Applied Arts Pavilion
Tropical Modernism: Architecture and Power in West Africa
Presenting for the seventh consecutive year, the Applied Arts Pavilion Special Project is curated by the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A), in collaboration this year with London’s Architectural Association (AA) and the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Kumasi, Ghana. The exhibition reflects on the imperial history of ‘Tropical Modernism’ by examining the ways in which this architectural style was adapted by new African nations in the period that followed Ghana becoming the first sub-Saharan country to gain independence in 1957. The AA established a Department of Tropical Architecture in 1953 before setting up an outpost at KNUST a decade later.
Having developed the tools of ‘Tropical Modernism’ in the late 1940s, Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew adapted an international modernist aesthetic to the hotter conditions of the continent with its distinctive architectural language propagated through the AA’s department, which then formed a backdrop against the political background of struggle against colonialism. The fascinating exhibition is centred around a 35m-long brise-soleil installation, whose openings are embedded with panels and images explaining the story. A key element is a three-channel film recorded in Ghana by the V&A, featuring panoramic portraits of 14 buildings, plus recorded interviews and archive footage from the 1950s and 60s documenting life around the time of independence. This is an absorbing, fascinating taster for a larger exhibition planned at the V&A in 2024.
Curated by Christopher Turner (V&A) with Nana Biamah-Ofosu and Bushra Mohamed (AA)
This pavilion has been temporarily converted into a social experiment that explores the themes of public versus private, accessible versus inaccessible and communal versus individual. Located on the north-eastern edge of the Giardini site, the Sant’Elena district behind is one of the few neighbourhoods of Venice that is mostly inhabited by locals. The curators’ original intention was for the pavilion to be divided, with one half of the building opened towards Sant’Elena on a temporary basis through the construction of a bridge, as a commentary on the Biennale often being criticised for being too exclusive, as well as having expanded into and fenced off what was originally public land. Plans for the bridge were thwarted at the last minute by the Biennale and City authorities involved, making this pavilion’s message even more powerful. With shared messaging with Antibiennale – who presented their unofficial ‘Unfolding’ pavilion for the fourth time with the creation of Perspex blocks identifying entrances where one can ‘break’ in – there’s potential for collaboration over the summer to make what should be public space within the Giardini, public once again.
Curated by AKT and Hermann Czech
Winner of this year’s Golden Lion for Best National Participation, this installation explores themes of decolonisation, national identity, diaspora, indigenous knowledge systems, Brasilia and modernism by focusing on earth. It explores how the past can inform possible futures, particularly concentrating on the role of Brazil’s land in shaping understandings of heritage and identity. The entire pavilion floor is covered with earth underfoot, contrasting with the modernist architecture in which it sits, and features a series of plinths made from rammed earth for displaying the exhibits, putting the public ‘in direct contact with the tradition of indigenous territories, quilombola dwellings [settlements first established by escaped slaves in Brazil], and candomblé ceremonies’ say the curators. The exhibition also includes socio-spatial projects and practices of indigenous and Afro-Brazilian knowledge about land and territory.
Curated by Gabriela de Matos and Paulo Tavares
Dancing Before the Moon
The British pavilion displays architectural-scale sculptural pieces by six artists and designers. Dancing Before the Moon – which was awarded a special mention in the official awards on 20 May – aims to promote the idea that everyday rituals, from cooking to playing games, are tools for diasporic communities to establish spaces and present new ways of thinking about our architecture and built environment. The pavilion is used to show a future for British architecture where social practices are celebrated for binding communities and transforming space. Each sculptural installation – including an upside-down metal drum at its entrance designed by Jayden Ali – acknowledges everyday rituals from different global settings, in addition to an emotive film and soundtrack at its centre. Capacity is limited to allow space for viewing, so there might be some queuing.
Curated by Jayden Ali, Joseph Henry, Meneesha Kellay and Sumitra Upham
Not for Sale!
Strong messaging from the Canadian pavilion this year which highlights housing ‘alienation’ in Canada, characterised by unaffordability, disrepair, under-housing, precarity and homelessness. Activist collective Architects Against Housing Alienation (AAHA) has curated the exhibition and its core belief is that ‘the current housing system in Canada should be abolished’. The crammed exhibition points to the cause of the situation being caused by colonial land dispossession transforming land into profit-generating commodities, with AAHA setting out a series of 10 major demands they believe would end housing alienation – particularly rebuilding connections to land and community.
Curated by Architects Against Housing Alienation
Hosted inside a small rental apartment close to the Arsenale, the exhibition explores the contradiction between the living place as a home and as an exchange value through some very small, witty installations reflecting on the generational housing crisis. Over the course of the summer, various Estonian performers will dwell and perform within it as the apartment becomes both home and stage – sharing militant insights and anecdotes. Curator b210 Architects has designed a path that each visitor can take – starting from the open street with daybeds and moving to the apartment, where a wall will be repeatedly painted by each performer. The visitor ends up at the bathroom, which acts as a stage for a ‘fountain of sinks’ created from faucets and a bathtub.
Curated by Aet Ader, Arvi Anderson, Mari Möldre (b210 Architects)
Venue: Salizada Streta 96, 30122
The main installation is a large curved silver structure – a fragment of a sphere that’s designed as a stage, containing a series of raised performance platforms. It looks like a mash-up between an inverted fragment of one of Boullée’s utopian French Revolutionary structures and a cracked disco ball. The title, playing on the dual meaning of ball as spherical object or dance event, deliberately invokes the history of the Ball Culture movement: working-class, underground dance scenes that originated in Harlem in the 1920s. These were the originators of the competitions and ‘houses’ formed by African American and Latino LGBT communities in response to racism and homophobia in the 1960s and 70s, which effectively became utopian spaces of resistance, dance and celebration. As such this Ball Theater transforms for a week’s ‘ball’ each month during the Biennale, with performances using voice, body, music and image, that present a deliberately carnivalesque queering and decolonising of the French Enlightenment project.
Curated by Muoto and Georgi Stanishev
Open for Maintenance – Wegen Umbau geöffnet
Perhaps the installation that most relates to the overriding theme of ‘decarbonisation’, this pavilion is framed as ‘not an exhibition’. Referring to the ‘Instandbesetzung’ (squatting and maintaining) movement of 1980s Berlin, the pavilion is transformed into a productive infrastructure by re-using leftover material and ‘spolia’ from over 40 national pavilions and exhibitions of the Art Biennale in 2022 so that the art and architecture biennales become spatially and programmatically connected for the first time. The actual architectural interventions are aimed at local needs. For example, a temporary ramp has been built for accessibility and the main room has become a materials archive, with amenities introduced such as workshop, kitchenette, space for meetings and a bathroom. These interventions, together with a collaboration between Venetian and German activist groups to curate a summer programme of events, look to expose the work and processes of social care and maintenance that usually remain hidden.
Curated by ARCH+, SUMMACUMFEMMER and Büro Juliane Greb
T/C LATVIJA (TCL)
The most light-hearted of the pavilions this year, Latvia has been transformed into a supermarket, showcasing 506 ‘unique’ products from the last 10 editions of the Architecture Biennale – the products being the themes of the national pavilions, their titles represented as the cheesy brand names of household products or tinned soups. The idea is to throw the focus on how the individual navigates all the themes and ideas at Biennales, the number of which can often be vastly overwhelming. The curators say: ‘What if making decisions could be fun?’. If you search hard, you can find past British Pavilion contributions packaging up brands of peach juice, chocolate and jam.’
Curated by Ernests Cerbulis and Uldis Jaunzems-Pētersons
Utopian Infrastructure: The Campesino Basketball Court
Another fun pavilion this year, the space has been transformed into a 1:1 scale fragment of a campesino basketball court, to represent how this type of sports infrastructure has commonly been repurposed by Mexico’s indigenous communities radical transformation where its concrete platform has become an important social space, acting effectively as a privileged space for poly- and pluri-valent processes of decolonisation. As such the space of the whole pavilion is designed as a social space, with drinks being served, seating for people to congregate and chill away from the main drag of the Arsenale, with radio broadcasts over the summer from Radio Nopal in Mexico City – and rumours of a tattoo artist in residence.
Curated by APRDELESP and Mariana Botey
Nordic Countries Pavilion
Joar Nango – Girjegumpi: The Sámi Architecture Library
The first thing that hits you in the Nordic Countries pavilion is the smell of freshly cut wood in what looks at first sight like a crazy encampment, formed of timber structures, mounds of reindeer hides creating seats draped fabrics and displays of books. It’s actually a mobile architectural library, Girjegumpi, founded by the architect and artist Joar Nango fifteen years ago, which is designed to serve the Sámi, the indigenous people living in the region of Sápmi in the north of Finland, Sweden and Norway. The library has grown to consist of over 500 books, which have as their main focus issues relevant to indigenous architecture, resistance and decolonisation. The library moves to different temporary locations and hosts workshops, conversations and debates around the role of Sámi and other minorities’ architecture and culture, tools and techniques and traditional building methods, the Biennale gardens being just its latest stop. It is usually based at Sámi Dáiddaguovddáš, the Sámi Centre for Contemporary Art in Karasjok, Norway, when it is not travelling around.
Curated by Carlos Mínguez Carrasco and James Taylor-Foster (ArkDes)
A Fragile Correspondance
This free-to-enter exhibition is located between the Arsenale and the Giardini and sits adjacent to a dock with views to the canal and city. Arranged into four distinct areas, this project takes you on a journey through three Scottish landscapes across the Highlands, Islands and Lowlands, from the forests of Loch Ness, the Orkney archipelago’s seashore and the industrialised remnants of the Ravenscraig steelworks. In Loch Ness, the exhibition explores how internationalised capital and commercial extraction affects the biodiversity, cultural identity, and environmental sustainability of the land in a local context. Going to Orkney, the work examines how the local population has for centuries negotiated the forces of nature, while at Ravenscraig, the contemporary process of repair of an ex-industrial landscape is presented. The ‘boathouse’ is painted in hues of purple and blue, with the addition of silver curtain dividers, making the space itself a playful nod to the quiet waterside location on which it sits. The Catalan Pavilion opposite is worth a look, too.
Curated by Architecture Fringe, -ism, and /other
Venue: Docks Cantieri Cucchini, S. Pietro di Castello, 40, 30122 (between Giardini and Arsenale)
Typically, the Swiss Pavilion is clean and simple. It questions both the border and connections between two ‘neighbours’: the Swiss Pavilion designed by Bruno Giacometti in 1952 and the 1956 Carlo Scarpa-designed Venezuela pavilion next door. Both architects were required to design their buildings around protected trees, meaning the two structures are the only two pavilions in the Giardini only separated by a wall. The exhibition therefore explores this long-standing relationship through a series of elegant interventions: one being the subtle removal of a segment of the wall that both divides and unites the two pavilions – opening up a long closed off connection between the two. In the main room, a large thick, white carpet delineates the outline of the combined floor plan of both pavilions – inviting the visitor to sit down and relax in the symbolically combined social space of the two ‘neighbours’.
Curated by Karin Sander and Philip Ursprung
Unbuild Together: Archaism vs Modernity
In the pitch-black interior of one of the old ship-building sheds at the top end of the Arsenale, this pavilion is one of the most atmospheric installations in the Biennale this year. The visitor is encouraged to enter a seemingly labyrinthine walled brick structure that appears like an archaeological reconstruction or archaic religious structure, passing patches of vivid turquoise-coloured glazed bricks like ancient artefacts, at the centre of which is a slow contemplative filmwork by El Mehdi Azzam, projected against a bare brick wall. Working with architectural students of Ajou University in Tashkent, craftsmen and a number of artists, the project developed out of the study traditional brick architecture and ancient Uzbek ruins, and uses materiality as a means to create a sensitive and poetic meditation on architectural form and how we can still learn from traditional forms and materials of building.
Curated by Studio KO, Karl Fournier and Olivier Marty, Jean-Baptiste Carisé and Sophia Bengebara
Biennale Architettura 2023, the 18th International Architecture Exhibition, titled The Laboratory of the Future and curated by Lesley Lokko, is open to the public until 26 November 2023