Scotland + Venice: Critical Dialogues

Review by Jac Mantle | 11 Oct 2012

What is a fallow year for Venice Art Biennale is the big blowout for the architecture world. But as you might expect, the work on show at the 13th International Architecture Exhibition is at the arty end of the spectrum – some of the national pavilions could well be art installations, with scarcely a model in sight.

Many, like the Scottish presentation Critical Dialogues, are less concerned with buildings and more concerned with the life that goes on between and around them. One of the events outside the main Biennale, Scotland + Venice showcased projects from four emerging Glasgow-based practices that explore architecture’s social role and creative boundaries. Working out of an open studio, DO Architecture, GRAS, Pidgin Perfect and Stone Opera delivered a weeklong series of events taking place in the public realm.

DO traversed the established history of psychogeography with a Venetian Derive. Tiny cameras attached to red helium balloons took a 'visual drift through the urban periphery' to gain a hitherto unseen perspective of the much documented city.

Stone Opera used their experience in play and design education to create a full size kit of cardboard building blocks and installed it in a park, where local children got to become 'builders for the day.'

GRAS transported a mobile pop-up gallery to visit Venice’s disused wellheads, which were once the only source of drinking water. With interlocking panels, the gallery temporarily isolates, frames and objectifies the forgotten wellheads as important works of architecture.

Pidgin Perfect organised a tour of the main Biennale for a group of local residents who have never before crossed its threshold, and held a Banchetto – a theatrical open air dinner – for them to eat, drink and talk architecture in a local neighbourhood.

Both art and architecture are susceptible to overlooking the context of the site they impose themselves on. Using play to engage people in ideas that they might be resistant to or excluded from in a more formal context, these projects made a small, pertinent gesture towards the city that has hosted the Biennale and its scores of visitors, year in, year out. Back on home soil, the architects will reflect on them in an exhibition at The Lighthouse in February 2013.