Curatorial proposal for the Australian Pavilion at the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale
The proposal was prepared in response to the Australian Institute of Architects' call for entries for the Australian Exhibition at the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale. Notably, this exhibition is to take place within the newly constructed Australian Pavilion in the Venetian Giardini, designed by architects DCM.
We thought that this new building needed a proper housewarming, but the Institute disagreed. A winning curator team will be announced in April.
Following is our curatorial statement:
Every national pavilion is itself an exhibit.
Deyan Sudjic, “A White Cube in a Black Box”, The Monthly, May 2012
Nor has the institution ever found a solution to its multicellular pavilion structure, nor to the Giardini’s abandoned state during the Biennale intervals.
Vittoria Martini, “A brief history of I Giardini: Or a brief history of the Venice Biennale seen from the Giardini”, Muntadas/On Translation: I Giardini, Spanish Pavilion, Actar, Barcelona 2005
Australia’s new pavilion will be the first 21st Century addition to the Giardini, and indeed the first national pavilion constructed in 20 years. The Giardini itself has changed very little in over a century. Its Napoleonic axes are lined with the edifices of historically powerful nations. Post-colonial and post-war countries are relegated to the periphery, or exhibit outside the walls.
As time goes on, the constellation of prominent and marginal pavilions seems to correlate less and less with their true level of influence, while the enclave of discrete national outposts bares a decreasing resemblance to the globalised state of architectural practice. Periodical proposals emerge to restructure the Biennale by region or city; there was even an ‘airbnb Pavilion’ last year. As Rem Koolhaas curator of the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale, has pointed out; “architectures that were once specific and local have become interchangeable and global. National identity has seemingly been sacrificed to modernity.”
It is inevitable that the introduction of the first Giardini pavilion in decades will attract significant international attention. Equally inevitable is that the completion of this new structure will prompt important questions about the Biennale’s antiquated format, such as: What is the function of the national pavilions? Is it still relevant to group architects by their passports? What influence should the architecture of the pavilions have on their contents? Why are the pathways and locations of the Giardini set in stone? What use is national symbolism when both Venezuelan and Canadian pavilions were designed by Italians, and while Germany remains housed in a Nazi-era monument? As custodians of the Giardini’s newest pavilion, we have a unique opportunity to host and contribute to this debate.
Unlike any other country before, Australia has chosen to remake its own pavilion, and in so doing, to recreate its national image. The transition from a temporary to permanent pavilion promises a confident new era of Australian culture. Denton Corker Marshall’s Australian Pavilion is singular and enigmatic, its minimalist white interior clad in sheer black granite. It seems fitting that a building designed by an international architectural practice would seek to deliberately avoid nationalistic symbolism, domestic qualities or vernacular gestures. Our new national pavilion might not just be this century’s first - it might also be the first to truly embody the placeless culture of the new millenium.
While the Australian Pavilion will be officially inaugurated at this year’s Art Biennale, a subsequent architectural unveiling is essential. During the Art Biennale, the new pavilion will form a backdrop to the artwork within. But at the Architecture Biennale, the building itself will generate its own interest as an embodiment of current Australian architecture. Our first action as a permanent Giardini resident should be to capitalise on this interest and to open our new home to the Biennale public, inviting engagement, scrutiny and celebration.
No exhibition is required to represent Australian architecture at the 2016 Biennale. The new pavilion will provide the only exhibit necessary. By the same logic, there is no need to anticipate the as-yet unknown Biennale theme, or to propose a concept vague enough to be shaped in response to it. 2016 promises to be a year unlike any other, and our responsibility is to seize this opportunity.
You are all invited to the Housewarming.
Architectural criticism remains fixated on openings. Our press is almost entirely devoted to publicising new buildings. Long ago, Modernity equated originality and invention with human progress and ingenuity. Now contemporary media delivers endless real-time reports of inaugurations, launches and pop-ups. Openings provide critics with a chance to question the status quo, to evaluate what has changed and to speculate about the future. But our endless demand for novelty is unsustainable. Who is left to account for architecture’s occupation, to measure the performance of buildings over time?
The Venice Biennale suffers from a similar bias. There are really two Biennales: the opening Vernissage, and the months-long exposition that follows. The former is full of celebration, celebrity, energy, encounters, activity and arguments. The latter recedes into stillness and solitude, attended only by yawning staff.
Our proposal bridges these two Biennales. It takes advantage of the attention generated by the architectural unveiling of the new Australian Pavilion, and then extends that momentum to the brink of collapse. A Housewarming does more than just commemorate a building’s completion: it celebrates the ongoing process of occupation. Australia’s new pavilion will not just have an opening party. Every day will be a party, a perpetual revelry set in opposition to the dwindling attendance and attention span of the Biennale. Beyond broad smiles and laconic greetings, Don’s Party awaits.
Housewarming will exploit the architectural attributes of the new Australian Pavilion to full effect. From ramp to deck to loading dock, we propose to transform DCM’s building into a continuous - and delirious - architectural promenade. Housewarming is devised to counteract the unhomeliness of the pavilion, its emptiness and silence. It is a curatorial proposal for a richer type of architectural engagement, one that transforms passive viewers into active performers. For just one Biennale, the entire Australian Pavilion - including reception, office, storage and circulation spaces - will be publicly accessible. In true Housewarming spirit, guests will be encouraged to roam at will.