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Venice Biennale postponed to 2021

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The opening of the 2020 Venice Biennale, originally scheduled for this week, has been put back until next year due to ‘objective difficulties’ caused by the coronavirus pandemic

The move comes just two months after the organisers of the Venice Biennale said the global architecture festival would follow a shorter revised timetable and run from 29 August to 29 November due to the crisis.

Unscene Architecture – led by Madeleine Kessler and Manijeh Verghese – revealed its proposals for the British Pavilion at the international event just 24 hours before the original rearranged dates were announced in March.

In its latest statement, the organising foundation said it was ‘impossible to move forward – within the set [revised] time limits – in the realization of such a complex and worldwide exhibition’. Strict public-health limitations to deal with the pandemic have curtailed economic activity, as well as movement into and throughout Italy, since early March and are now only just gradually being lifted.

This unprecedented situation ‘prejudiced the realisation of the exhibition in its entirety, jeopardising the realisation, transport and presence of the works and, consequently, the quality of the exhibition itself,’ according to the foundation. It said it had agreed with festival curator Hashim Sarkis to, instead, stage the event from 22 May to 21 November 2021 and, as a result, the art biennale – originally due to be held in 2021 – would happen the following year.

The foundation’s president, Roberto Cicutto said: ‘With the utmost respect for the work done by all of us, the investments made by the participants, and considering the difficulties that all countries, institutions, universities, architectural studios have [faced], together with the uncertainty of the shipments, personal travel restraints and Covid-19 protective measures that are being and were being adopted, we have decided to listen to those, the majority, who requested that the Biennale di Architettura be postponed.’

Sarkis said: ‘I am deeply moved by the perseverance of all the participants during the last three months. I hope that the new opening date will allow them first to catch their breath, and then to complete their work with the time and vigor it truly deserves.

‘We did not plan it this way. Neither the question I asked “How will we live together?”, nor the wealth of ways [to respond] to it, were meant to address the crisis they are living, but here we are.

‘We are, in some ways, fortunate because we are well-equipped to absorb the immediate and longer-term implications of the crisis into the 17th Biennale. The theme does also provide us with the possibility to respond to the pandemic in its immediacy. This is why we will return to Venice in the coming months for a series of activities devoted to the architecture.’

The British Pavilion in Venice

The British Pavilion in Venice

Source: Image by John Riddy

The British Pavilion in Venice

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 Sarkis.

The exhibition will feature a series of six immersive spaces and 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,   Public Works and vPPR Arhcitects, 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 will 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.

The decision to postpone the biennale until 2021 comes a month after Australia said it was unable to participate because it was ‘impossible to plan for the exhibition’ amid the crisis.

In a statement the British Council said:  ’We know that postponing the Biennale Architettura to 2021, and the Biennale Arte to 2022, could not have been an easy decision and we fully understand and support the new dates. We look forward to coming together with audiences from around the world in Venice to stage our exhibition, The Garden of Privatised Delights, from 22 May – 21 November 2021.

‘We will work closely with curators Madeleine Kessler and Manijeh Verghese to prepare for the new opening, and also to explore the themes of the Biennale Architettura this autumn, as part of our online UK-Italy season of art and culture that will run from September to December 2020.’

Commenting on the possibility for pavilions to respond to the Covid-19 crisis, Sevra Davis – director of architecture, design and fashion at the British Council – said: ;The theme of the Biennale Architettura “How will we live together?” has never felt more prescient, or urgent, in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.

‘We look forward to working with the curators to explore the question through our exhibition in the British Pavilion.’

Unscene Architecture said: ’In light of the pandemic that the world is facing, we fully support the responsible decision by La Biennale to postpone the 17th International Architecture Exhibition in Venice to 2021. We are looking forward to continuing to explore the themes within the British Pavilion and beyond over the coming year, as widening access to privatised public space becomes ever more relevant while we adjust to living with COVID-19 longer term.

‘In the spirit of the theme of the Biennale - How will we live together? - we look forward to coming together with the other curators, participants and audiences from around the world in Venice to stage our exhibition, The Garden of Privatised Delights, from 22 May – 21 November 2021.’

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 – cities’ green spaces that 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 20 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. It proposes that we can come together to take control of our data – understanding how it is captured, stored and how we can 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 that we rethink role of the high street, not just as a place to shop, but as a place 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 is 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 Architects: 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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