Venus Jasper is a queer visual artist, storyteller, world builder, performative priestess, researcher, educator, writer, and curator, currently based in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

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Reviving Matriarchy

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In this multi year research project, spanning from 2018 to 2021, I explored how archaic matriarchy and paganism could be rekindles through pop-music, speculative drawings and sculptures and temples for the earth. On a personal level, it was. a long quest to move beyond the use of appropriative elements in my practice to come closer to the divine. Living in the seemingly void-of-spirit landscape of the Netherlands, I've set out to explore vast parts of the world in previous projects related to spirituality, rituals and identity.

In 2016, I came back from Guatemala ending a
Down to Earth, a research in permaculture and land-based skills that made me curb my research away from faraway places and mysticisms, and instead focus on local soils and roots, sprouting countless projects around Druidry, Paganism, greenhouses full of medicinal plants, magical swamps and bogs in the years that followed.

How it started?

The project started with visits to sacred pagan sites in the Netherlands, and the creation of a series of white-clad performances in which I tried to sense what a contemporary druid could be. I also joined OBOD, a contemporary and romantic revivalist group that explores and practices what Druidry could be in today's world. At the time I saw druids as the sole cultural artefact, or spiritual figure, still existent in Western Europe, besides Witches and Treehuggers. The idea was to revive their legacies, and continue on the counter-cultural and counter-capitalist, counter-empire and devious, edge-walking ways. But it didn't go so well at first, both because of the gross racist white-supremacist ideology that can surround the archaic roots of the west, but also because of the lack of living traditions. What we have left is romantic trials of a culture that perhaps never existed in the way that we imagine it to be. Despite this, I knew deep down that the land here was full of stories, medicine, and culture.

I had some succes in creating Grove 2.0 - Chapel of Wild Wisdom, a contemporary cross-over between an agricultural space and a medicine plant safehouse shown in a lush park, alongside of works by Lionel Estève (FR), Sven Fritz (NL), Paul Geelen (NL), Henrik Håkansson (SE), Antti Laitinen (FI), Zeger Reyers (NL), Martin Schwenk (DE), Egied Simons (NL) and Maarten Vanden Eynde (BE).

In and around this installation, I watered trees in a Gratitude ritual supported by harp music performed by Maia Lyon Daw. Which lead to the performance Ecosexual Polyamory, Permaculture ASAP, in the center of Eindhoven for Onomatopee. But then I got stuck with the white bodysuit figure, and did not know how to get out of the lord-of-the-rings dusty white linnen apparel. I recall the work Silent Bard (Treehugger), taking place in 2018. I was initially supposed to perform a concert for a tree, later I would sing to a tree, and ultimately I shied out of that and just kinda made a murmur in the bushes of a public park in Amsterdam during Echoes of Shamanism, a three day project centered on shamanism in the arts, featuring Irina Birger, Kleoni Manoussakis, Dimple B Shah, A k u z u r u  en Fons Elders.

A whimsical illustration of a Celtic druid from ancient Britain by William Stukeley from his 1740 CE book 'Stonehenge'. The axe in the druid's belt is actually of a bronze age type.

It was a long and winding search for a figure that could rekindle and honour the oral cultured ancestors and forest guardians of the lands where I grew up, and also an exploration of how to relinquish the appropriation in my practice by rooting my practice into a more true locale, leading into Ritual music?

I recall a Midsummer event at V2 Rotterdam, where I performed my first blessing of smart phones, wearing a bodysuit designed by Pinar&Viola. Was this the new look of a druid? It was good to allow contemporary electronic devices in my work, as I began to also reflect on the hybridity of these times, and the always luring addiction to social media. At the end of that year I created Darkness is light germinating for the show "Orgonomics" taking place at Garage Rotterdam, curated by Padraic E. Moore, and featuring Dorothy Fadiman, Christoph Keller, Christine Ödlund, Annie Ratti and Kenneth White.

Then COVID came and stopped all public events. Early 2020, I wrote "The World Stage" a blog entry reflecting on the times, on queerness, on creating worlds together. I worked on Witch Stone, which was a comissioned series of workshops resulting in a ephermeral public art work in a small town in the east of the Netherlands. It was a wild and messy project with dubious results. But I also started to understand something.

I realized that there was a great overlaps between contemporary nightclubs, music festivals, the pop-star, the MC or DJ, and the role the oratory druid or bard had in guiding ceremonies in the archaic world of groves and lake-side temples. I also see a lot of gender-queerness being channelled by musicians, performing in onorthodox costumes and looks that defy, highlight or transform contemporary notions of gender and appearance, which I believe many of the genderqueer shamans also do. Stemming from this, I created S T O N E O R G Y,  a music record and performance series based on a research into paganism, druidry, drag, and the power of oral storytelling, which I produced and performed live several times with musician Giek_1. It was actually the "The World Stage" blog post I had written, which prompted MU director Angelique Spaninks to reach out to me, and to add S T O N E O R G Y as a live program during their exhibition Worlding Worlds, which featured featured Andrew Thomas Huang, Baum & Leahy, Ian Cheng, Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley, Mehraneh Atashi, and others.

My idea was to sing and get people moving and dancing, performing experimental electronic pop music that would fuse the character of the druid with that of a pop-singer. To sing about soil, earth, rocks, and finding a place in the cosmos.

In this period, I also wrote the eco-mythological sci-fi DEEPSOIL during a workshop at Other Futures Festival, Amsterdam (NL), which became a part of the performance. In the end we performed the piece at Garage Rotterdam, MU Hybrid Art House Eindhoven and IMPAKT Festival Utrecht. Another work part of Reviving Matriarchy is Trans Neolithic Future, a series of drawings which feature depictions of standing stones that are dotted in the Western European (and British, and Scandinavian) landscape.

These playful and visually enticing works can be seen as a personal interpretation of the various theories put forwards by archaeologists who propose that early European/Mediterranean societies were ruled by matriarchal systems. Both the music from S T O N E O R G Y and the story of DEEPSOIL became an audio-visual installation for Dreaming in Everywhen, an exhibition at IMPAKT Utrecht, also featuring works by Monira Al Qadiri (Kuwait/Germany), Jakob Kudsk Steensen (Denmark/United States), Himali Singh Soin (India), Erik Bünger (Sweden/Germany), Maarten Vanden Eynde (Belgium) and Michel Banabila (Netherlands).

It was after this show that a long lockdown and nightly curfew began in the Netherlands. A dark winter. As soon as it was over, I began a new series of video and photography works, which in ways revived my artistic practice from my Bachelor period (2006-2010): colorful, experimental, wild colorful worlds and works. In ways I started only now to shake off the denseness of my Masters education, and perhaps really remebered what it was I loved doing, like a shamanic vision quest, the lock down brought to the fore what I'd love to do most.

I remembered suddenly how fond I was of Matthew Barney's work - even-though yes, he cheated on mother Björk. I allowed again the more expressive speculation to come alive. This resulted into the works EARTHHURT and DIRTY, two pieces where the white-clad druid is finally transformed into dancing lavender alien-fauns, prancing around and investigating the sacredness of soil. In a way, the research here fuses into the next couple years, during Sacred Soils, which is also related to music and matriarchy, but manifested more in sculptural shrines and speculative temples for the earth. A new topical journey that looked deeper at the earth beneath out feet.

It took a couple years longer though, before the Murky Murky Little Bitch Witch appeared. Is she perhaps the voice of the swamps I started to listen to already in my early teens?


Project results

  • First blog post about "Re-viving Matriarchy", on Dripstone.
  • Grove 2.0 - Chapel of Wild Wisdom is published in the wonderful Delirious Lustwarande - Excursions in Contemporary Sculpture III (2019), a book that features artworks shown at the Lustwarande between 2015 and 2018. The book features essays by Dominic van den Boogerd, Johan Pas and Domeniek Ruyters.
  • Grove 2.0 was featured in Metropolis M (2017), Tubelight and twice in the NRC Newspaper: Niet-menselijke krachten op de Lustwarande (04-08-‘17) and De schoonheid van een Slakkengang (27-07-‘17).
  • Ultra Ecosexual Polyamory. Permaculture ASAP. was performed at Onomatopee, Eindhoven.
  • The video of that work was shown at Onomatopee, LeGuessWho? and part of the online presentation of ZERO FOOTPRINT | IMPAKT Festival 2020, by IMPAKT in Utrecht and it is also part of REGENERART's e-learning course and textbook for European secondary school teachers. The poem was read at the opening of ORGONOMICS, at Garage Rotterdam.
  • Ultra Ecosexual Polyamory. Permaculture ASAP. is part of the book We Are The Market! by Onomatopee, with a short essay by Josh Plough on the work, and it is also part of the online platform PerformVU since 2024.
  • S T O N E O R G Y x DEEPSOIL was a one night event at MU Hybrid Arthouse, Eindhoven, taking place as part of the Worlding World exhibition that featured Andrew Thomas Huang, Baum & Leahy, Ian Cheng, Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley, Mehraneh Atashi, and others.
  • S T O N E O R G Y x DEEPSOIL was later adapted to a live-stream performance while COVID-19 made live performance impossible. The remodeled work took place as Enter the Grove for IMPAKT Festival and LeGuessWho? Utrecht in 2020.
  • In 2021, the essay SPELLBOUND: Grove is in the Heart by Georgia Kareola was published in Kunstlicht, analyzing the performance.
  • In 2020, Mister Motley's Lieneke Hulshof interviewed Venus Jasper, about their work, thinking and recent performance pieces. Wanneer taal poëzie wordt [...] is a lovely Dutch text. Translated into english, see below.
  • In 2022 the work is also featured as part of the online educational program LAND by Anouk Mulders for ArtEZ, Arnhem (NL).
  • I was asked to make this work after Angelique Spaninks, Artistic Director of MU, read my Dripstone "The World Stage".

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Reviving Matriarchy was initially supported by CBK Rotterdam
Later support was received via Mondrian Fund