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Venice Biennale postponed over coronavirus fears

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The opening of the 2020 Venice Biennale, scheduled for May, has been put back until August due to fears over the spread of the coronavirus 

The news comes just 24 hours after Unscene Architecture – led by Madeleine Kessler and Manijeh Verghese – revealed its proposals for the British Pavilion at the international event.

It also follows the postponement at the weekend of this year’s MIPIM property fair in Cannes, France due to ‘growing concerns’ over possible coronavirus contagion.

A spokesperson for the Biennale said the move, which will now see the show run from 29 August to 29 November, was a ‘consequence of the recent precautionary measures in the matter of mobility taken by the governments of a growing number of countries around the world, which will have a domino effect on the movement of people and works in coming weeks’.

They added: ‘This period of time coincides with the delicate initial phase of setting up an international exhibition as complex as the Biennale Architettura, which involves architects and institutions from over 60 countries on all continents.’

The Biennale organisers said the current situation posed a risk to the ‘realisation of the exhibition in its entirety in time for the announced opening date, thereby jeopardising its quality.’

The spokesperson said: ‘Furthermore, a short-term postponement could be ineffective, considering the complexity of the organisational machine, the number and importance of the subjects involved and the probable absence of many of them.’

In a statement, the British Council said it would now ’monitor the situation and liaise closely with the exhibition curators Madeleine Kessler and Manijeh Verghese and our partners on next steps.

’The health of our visitors, students, customers and colleagues is the British Council’s priority throughout this rapidly evolving situation.’

The British pavilion, The Garden of Privatised Delights, is being curated by Unscene Architecture and responds to the theme ‘How will we live together?’ set by the biennale director, Lebanese architect Hashim Sarkis.

The exhibition will feature a series of six immersive spaces and to explore the emerging debate around privately owned public spaces at a time of their rapid and often contentious spread across UK cities.

Unscene has invited a number of UK studios to collaborate on the installations, including The Decorators, Built Works, Studio Polpo, Public Works and vPPR, which was one of the eight teams shortlisted for the curation role.

Key themes include the opening up of garden squares, the impact of facial recognition technology, the collapse of high streets, the adaptability of public houses, alternative play spaces, and the ongoing disposal of common land.

Other UK participants in the main exhibition was set to include AL_A, Alison Brooks Architects, ecoLogicStudio, Farshid Moussavi Architecture, Open Systems Lab, Superflux, Forensic Oceanography, Heatherwick Studio, Monsoon Assemblages, Office of Experiments, Smout Allen, Bethany Rigby, and AWILDC-AWP London.

A spokesperson for Heatherwick Studio said: ’The world is in uncharted territory and we all have to act responsibly and that means taking some disappointing decisions. In a sense it goes to the heart of this year’s theme of How will we live together?’

British Pavilion at Venice 2020

The Garden of Privatised Delights

Manijeh Verghese and Madeleine Kessler; Unscene Architecture, Co-Curators of the British Pavilion 2020

Manijeh and Madeleine ask how we can open up the garden square; green spaces found in cities which are usually enclosed by railings and only accessible to local residents with a key. The curators want to give the public the tools and agency to find and reclaim these spaces.

The Decorators: Publicani

Over a quarter of Britain’s pubs have closed in the last twenty years. The Decorators considers how pubs can adapt to survive and how we can save them.

Built Works: Ministry of Collective Data

Built Works highlights how facial recognition technology is being used through a vast network of CCTV cameras in our cities. They propose that we can come together to take control of our data; understanding how it is captured, stored and how we could delete it, or use it.

Studio Polpo: High Street of Exchanges

Studio Polpo invites us to consider the threat to our high streets. It proposes we rethink role of the high street, not just as a place to shop but where people can come together and create value through the community.

Public Works: Ministry of Common Land

Public Works wants to raise our awareness of how public land being sold off by the government into the private sector. It shares its expertise on how we can protect our common land for now and the future.

vPPR: Play With(out) Grounds

Since 2010, roughly 100 youth clubs have been shut down in London alone. vPPR has been listening to teenagers, giving them a voice and working to understand their specific needs, so they can reclaim their cities and have access to a space of their own.


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