STIRring Together: Sebastian Behmann and Paola Antonelli on Future Assembly

A special presentation at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2021, Future Assembly is an exhibition within an exhibition that explores the collaborative nature of design.

by Devanshi ShahPublished on : Jul 30, 2021

Located on the mezzanine of the Central Pavilion at the Giardini, at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2021, is a unique response to curator Hashim Sarkis’ question ‘How will we live together?’. Presented as an exhibition within an exhibition, Future Assembly, a special presentation, is a collaborative exploration of what is yet to come. Studio Other Spaces was invited by Sarkis to respond to his curatorial inquiry that looks at the United Nations as a multilateral institution. The idea grew from here with architect Sebastian Behmann and artist Olafur Eliasson, co-founders of Studio Other Spaces, and their six co-designers to frame a conversation and thesis for what constitutes the current paradigm for a multilateral assembly. 

Future Assembly installation at the Venice Architecture Biennale | Future Assembly | Venice Architecture Biennale | Studio Other Space | Sebastian Behmann | Paola Antonelli | STIRworld
Future Assembly installation at the Venice Architecture Biennale Image: Andrea Avezzù, © La Biennale di Venezia

The co-designers include some of the most diverse voices of our current time. Behmann and Eliasson were joined by Caroline A Jones, Professor of Art History; activist Hadeel Ibrahim; Kumi Naidoo, Global Ambassador, Africans Rising for Justice, Peace and Dignity; Mariana Mazzucato, Professor and founding director of the Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose at University College London; Mary Robinson, chair of the Elders and adjunct professor of Climate Justice at Trinity College; and Paola Antonelli, Senior Curator of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

View of the Future Assembly World Map | Future Assembly | Venice Architecture Biennale | Studio Other Space | Sebastian Behmann | Paola Antonelli | STIRworld
View of the Future Assembly World Map Image: Andrea Avezzù, © La Biennale di Venezia

Through a series of conversations that echoed the language of the UN, the Future Assembly was conceptualised as a project that looks at the more-than-human ‘stakeholders’ of the future. The co-designers opened up the idea to other participants of the Venice Architecture Biennale. The diverse group of 50 designers, architects and spatial artists from around the world worked with Behmann and Antonelli to present a more diverse definition of the term stakeholders, which include, fungi, estuaries, and ephemeral gases. The idea of the exhibition is to represent the interests of living and non-living entities whose rights are traditionally left out of human legislation, including the UN Charter.

Future Assembly installation view | Future Assembly | Venice Architecture Biennale | Studio Other Space | Sebastian Behmann | Paola Antonelli | STIRworld
Future Assembly installation view Image: Andrea Avezzù, © La Biennale di Venezia

Speaking with Sebastian Behmann and Paola Antonelli, STIR explores the multi-layered conversation between the co-designers, the stakeholders and the more-than-human chart. One of the ideas that emerged was the importance of the terminology used throughout the project. Even the term ‘multilateral assembly’ is drawn from the language used by the UN. This is also evident in the official statements of the exhibition, many of which are credited to ‘the co-designers’ and not individual people. This implies a consensus amongst the eight, it also removes the individual opinion and relies on the voice of the collective.

The exhibition is designed as a mini pavilion | Future Assembly | Venice Architecture Biennale | Studio Other Space | Sebastian Behmann | Paola Antonelli | STIRworld
The exhibition is designed as a mini pavilion Image: Andrea Avezzù, © La Biennale di Venezia

The conversation and the exhibition text both lay importance on the formation of the UN in 1945. The co-designer state, “The United Nations, the paradigm for a multilateral assembly of the 20th century, was founded in 1945 in response to political, social, economic, and humanitarian crises. Today, an equally radical response is needed to the urgent, human-propelled climate crisis.” They are drawing a very potent parallel between the ravages of the Second World War and our current climate crisis. Just as the United Nations was not a solution but rather an institution to facilitate recuperation, Future Assembly is the beginning of a discussion for a framework “structured around reciprocity, collaboration, and coexistence” that looks beyond the human condition.

Graphic for Earth Crust by Igneous Tectonics | Future Assembly | Venice Architecture Biennale | Studio Other Space | Sebastian Behmann | Paola Antonelli | STIRworld
Graphic for Earth Crust by Igneous Tectonics Image: Courtesy of Igneous Tectonics

The exhibition is designed as a mini pavilion. A circular carpet, 12 metres in diameter, woven from up-cycled ocean plastic, constitutes the shared ground of the Future Assembly World Map on which all 50 stakeholders are presented. The circle is juxtaposed with a rectilinear suspended frame from which various elements of the exhibition are supported. This is then encased by three walls over which attempts to recognise and secure the rights of nature during the 75-year history of the Charter of the United Nations are presented in what is titled the More-than-human Chart.

03 mins watch Earth Crust by Igneous Tectonics | Future Assembly | Venice Architecture Biennale | Studio Other Space | Sebastian Behmann | Paola Antonelli | STIRworld
Earth Crust by Igneous Tectonics Video: Courtesy of Igneous Tectonics

During the interview, Behmann explains the origins of The Future Assembly World Map. Imagined as a graphical representation of how the more-than-human might see this world, the map lays more emphasis on phenomena such as ocean currents that might be as significant to some species as mountain ranges are to humans. The 50 stakeholders are represented in the space through projections, images, films, audio recordings and objects. Some of the more-than-human stakeholders include Giant Mastiff Bat by Cave_bureau. ROJO/FERNÁNDEZ-SHAW’s contribution includes a ‘gaseous subject’ of the atmosphere. Here one truly sees the diversity of stakeholders and their representations. Some of the other stakeholders include contributions by Vogt Landscape Architects, Parsons & Charlesworth, Philip Beesley & Living Architecture Systems Group, Lina Ghotmeh, ecoLogicStudio, and Achim Menges and Jan Knippers.

18 mins watch Rio de la Plata estuary by BAAG Buenos Aires Arquitectura Grupal | Future Assembly | Venice Architecture Biennale | Studio Other Space | Sebastian Behmann | Paola Antonelli | STIRworld
Rio de la Plata estuary by BAAG Buenos Aires Arquitectura Grupal Video: Courtesy of BAAG Buenos Aires Arquitectura Grupal

The More-than-Human Chart draws on stories and perspectives from around the globe, acknowledging the wisdom of indigenous peoples, tracing recorded histories, and attempting to hold space for otherwise excluded voices. Shaped by the co-designers with input from the biennale participants and wider networks, the chart uses specificity and multiplicity to build a non-linear picture of the past and present. The combination of the three collectives, namely the co-designers, the stakeholders and the More-than-Human Chart, is perhaps a new form of illustrating a didactic conversation, a more of which can be heard above.

STIRring Together:
Curated as a series of thoughtful engagements that enhance the contemporary debate and discussion on architecture, the STIRring Together series introduces readers to the many facets of the Venice Architecture Biennale 2021. Tracing the various adaptations and following the multitude of perspectives, the series carefully showcases some incredible projects and exhibits, highlighting the diversity and many discourses of the show.

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