their lives and imagined collectively different scenarios for a more just world. (Re)Housing the American Dream is, above all, a testament to cinema’s collaborative nature, in which the young participants are co-authors and subjects of their own lives.
Exhibitions: Leenaars' work has been shown nationally and internationally at venues including The Museo Universitario del Chopo, Mexico City; Kamloops Gallery, Kamloops, MAI, Montreal; The Broad MSU Museum of Art, East Lansing; The Haggerty Museum of Art, Milwaukee; The District of Columbia Arts Center, Washington DC; The Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago; Glass Curtain Gallery, Threewalls, Gallery 400, and 6018North, Chicago; Elaine L. Jacob Gallery, Detroit; Printed Matter, Inc., New York; the Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus; the Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, Rotterdam; and Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin. Grants: Leenaars most recently received the Artist Response Grant ($100,000) from the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events Chicago and has received multiple grants from the Andy Warhol Foundation; The Mondrian Fund; cultural support grants from the Dutch Consulate in New York, Milwaukee Art Board Production Grant and Fonds BKVB. Awards and recognition: Leenaars was listed in the Newcity Film 50, 2020: Chicago's Screen Gems and has been nominated for the USA Fellowship and the 3Arts Award multiple times and received an Envisioning Justice Award from Illinois Humanities (2019). She currently is a Professor in the Department of Contemporary Practices at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.