Venice Biennale 2018 Curator Series: Britain

by | 10. May 2018

Interview | Venice Biennale 2018
British Pavilion Curators 2018, Adam Caruso, Marcus Taylor, Peter St John © British Council, photo by Lucia Sceranková

British Pavilion Curators 2018, Adam Caruso, Marcus Taylor, Peter St John © British Council, photo by Lucia Sceranková

Peter St John, Adam Caruso, and Marcus Taylor have been selected as the curatorial team for this year’s British Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale. In response to Biennale curators, Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara’s call for proposals under the theme ‘Freespace’, the team have proposed the exhibition ‘Island’ – the construction of a new public space on the roof of the British Pavilion. Arcspace editor-in-chief, Robert Martin, recently sat down with them to find out more about the concept behind the pavilion as part of an ongoing Venice Biennale interview series.

Robert Martin: Adam, Peter, and Marcus – First of all I’d like to thank both of you for giving up your time to talk to us here at arcspace and also congratulate you on being selected for what must be an incredibly interesting and important role as curators of the British Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2018. My first question relates to how the working relationship between you three began. I understand that Adam and Peter have an architecture studio together, Caruso St John Architects, but how did the collaboration with Marcus come about, and how did you integrate his practice into the development of your project?

We first met Marcus and his partner, Rachel Whiteread at the Stirling Prize award ceremony in 2016. The practice had just won the prize for the Newport Street Gallery so, feeling confident, we approached Marcus and Rachel to collaborate on the competition for the United Kingdom Holocaust Memorial next to the houses of Parliament. Our team was shortlisted for the competition but sadly did not win. However, the experience of working together was very positive so when Marcus approached us with a fantastic idea for the British Pavilion we were very happy to team up again – Marcus’ work has always had an architectural scale, and he’s interested in making buildings. We’ve always been interested in art and enjoy working with artists, so it has been a very natural collaboration.

Island, Holy Rosary Church at Shettihalli, © British Council designed by John Morgan Studio, photo by Bhaskar Dutta

Island, Holy Rosary Church at Shettihalli, © British Council designed by John Morgan Studio, photo by Bhaskar Dutta

RM: Can you give me a short introduction to your exhibition? How does it relate to the overall theme of the biennale Freespace? What can visitors expect when they arrive there? 

The design responds to the theme of “Freespace” by constructing a meeting place on the roof of the Pavilion, an elevated piazza with views out across the lagoon. The pavilion itself will be open to the public but empty, with just the peak of its tiled roof visible in the centre of the platform above. The open public space is both the new space above and the empty pavilion below. Empty buildings have a different scale, light and acoustic, and they’re very atmospheric. You may have visited the building before and remember how different it felt then. It’s not intended to represent anything directly, but it will hold memories of things that happened there, traces of which you might see on the walls. It should be a quiet, cool place to go to to get away from all the other exhibitions. And occasionally it will come to life with the meetings and conferences that we are planning to hold there.

The British Pavilion, Venice. © John Riddy

The British Pavilion, Venice. © John Riddy

RM: I’ve read that you’re going to be leaving the Pavilion empty, but also, that you will be embracing many themes including, climate change, colonialism, isolation, and Brexit. Are you going to exploring these ideas through any traditional architectural mediums? If not, what will you be communicating these themes?

The proposal has several dimensions; the construction of spaces that you can visit, the discussions and performances that will take place there, the publication with its texts, imagery and poetry, and photographs that will be taken of it. Through all these different impressions the themes are exposed. We hope that even people who don’t get to visit it but see it in the media will discuss it and have their own idea of its provocation. 

Plan of the raft of the Medusa © Alexandre Corréard

Plan of the raft of the Medusa © Alexandre Corréard

RM: In a world where public space is becoming more and privatised, and its use often quite conditional, how do you interpret it? Is a space really public if you have to pay to use it, as visitors will to enter the Giardini?

 It’s not free to enter, but neither it is an exclusive event. The Biennale is a very popular exhibition with venues all over the city, giving access to wonderful buildings and places that are normally inaccessible. Good public spaces, of which there are many beautiful examples in Venice, are the result of many conditions. They are often places where the power of institutions are expressed, but the public space around them balances their effect. The British pavilion is not a cool building, it is a bit pompous, with overtones of the empire. The design challenges the building, making it a bit uncomfortable, off balance and generous in way that it had never thought of being.

RM: Thank you Adam, Peter, and Marcus for giving up your time to speak with arcspace today.

The British Pavilion has been made possible by the British Council. Read more about their contribution to the biennale here.

arcspace.com is run by the Danish Architecture Center, who is also the commissioner for the Danish Pavilion. Read more about the 2028 Danish Pavilion here.