by Dilpreet BhullarAug 27, 2021
Located in the Arsenale during this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale, Superflux's interpretation to the 2021 thematic goes beyond a human centric response. Answering the question ‘how will we live together as new households?’, the London-based collective, founded by Anab Jain and Jon Ardern, explores the poetics of the idea of a home and folklore through their installation Refuge for Resurgence. The installation deconstructs two particular elements of the home, namely the dinner table and the window. The setup is meant to resemble a dining room, with a majestic oak table and a suspended window with no visible walls.
In an exclusive conversation with STIR, Anab Jain explains the various nuances of their work, saying: “We have been thinking about this idea which is not centred just around humans but the species on the planet. In the theme of the Venice Architecture Biennale 2021 - 'How will we live together’ - we decided to build the deconstructed home”. The installation is accompanied by a poem that will be played as part of the soundscape. The playback includes sounds of animals, a child playing, and a rainstorm. This project is linked to some of the other works such as the Mitigation of Shock, however, instead of addressing the entire house, the duo takes on the dinner table as an object of congregation.
The gathering can be seen as a direct reference to the natural world and the idea of the watering hole, which is visited by prey and predators alike. The installation is imagined as an event that occurs in the post-Anthropocene, where this free congregating is an evolutionary ecological parallel to the idea of a watering hole. Jain adds, "What does it mean to give every other animal we share the planet with love, attention, and care. To do that we invite all the species together as equals around this table to dine together”. The table is meant to seat 14 individuals, with the exception of a human child and two adults, the remainder of the attendees are creatures such as a snake, a beaver, a raven, a wasp, a mushroom, a fox, a wolf, a wild boar, an old cow, a rat and a pigeon.
While the scale and materiality of the table are meant to be visually appealing, it requires a closer inspection to understand the nuances of the narrative Superflux is trying to build. The identities of the congregants on this post-Anthropocene table are represented through details. "Each of the chairs are designed to give a nod to the species occupying them. One of the seating consists of a long stool which has pigeon droppings on it to indicate that this is where the pigeon sits. One of the other stools has one of its legs gnawed into by the beaver,” explains Jain. All these tiny details have been incorporated as a way of indicating that the table isn't just for humans.
"We only have a taxidermy raven and a wasp’s nest, which are physical representations. Other than that, we don't have any actual animals at the installation, their presence is simply invoked,” she continues. In addition to the seats, the tableware is another indicator of the occupant’s identity. Jain elaborates, "There are plates designed which illustrate the animal that is supposed to be sitting at the table. This illustration is on the centre of the plate. There is also a little bit of food offering, so there is a little hay or honey. All these details are shown so that people can imagine who might be sitting here”.
However, it isn't just about these illustrations, each plate is accompanied with cutlery which has also been crafted specifically for the animal meant to use it. The cutlery mimics the consumption mannerisms of each animal. What Superflux has very carefully composed here is a projection of potential tools that each of these species could evolve to use. From an anthropological perspective, for a very long time the use of tools was a clear indicator of the difference between the humans and other primates. The ability to craft and use tools is seen as an important step in the evolution of mankind. Jane Goodall famously refuted the long-standing claim that the usage of tools was a distinctly human activity. Since her revolutionary finding, the idea of man as a tool-maker has been redefined as has the very definition of a tool. In Superflux’s post-Anthropocene world, they highlight the ability of other species to modify their surrounding environment to extend their individual abilities. It is a subtle message which only reveals itself to those looking beyond the aesthetical aspects of the installation.
There is a poetic essence to the manner in which Superflux builds their narrative; Jain summarises their inspiration saying, "Some of the mythic ideas are important because while a lot of data is available around climate change, we have to acknowledge that humans are emotional beings. We are drawn much more towards stories, myths, and folklore. So here we are exploring a new kind of folklore. What can we imagine, what can we learn from our traditional and ancestral folklore? I did grow up in India with books like the Amar Chitra Katha so there is some influence from there too. In a lot of other work, we like to present the idea that this could be the future. This is a little different because there is probably never going to be a future where all of these animals sit together and dine. This isn't a real world, but it does have a sense of mythical folklore attached to it”.
Considering one of the key features of their practice and of this installation deals with the effects of climate change one has to wonder how the installation itself addresses this. Jain describes their method saying, "All the material in the installation has been made with found, recycled or salvaged material. All the material was acquired from within a hundred miles radius from where we are. The oak tree from which we have got the entire table made, is from an old overgrown oak tree which was acquired by the studio as the farmers whose land it was growing on did not know what to do with it. The stools and seats were also taken out from this. We combed the beaches to find some of the other items. We looked in and around our house. We even went out into a wooded area in the heart of London from which we were able to forage waste plastic. These items have then been crafted together, using jewellery making techniques to create the cutlery pieces. The plates are second hand. Every part of the project is talking to this idea that the waste of the Anthropocene finds a new ritualistic purpose. Producing new objects which then go into the landfills is not something we can do any longer. So, the idea here is to look at how do we take care of what we already have and what can we do with it”.
This project is part of the CREATURES EU consortium and has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. The CreaTures project (Creative Practices for Transformational Futures) demonstrates the power of existing – yet often hidden – creative practices to move the world towards socio-ecological sustainability.
Curated as a series of thoughtful engagements that enhance the contemporary debate and discussion on architecture, the STIRing 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 showcase some incredible projects and exhibits, highlighting the diversity and many discourses of the show.