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New Zealand shows at the Venice Architecture Biennale

New Zealand artist Gill Gatfield's sculpture, Zealandia, is prominently displayed at the Architecture Biennale.

John Daly-Peoples
Fri, 13 Jul 2018

Venice Architectural Biennale 2018
Until November 25

At the bi-annual Venice Architectural Biennale two years ago New Zealand architects mounted the exhibition Future Islands at Palazzo Bollani. It was an impressive display featuring more than 100 models of New Zealand buildings and attracted much interest as had the exhibition of photographs of New Zealand architecture in 2014.

Architectural biennales have much to offer potential partners, both internationally and in New Zealand, with brand exposure to existing and overseas clients, the construction industry, the architecture and design schools at universities, local and central government planning and building agencies. They also reinforce the idea that New Zealand is a creative and talented country.

This year the lack of funding from various organisations, including Creative New Zealand which funds the art biennale, meant New Zealand missed the opportunity to promote the country's architecture and architects on the world stage.

Many of the concepts addressed at this year’s biennale, which had the overall title of Freespace, were relevant in the wider geopolitical world while others were closely connected with countries like New Zealand.

But the country has not gone unnoticed, with three New Zealand works on show; an installation about the unseen spaces of the environment, an architectural project undertaken by students of the NC State College of Design in Raleigh, North Carolina and a sculpture by New Zealand artist Gill Gatfield.

Simon Twose of the School of Architecture at Victoria University in collaboration with Jules Moloney, Anastasia Globa and Jesse Simpson of Deakin University exhibited Canyon, a spatial sound design installation in which a series of soundscapes and a space lined with crumpled black distil the architecture of the canyon, the unseen marine trench and spaces such as volcanic caves. Canyon also references the Kaikoura Canyon, which was the site of the Kaikoura earthquake of 2016.

As part of the exhibition Time, Space, Existence, the North Carolina State University College of Design undertook five architectural projects under the heading of “Airports of the Future” and one was of a future Wellington airport. The design featured a bird/airplane-shaped terminal where passengers disembarked and embarked under the canopy wings of the terminal.

Their innovative design featured a drive-through airport concept, with a connection to the city by a public light rail. By processing planes in a process reminiscent of an assembly line, the design uses gates much more efficiently and does not take up as much site space. By utilising technology, the design allows public access to a centralised public space while an elevator services the passengers arriving and departing on planes.

New Zealand artist Gill Gatfield’s sculpture, Zealandia features in ‘Time, Space, Existence’, an exhibition curated and presented by the Global Art Foundation. It is prominently displayed in the Giardino della Marinaressa, between the biennale’s main venues of the Arsenale and Giardini, alongside works by a dozen renowned artists and architects from around the globe.

The stone for the sculpture Zealandia consists of two intersecting slabs of a greenstone-like material but more multicoloured and striated. It alludes to the shifting tectonic plates, with the striations providing a visual record of the geological histories of the country. In design terms it also references the notion of the intersection, one of the basic units of civic designs and connects with the Diagonal of Barcelona where the diagonal street interrupts the grid pattern, transforming the orientation of the central city.

The artist has noted “the sculpture outline is an X figure that will replicate in shadow on the ground, creating XX – the female genetic code. Streaked with minerals and crystals that shimmer like silver and gold, the veined surface suggests skin and muscles. The stone flows like the folds of a majestic robe. The shape challenges the classical Renaissance proportions of the ideal man, developing instead an elegant hour-glass figure with outreached arms, high waist and slim proportions."

In the Architectural Biennale many of the architectural and town planning projects revolved around redevelopment and redesign of public space and attempts to humanize the urban environment. Venezuela presented three urban renewal projects, including one linear development based on a disused airport while Japan had created ethnographic outlines of several town plans.

Low-lying Antigua and Barbados was focused on the issue of climate change, with the country's shoreline under threat of rising water levels and storm surges. This issue was linked to the islands group's colonial history and the renovating and development of the colonial era government buildings.

The extraordinary Russian Pavilion provided a history of the growth of Russia, with reference to the vast rail network as well as providing a history of the development of the railway station as an institution of Imperial Russia. There were also contemporary projects featuring new railway stations.

Several of the pavilions presented installations or environment that were more like work for an art biennale. The UK presented Island by Caruso St John and Marcus Taylor. The original pavilion was left empty but the viewer ascended to a platform constructed on top of the roof. This played on the idea of the UK as an island looking down on her near neighbours, France and Germany. The pavilion becomes a place of refuge or exile, embracing aspects of abandonment, reconstruction, sanctuary and isolation as well as the isolation which comes from Brexit. Tea was served each day at 4pm.

Israel’s pavilion also dealt with architecture and cultural history issues, looking at five religious places including The Church of the Nativity, which is contested by five religious groups. There were also a series of models of various proposals by leading architects for the design of the spaces adjacent to the one remaining wall of the Second Temple, which was destroyed by colonial Rome.

Germany’s pavilion, Unbuilding Walls, was a response to the debates on nations, protectionism and division. Connections were also made to other current barriers/walls and divisions such as those in the US/Mexico and Palestine/Israel. The display also looked at architectural projects that had occurred along the Berlin Wall, the former border between the two Germanies. This deconstruction took another form in the Swiss Pavilion where the room became an experiment in changing spaces and dimensions, with a series of rooms that combined child’s playhouse, psychological experiments and fun fairs' quirkiness, creating an Alice in Wonderland experience.

As usual there were models and plans of recent and future building, including Swiss architect Peter Zumthor’s design for a Norwegian zinc museum and a series of models in the French pavilion focused on the reuse of large disused buildings and sites across France, which have been converted to cultural and social uses, including the Hotel Pasteur in Rennes.

Meanwhile, Scotland’s Happenstance installation in the gardens of Palazzo Zenobio shows how spaces have the potential to change and grow, depending on how we choose to occupy them. The architects have created a playground-like ‘living library of ideas’ where visitors can add to the structures. The colourful work is a metaphor for the ways in which communities should be able to challenge and contribute to civic spaces.

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John Daly-Peoples
Fri, 13 Jul 2018
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New Zealand shows at the Venice Architecture Biennale