Venice Architecture Biennale 2023 announces recipients of the Golden Lion
by Sunena V MajuMay 20, 2023
•make your fridays matter with a well-read weekend
by Eleonora GhediniPublished on : May 02, 2023 Updated on : May 19, 2023
The contemporary architectural field is a kaleidoscope of narratives and practices that requires widely open boundaries between disciplines, as well as between cultures: this is one of the key elements emerging through the words pronounced by curator Lesley Lokko while finally presenting the program of The Laboratory of the Future, the 18th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, whose emblematic title comes from Richard Sennett's theory of laboratory as a space to make ideas before objects.
As previously introduced during the first press conference, the focus of Biennale Architettura 2023 is Africa or the African Diaspora. In fact, among the 89 participants in the main exhibition, over half of them have their roots in the continent. This includes Adjaye Associates; atelier masōmī; Cave_bureau; Kéré Architecture; Sumayya Vally and Moad Musbahi; Theaster Gates Studio; Neri&Hu Design and Research Office; Rahul Mehrotra with Ranjit Hoskote; SCAPE Landscape Architecture; Studio Barnes, to name a few. However, compared to what was anticipated the past year, Lokko emphasises a substantial difference: this edition cannot be 'only one story, but multiple stories.' If the concept of 'hybridisation' was already one of the leading topics—although from completely different points of view—characterising the last edition of Venice Art Biennale, curated by Cecilia Alemani, this time it refers more specifically to the increased permeability between fields of research and geographical identities. The urgency of a plural vision of architecture confirms the end of a Eurocentric perspective, as well as of any past nostalgia. This is particularly visible in the demographics of the participants, which have a gender balance of 50/50, and an average age of 43, dropping to 37 in the Curator's Special Projects, where the youngest is 24. Forty six per cent of participants count education as a form of practice, and, for the first time ever, nearly half of the participants are from sole or individual practices or have a very small team.The Laboratory of the Future can only look forward and invest in a design culture that embraces everyone and not just an elitist minority, differently from some outdated western examples that often express unrealistic visions of the discipline—such as those proposed from Italian Futurism, just to make an example that also affected, even if indirectly, the city of Venice.
The traditional definition of an architect itself is now obsolete—it is even more evident that the power of words lies in the terms we choose, as Lokko demonstrates by preferring the term 'practitioner' to 'architect.' Taking inspiration from a quote by the great Russian poet Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966), Lokko believes the “guests from the future” are already among us, we only need adequate sensitivity to recognise them, and Guests from the Future is also one of the titles the curator chose for the sections constituting the main exhibition. Another significant statement is that no better future can be built without innovating the education field—for this reason, the Biennale College Architecture call was first launched and faced an extraordinary response, owing to the 986 applications received from all over the world. Another interesting facet will be Carnival, a program of events that will be open to the public during the exhibition, an ideal connection between Venetian tradition and the African diaspora, that will promote a space of freedom as well as discussion.
Lokko, whose range of interests and references have always been distinctively eclectic, demonstrated quite a playful approach towards sections' titles. The main focus on Africa and its diaspora is concentrated inside the Central Pavilion at Giardini, almost in open contrast with its classicist silhouette surrounded by greenery: Force Majeure already announces itself as a joyfully disrupting section. On the other side, the spaces of the Venetian Arsenale and Forte Marghera, near Mestre, will be crossed by the Dangerous Liaisons imagined by Lokko, where the concept of 'hybridisation' will be investigated more in detail. For the first time ever, a Special Projects section will be also presented.
Both in Dangerous Liaisons and Special Projects, the focus will again be directed towards architects whose identity is linked to the African continent. Considering the official data again, the representation of youth is another relevant aspect that we should pay attention to—in the entire main exhibition, the average age of participants is 43, while the youngest one is 24. Another gentle reminder of the fact that the future doesn’t mostly depend on Europe anymore, but especially on other continents. Another interesting data is that over 70 per cent of participants are individuals or small teams.
Other noteworthy exhibits will be Dancing Before The Moon in the British Pavillion, in Giardini, which is an exploration of the concept of intangibility in architecture and deconstructs the idea of the built environment. Commissioned by Sevra Davis, the director of Architecture Design Fashion At The British Council and curated by Jayden Ali, Joseph Henry, Meneesha Kellay, and Sumitra Upham, the pavilion will feature Yussef Agbo-Ola, Jayden Ali, Mac Collins, Shawanda Corbett, Madhav Kidao and Sandra Poulson. Archifusion in the Niger Pavillion, which is commissioned by Ibrahim Souleymane and curated by Boris Brollo at the Isola Di San Servolo. Neighbours in the Switzerland Pavillion at Giardini, commissioned by the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia: Sandi Paucic, Rachele Giudici Legittimo, curated by Karin Sande and exhibiting Philip Ursprung. Before The Future in the Ukraine Pavilion, commissioned by Mariana Oleskiv, State Agency For Tourism Development of Ukraine, curated by Iryna Miroshnykova, Oleksii Petrov, Borys Filonenko, exhibiting architects, artists, writers, cultural workers, and others at the Arsenale.
Aridly Abundant in the United Arab Emirates Pavilion, commissioned by Salama Bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation, and curated by Faysal Tabbarah in the Arsenale. Everlasting Plastics by the USA Pavilion, commissioned by Tizziana Baldenebro, Spaces, curated by Tizziana Baldenebro, Lauren Leving and exhibiting Xavi Aguirre, Simon Anton, Ang Li, Norman Teague, and Lauren Yeager at the Giardini. Coastal Imaginaries by the Denmark Pavilion, commissioned by Kent Martinussen, Danish Architecture Centre, curated by Josephine Michau and exhibiting Schønherr Landscape Architects, David Garcia, Giacomo Brusa Cattaneo, Laurits Sporon Bøving Genz, Dejle Zaradesht Mohamad, Iisa Eikaas, Katrina Wiberg, Anna Aslaug Lund and Christian Friedländer at the Giardini.
A special mention should be made about the visual identity of The Laboratory of the Future, created by Die Ateljee—Fred Swart. The posters will soon cover and illuminate the streets and the canals of Venice, will be like windows that open on geographies that we probably can not even remotely delineate, far away from the stereotypes characterising African traditions in Western imagery, which are still sometimes reinforced by current trends in art and fashion. An unusual palette for the European gaze, but not for people living in Western Africa, more specifically Ghana, the country of Lokko’s identity and belonging—a scale of brown, red, blue, green and even lilac shades are chosen as backgrounds for the black silhouettes, where mercury-looking Venice lions emerge. An ode to innovation and youth, an ideal bridge between the past and future, it gently reminds us that architecture should not be a story about the prevailing as opposed to the marginal, but a participatory dialogue based on equity.
Venice Architecture Biennale 2023 is open from May 20 to November 26, 2023.
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