A glimpse into “The Laboratory of the Future”

LTArt Chief Art Curator, Jessica Tanghetti, reviews the Venice Architecture Biennale 2023.

23 May, 2023

The 18th International Architecture Exhibition, The Laboratory of the Future, curated by Lesley Lokko and organised by La Biennale di Venezia, opened to the public Saturday, May 20th in Venice, with the participation of 64 national pavilions.

The curator designed the exhibition pursuing an activist approach: “the essential gesture of The Laboratory of the Future would be ‘change’”, Lokko stated. Similarly to art, from which the architecture exhibition borrowed structure and format, there is a strong narrative behind each project, nevertheless, the approach is more practical, dealing with “questions of production, resources and representation, central to the way an architecture exhibition comes into the world”.

Many are the encounter points between architecture and art found in the exhibition. First of all, they share the same creative input: “imagination”: “it is impossible to build a better world if one cannot first imagine it”, using Lokko’s words. In this context, the main challenge for a better future is represented by sustainability, an issue at the centre also of many contemporary art expressions, even though here faced with a more pragmatic approach. Other recurrent issues in the exhibition are memory and identity, themes dear also to many contemporary artists. Furthermore, pavilions are conceived as installations, sometimes with a strong performative dimension, sometimes showcasing art pieces.

A great example of the union between visual dimension, strong narrative and reflections on identity is given by the Golden Lion winner Brazil pavilion, curated by Gabriela de Matos and Paulo Taveres, focused on earth and named “Terra”. Curators wanted to communicate how Brazil's land is fragmented in terms of heritage and identity, giving light to the more underrepresented populations, for example, indigenous and tribes, whose architectural traditions had been highlighted in the project.

Brazil Pavilion, credit: Matteo de Mayda, courtesy La Biennale di Venezia

The United States pavilion represented instead a good example of the encounter between research on materials, in this case plastic, attention to sustainability and artistic output, thanks to the sculptural works exhibited in the project “Everlasting Plastics”, curated by SPACES Gallery. For the organisation of the exhibition, curators collaborated with the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland and they filled the space of the pavilion with works in plastic by architecture professors, designers, and artists in order to examine the role of this material “both literally and as a cultural metaphor”.

United States Pavillon, credit: Matteo de Mayda, courtesy La Biennale di Venezia

A more scientific and technical approach had been instead pursued by “Coastal Imaginaries”, at the Denmark Pavilion curated by Josephine Michau who, in collaboration with landscape architectural firm Schønherr, leading researchers, artists, Danish industry organisations and scientific institutions, reflects on nature-based design solutions in the struggle against global challenges like rising sea levels and storm floods.

Denmark Pavillon, credit: Matteo de Mayda, courtesy La Biennale di Venezia

The United Kingdom investigated instead everyday rituals through the project “Dancing to the Moon”: through installations and sculptural works, curators wanted to promote the idea that “everyday rituals (from growing food and cooking to playing games and dancing) are forms of spatial practice for diasporic communities and present new ways of thinking about architecture and the built environment”.

Great Britain Pavilion, credit: Marco Zorzanello, courtesy La Biennale di Venezia

Several pavilions presented themselves as performative actions, directing involving visitors. A great example is represented by the project “Ball Theatres” at the France Pavilion, curated by Muoto (Gilles Delalex, Yves Moreau) & Georgi Stanishev, who created a spherical installation to become a place of immersion and experimentation: each month, researchers, students, artists, and thinkers will inhabit the space for one week, turning the Pavilion into a venue for celebration and discussion.