Sail Hejduk, Sail!
The Unfolding Pavilion is an expanding curatorial project that pops-up in the occasion of major architecture events, with an exhibition featuring each time a different theme inspired by the space it occupies, made of commissioned original works that react to it as well as to its cultural and historic background.
In its first edition, the Unfolding Pavilion entered Ignazio Gardella’s Casa alle Zattere on the occasion of the 15th International Architecture Exhibition at the Biennale di Venezia, transforming one of its apartments in a temporary gallery of installations made by some of the most unique authors of architecture-related curated archives. In its second edition, it entered Gino Valle’s Giudecca Social Housing on the occasion of the vernissage of the 16th International Architecture Exhibition at the Biennale di Venezia. In order to do so, it refurbished one of its empty dwellings to convert it into a temporary gallery of works, and use the common spaces of the complex as the poetic backdrop for a three days-long program of public events
In this year’s third edition, the Unfolding Pavilion popped-up on the occasion of the 17th International Architecture Exhibition at the Biennale di Venezia, inside of the belly of an old mercantile sailboat - a trabaccolo - moored at Punta della Dogana. The trabaccolo once belonged to Countess Luisa Albertina di Tesserata: an eccentric art collector who in the 1970s commissioned the construction, on a small island of the Venetian archipelago she owned, of an almost exact replica of an unrealised project by John Hejduk: the House for the Inhabitant who Refused to Participate. Unfortunately, the house was demolished in December 2020.
The curators Daniel Tudor Munteanu and Davide Tommaso Ferrando came to know about the house by pure chance, and decided to organise an exhibition inside of its spaces. An agreement was made with the current owners of the island, who were about to demolish the house in order to build a luxury glamping facility in its stead: the house could be temporarily occupied for artistic purposes, but no images of the event were to be published before the demolition took place. It is so that, in the summer of 2020, twelve architects and scholars were invited to spend one week of residency locked inside the replica of John Hejduk’s house. One per room. Each room was equipped with only one piece of furniture, which they couldn’t choose. The outcome of the one-week residency were twelve site-specific works dealing with issues of privacy, domesticity and isolation. Rituals of Solitude, the 2021 edition of the Unfolding Pavilion, is the first documentation of the installations made by the twelve contributors during their one-week residency.
What is the Unfolding Pavilion presenting?
Daniel Tudor Munteanu: The Unfolding Pavilion is always experimenting. We ask ourselves every time what is an (architecture) exhibition and how we can transcend the simplistic format of displaying representations of architecture in neutral white cube galleries. We tried every time to create special experiences for the visitors: such as the experience of being the first people to enter a famous work of architecture, like we did in Ignazio Gardella’s Casa alle Zattere, or the experience of being part of a project that leaves a legacy like we did in Gino Valle’s social housing. While looking for a venue for this year’s edition of Unfolding Pavilion we wanted to explore more into the sensorial aspect of such experiences. Arranging an exhibition inside the belly of an old boat was quite a fascinating idea. A dark, extremely narrow space that smells heavily of petrol and is shaking from the waves of the Grand Canal.
Davide Tommaso Ferrando: Daniel talked about the sensorial part, but there is also an intellectual dimension to it, where we are constantly trying to put in question what an architectural exhibition is. The fact that we don’t choose white boxes is not simply because of the kind of atmosphere of the white box but is really to test the configuration of what an exhibition space can be and what it produces. So we never know what the final outcome will be. Several things that are discovered during the process can become the most important points of the project, so we really engage with reality that is experimental every single time. And then regarding the mediatic side of it, from the moment that we discovered the story of this boat by having an informal conversation with Hesperia Iliadou, we immediately understood that this was the perfect location for an exhibition. Full of problems but a memorable event for the visitors.
What is the motivation behind the whole project?
DTM: It is a way to organize an independent project in the context of big institutions. The Unfolding Pavilion is not related to any institution, so we have complete freedom, which is extremely important for us. We engage into a dialogue about what the institution of the Biennale is and how it functions, and we establish a love-hate relationship with it. We acknowledge the importance of this event in gathering visitors from all over the world, this is the ‘love’ aspect, but there is also the ‘hate’ aspect of the big, often menacing, economic apparatus of the Biennale.
DTF: Each year there are very specific conditions under which we operate and we engage critically with. The first year the condition was the budget as we didn’t have any sponsors we created everything with a total budget of 2000 EUR from our pockets, 1000 each. By choosing not to enter the specific trajectory of investing 30.000 or more money we needed to find another way to solve the problem. The second year we agreed with the city council that we would refurbish one apartment of the housing complex in Giudecca, which we did with a sponsorship from Innsbruck University plus our free engagement. The way me and Daniel are operating is quite consistent, we both started to work independently on our critical projects online on our platforms of communications. We transferred the way of working to the production of architectural exhibitions and we still work in the same way as we both started separately.
DTM: Regarding the institutional critique, as Davide said, in the first edition we reacted to the budget that is associated with making a pavilion in Venice and we defined the rule that we would deal with only one percent of the regular budget (which is about 200.000 EUR), so we made an exhibition with a budget of 2.000 EUR. In the second edition, we consumed almost the entire budget for refurbishing our temporary exhibition space - the apartment in Giudecca - and hence making it again available as a social housing unit for a new family. The ‘Architectural Review’ recently critiqued the fact that an extreme amount of resources go into building these temporary exhibitions for the Biennale, which have a carbon footprint quite disproportionate to their lifespan. For the third edition we asked ourselves - do we consider it a good way of practice to build up an exhibition that lives only for a few days or weeks and is then stored somewhere or even trashed? We decided right from the beginning to design everything as a travelling exhibition and so Venice is only the first stop of this project, which will travel and expand in the near future.
How did you guys meet?
DTF: The very first contact was when Daniel was doing OfHouses and he invited me to curate an edition for it. At the same period I was doing research at OII+ on how people were using Tumblr to produce architectural knowledge so I published an interview with Daniel. The real moment with Unfolding Pavillion started in January 2016, when Daniel proposed to me to organize an exhibition during that year’s Venice Biennale. And I said: “why not?”.
DTM: The idea to organize the independent exhibition came out when I was working on the competition for the Romanian Pavilion. I had some very critical ideas and, while finishing the proposal, I realized that this project will never be selected, because it will never get the approvals from the official bodies, institutions and politicians who want to control the country’s image. When you want to communicate a critical message, creative freedom is of the utmost importance. So, instead of self censoring your message in order to win a competition, maybe it is just simpler to organize and finance a ‘pavilion’ by yourself…
Tell me more about the Rituals of Solitude; why did you invent this story?
DTM: The story that accompanies our exhibition is not necessarily an invention and it’s not necessarily a reportage. It is something in between. We acted less like journal editors and more like film editors, mixing and montaging different bits and pieces that are real. The story has several layers, and you may disregard some at the first reading - for example the very real part documenting the accelerated privatization of islands in the Venetian lagoon. In the end, if the story is true or false doesn’t really matter. Did this Contessa actually exist? Some say it did, some say it didn’t. It’s totally up to the reader, because the ‘action’ in the story is more of a pretext for unfolding different themes we were interested in: the enforced isolation, the obsessive-compulsive daily rituals, the propagation of fake news… The story is very much fitted to our current context; for the first time in history the entire planet was faced with this crisis, that meant curfews, isolation, lockdowns, elimination of social life… When we studied the design of a John Hejduk project titled “The House for the Inhabitant who Refused to Participate” we immediately recognized in its facade the typical Zoom interface, where people show their private spaces to others, designing their own backgrounds to communicate their personalities. Our concept was to invite 12 teams to work on the interior space of a similarly “public” kind of room, where to imagine a daily ritual. Each of these 12 rooms was to be furnished by a single item of furniture related to only one domestic function, and this idea was taken from the script that John Hejduk imagined for the House. One room had a toiled, one an armchair, one a bed, and so on. We imagined how it is to live in a room that is specifically designed for one purpose. The new rituals - working in bed, the compulsive washing of hands, the consumption of digital junk food - are some of the responses of the 12 invited contributors.
DTF: The whole narrative and protocol behind the exhibition was a very specific and intentional take on how to conceive an architecture exhibition which deals with the concept of How will we live together? after and during the pandemic without adopting the two easiest strategies, which for us are both inappropriate. The first would be not to deal with the pandemic issue, as the vast majority of the projects shown at this Biennale do - which makes them already a bit outdated in this sense. The second would be to directly deal with the pandemic, having the pretension that architectural speculation can solve the problem, which is ridiculous. What we did was to incorporate ideas and reflections on the contemporary conditions in a diagonal, indirect way. We made reference to a project that has nothing to do with the current situation but still was capable of activating many analogies and correspondences with it. This looked like the only way in which we could deal with this topic. How to not mention the pandemic but still talk about the new inhabiting conditions was a main question for us and this was for us the best possible answer.
All the exhibited works have been exclusively produced for the Unfolding Pavilion by: (ab)Normal, Aristide Antonas, Bart Lootsma, Cruz Garcia & Nathalie Frankowski (WAI Architecture Think Tank), ErranteArchitetture, Fosbury Architecture, Giovanni Benedetti, James Taylor-Foster & Anton Valek, Fala Atelier, Mariabruna Fabrizi & Fosco Lucarelli (Microcities / Socks-studio), MAIO, Matteo Ghidoni, Shumi Bose & Space Popular and Traumnovelle.