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Venice preview: A World in Fragile Parts, V&A and Sam Jacob Studio

A World of Fragile Parts at the Venice Biennale
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What you can expect to see at the V&A’s debut show at the Venice Biennale this year

The 15th La Biennale di Venezia is underway and among hundreds of exhibits at the world’s largest and most important architectural forum, the V&A is collaborating on A World of Fragile Parts, with among others Sam Jacob Studio (ex-FAT director’s new venture). The AJ has been given a preview of what to expect at the show, which runs from 28 May to 27 November 2016 in the Applied Arts Pavilion, and promises to ’explore the threats facing the preservation of global heritage sites and how the production of copies can aid in the preservation of cultural artefacts.’

The theme of the show chimes with Biennale director Alejandro Aravena’s chosen theme: Reporting From The Front, especially in the face of the continued heritage destruction being carried out across Iraq and Syria by Islamic State.

Ecological uncertainty, violent attacks, and the increasing demands of tourism are just a few of the factors putting global heritage sites and cultural artefacts at risk of destruction and loss and are explored in the exhibition. The V&A argue that “copies and scans have emerged as a way of mitigating risk by providing valuable records of culture, and offering alternatives for a demanding public who want to experience historical sites and objects first-hand.” The reproduction of the triumphal arch of Palmyra, recently displayed in Trafalgar Square, ignited discussion about how replicating historic pieces works and what they can achieve.

A World of Fragile Parts presents how “the development of new scanning and fabrication technologies presents a host of difficult questions: What do we copy and how? What distinguishes a bad copy from one with lasting value? What is the relationship between the copy and the original in a society that privileges authenticity? And how can such an effort be properly coordinated at a truly global and inclusive scale?”

Dar Abu Said is a Sam Jacob Studio project which involved the 3D scanning of a shelter constructed in the migrant camp at Calais. The scan was then remade as a 1:1 replica object and is presented in A World of Fragile Parts as a permanent artefact recording an otherwise transitory and potentially forgotten moment. Dar Abu Said acts as an architectural document from the shifting edge of temporary-structure environments. Sam Jacob Studio hope that “in technology, form and process it explores how the ‘conservation of the immediate present’ can act as a political document.”

The work reproduces the home of Abu Said, who, at the time of scanning, had lived in it for four months. Said is from Sudan, and shares the shelter with four other people from Egypt. They all aim to reach London.

The installation brings part of the humanitarian and political crisis affecting the Middle East and Europe, into the Biennale – and further contributes to the feeling that ‘design virtuosity is taking a a backseat to basic human needs’ in Venice this year. The data held within the Dar Abu Said structure witnesses the current situation at the Jungle in Calais, where at the time of the exhibition opening approximately 5000 people live in temporary shelters of this type. Sam Jacob said “Dar Abu Said is a project between the front line of contemporary global issues and the idea of digital scanning and manufacturing as a form of preservation.”

“By recording and documenting the temporary architectural conditions of migration the act of ‘conservation’ is able to ‘preserve’ a moment in the rapid, ephemeral flux where vast movements of people across continents, the collapse of civic society, and the redoubling of borders across Europe are a constant shifting ground.”

At the same time, this form of digital documentation gives a place for fleeting moments precipitated by geo-politics alongside the celebrated art-historical artefacts that usually characterise the cultural space of both Biennale’s and the V&A in A World of Fragile Parts. Here an ad hoc shelter joins such triumphal objects as casts of Trajan’s Column as part of the V&A’s collection.

Technically, the project produced is an accurate 1:1 CNC’d version of the original formed in Verolith, a material provided by Sto. The project builds on the relationship and knowledge of 3D scanning and CNCing developed between Sam Jacob Studio and Sto, with a similar project on display at Clerkenwell Design Week this week.

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