'Fundamentals' was the title of the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale and Rem Koolhaas, the curator, asked national pavilions to respond to the theme 'Absorbing Modernity: 1914-2014'.
Curators Sam Jacob, co-founder of FAT, and Wouter Vanstiphout, partner at Dutch practice Crimson Architectural Historians worked with the British Council to create the provocative exhibition at the British Pavilion, A Clockwork Jerusalem, which provided a fresh perspective on British modernism.
A Clockwork Jerusalem offered a fresh perspective on the large-scale projects of the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s in Britain, by exploring the "mature flowering of British Modernism at the moment it was at its most socially, politically and architecturally ambitious - but also the moment that witnessed its collapse."
The curators wrote:
From Stonehenge to council estates, from Ebenezer Howard to Cliff Richard, from ruins and destruction to back-to-the-land rural fantasies, A Clockwork Jerusalem explores how the international influences of modernism became mixed with long standing British sensibilities.
A variety of large scale projects, images, objects and artefacts offer insights into the way architecture was central to manufacturing a new vision of society at a scale inconceivable today. The modern future of Britain was built from an unlikely combination of interests and these projects have changed our physical and imaginative landscapes. Through architecture, records, books and adverts, A Clockwork Jerusalem examines how traditions of the romantic, sublime and pastoral, as well as interests in technology and science fiction, were absorbed to create a specifically British form of modernism.
Outside the pavilion, visitors were greeted by a pair of Concrete Cows on loan from Milton Keynes; the last of the post-war British New Towns. Originally produced by artist Liz Leyh in 1978, shortly after Milton Keynes was established, the cows have become unofficial mascots of the town. Shipped to Venice for the Biennale, the Concrete Cows assume a formal position on either side of the entrance to the British Pavilion in the manner of Venetian lions.
The portico of the British Pavilion had been transformed into an "Electric Picturesque" landscape. Tree trunks, installed from floor to ceiling, interrupt the symmetry of the Neo-Classical pavilion. Seen through the forest is an animated white LED galloping horse, representing a high-tech reworking of the Neolithic white horses carved into British hillsides.
The main room of the pavilion featured a giant earth mound which references thousands of years of British architecture; from ancient burial mounds to the rubble of demolished slums, sculpted into mounds as the central landscape feature of idealistic projects in places such as Arnold Circus and Robin Hood Gardens in London.
Surrounding the mound was a panoramic narrative image that tells the story of British Modernism, referencing British visual and architectural culture: William Morris, Stanley Kubrick, David Hockey, Archigram and more. The eye of William Blake, author of the famous poem Jerusalem, sits at the centre of the panorama, made up with a cog like a Droog from Stanley Kubrick's famous A Clockwork Orange.
In the rooms around the central installation, images, objects and artefacts tell the story of British modernism from Stonehenge to council estates, from Ebenezer Howard to Cliff Richard, from ruins and destruction to rural fantasies. Large scale models show three of the exhibition's significant housing projects: Hulme, Thamesmead and Cumbernauld.