Va Project

Impossible Journeys in the Netherlands, Russia and Persia, Now and Then

Organized by Va Space
June 14 – July 8, 2019

Panel Discussion: Saturday, June 15, 18:30 IRST
Kees Boterbloem (via Skype), and Heshmatollah Entekhabi
Moderated by Irina Leifer

Artist Talk: Paulien Oltheten, June 16, 18:30 IRST

Impossible Journeys offers transcultural and transhistorical perspectives on art, travel and participation. The project is the result of a series of artist-in-residency programs, workshops and study visits from 2018 in Iran, Netherlands and Russia. During this period, the curator and artists, inspired by the historical publication of Jan Struys’s “Impossible Journeys” through Russia and Persia in the 17th century, have investigated the challenges and possibilities of changing historical and cultural perspectives. In winter and Spring 2018, Irina Leifer (curator, NL, RU), Paulien Oltheten (artists, NL) and Cecilia Hendrikx (NL) in collaboration and hosting by Va Space, began their research in Isfahan while Zeinab Shahidi Marnani and Sepideh Behrouzian, two artists from Iran were also invited to join them for the project. 

The exhibition combines historical objects, contemporary art works and participatory activities to address the challenge of multiple perspectives on histories. These can divide people, but they can also bring them closer together in a dialogue that recognises difference as something inherently valuable and illuminates prejudices that have been perpetuated for centuries.

Impossible Journeys was made possible by Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Tehran, Emrooz Gallery in Isfahan, Va Space in Isfahan, Prince Claus Fund’s Mobility Fund, Roberto Cimetta Fund, Cargo in Context, Castrum Peregrini, Creative Industries Fund NL, Dutch Culture Shared Cultural Heritage Matching Fund, Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Moscow, European Cultural Foundation and Compagnia di San Paolo, Gerbrandy Cultural Fund, Mondriaan Fund, Museum of Moscow, Victoria Gallery in Samara, Wilhelmina E. Jansen Fund.

In 1676, a book with the intriguing title Three exceptional and very catastrophic journeys was published in Amsterdam. The author of these travel stories, Jan Janszoon Struys, had travelled in the East for 25 years. He had been hired as a sailmaker by the Russian tsar in 1668 to contribute to the development of the Russian fleet. Instead, he found himself in the middle of a civil war and was forced to move in the direction of Persia to escape riots, local conflicts, battles, sieges, murders, tortures, shipwrecks and earthquakes. Struys was even enslaved and later ransomed. During this disastrous journey Jan made many notes, which are now considered an extremely rare first-hand account of daily life in Russia and Persia in the 17th century.
What happened to Struys in the 17th century is as meaningful for the society of his time as it is for today’s society, and so the book was republished in 2006 in Russia, in 2014 in the Netherlands and in 2017 in Iran. It triggers our thinking about the complex political, social and cultural perspectives on different cultural realms and the various conflicts that characterise the relationships between Russia, Iran, and the Netherlands.

Irina Leifer, Exhibition Curator