One of the highlights at the Venice Biennale was visiting the Canadian Pavilion. Canada's entry is curated by Winnipeg-based 5468796 Architecture + Jae-Sung Chon, is made up of a beautiful wooden landscape where the migration of people and socio-political borders are questioned. Jae- Sung and Johanna Hurme walked Elena Collins through the exhibition to explain the concept behind the scheme.
Johanna- The project is called migrating landscapes and it is inspired by our own migration stories to Canada. We came together united by our immigration experience and we realised we have a lot in common, the stories are different but the experience of being unsettled from context to another is common. It is a very Canadian story, as many architects are looking at architecture through a different cultural make-up and a different cultural lense and that is the theme of the show.
We have had a couple of objectives with it. One was to try and make the Biennale appreciated in Canada, so we had different exhibitions. The Biennale is not well known and we identified this as a problem in the beginning. When we got selected to be the curators for the show we wanted to figure out a mechanism which we would be able to expand the project, make the Biennale known and give opportunities to other young practitioners to exhibit their work.
Jae-Sung- The theme itself is very important to us as well as the process. We nicknamed the process ‘the Architecture Olympics' which was the notion of bringing Venice to Canada. We did separate levels of trials, regional trials, and national trials. We had a
series of competitions and eventually brought it all to Winnipeg. We put together a national exhibition together and then national jurors to select the 18 exhibitors in the pavilion today. The process increased public awareness and sponsorship.
How many people applied to be a part of the exhibition?
Johanna- we have literally had 1000s of people involved in the project, so it is really Canada's project. 120 people applied for the competitions, we had a student category as well for 45's and under to give young architects a chance to demonstrate their work. Often with competitions people are invited to participate so it is very hard to crack so it was opening up opportunities to young firms.
What was the concept behind the wooden landscape?
Johanna- The wood that we used in the exhibitions migrated from coast to coast but when we looked into how to make the final installation here in Venice, it was more expensive and taxing on the environment to bring it here then to purchase it in Italy. Although we designed the size of each module of wood the entrants were able to modified their own plot of land and it is a very important concept to us in a cultural context in Canada, as you are not asked to assimilate but you are really allowed and embraced by the differences you bring to the culture and we see that as a real richness.
Jae-Sung- The plots, the architects and the spaces between each installation represent the physicality of Canada. It shows individual contributions, landscape, where they is a collective group of linkages. We have been getting some comments from the viewers that although there are 18 exhibitors here it looks like one piece at the same time which is exactly the Canadian social- cultural experience that we want to celebrate. So we can look at the layers and individual stories that are all linked to each other.
The exhibition itself is about the enlightenment of immigration and this abstract landscape in the exhibition becomes the new land and then you show what you would first do when you landed here therefore you reveal more of you and that unfamiliarity teases more of your identity out.
Is the exhibition going to be used after the
Johanna- We were thinking that this would be the end of it but there sounds like there are many takers for it. There is a very well-known landing place for immigrants called Pier 21 and they have a national museum there for immigration. We have also having talks with some Italians who are interested in disturbing the wood itself into some smaller communities in Italy and also taking Italian university students to repeat the competition again in a sense, to celebrate the Italian/Canadian interaction back and forth in terms of migration.
We have been asked a lot, what does this all mean. It is clearly abstract and it is architecture in a sense but we feel that we have been trying to tease out to find out what you would do, what is in yourself and what you have to say with that.
The exhibition is very accessible to people come from a non- architectural background. Was this intentional?
Jae-Sung- Throughout all the exhibitions we have been talking not only to architects but the public in general and we have been connected to the stories of the migrants a lot better than any iconic references to ‘a house' because they can then reach a new access point. It story based and heritage based.
Johanna- It is also made people share their stories with us without us asking and that has completing coloured and enriched the topic from where it begun.
Jae-Sung- It's amazing that we were able to speak to a lot people. This topic is very engaging for people in Canada. Conceptually, bringing it to Venice and people will come from different countries and connect to the story... there is not project that I particularly like in the exhibition, as they are very unique and the project represents a new starting point for Canada.
Editorial , London
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