For release at 9am UK time, Thursday 24 May 2018
The British Council unveils Island at the British Pavilion for the 16th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, with the opening ceremony at 1.30 p.m. today, Thursday 24 May.
The curatorial team, Caruso St John Architects with artist Marcus Taylor, have responded to Freespace, the theme of Biennale Architettura 2018 – set by the curators Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara – with the construction of a new public gathering space in the Giardini. This marks the first joint art and architecture curatorial team commissioned for the British Pavilion.
Visitors approaching the British Pavilion will find the building covered with scaffolding supporting a wooden platform at roof-level. A staircase running the length of one side of the building leads up to an elevated piazza, a place to meet or to relax amongst the tree-tops of the Giardini, open to the sky with views across the Lagoon. Tea will be served at 4 p.m. each day, with seats and umbrellas offering comfort and shade. The peak of the Pavilion’s roof projects up through the floor at the centre of the space, suggesting both an island and a sunken world beneath.
Throughout La Biennale di Venezia, the British Pavilion will host a programme of events, performances, installations and debates responding to the theme Freespace and ideas raised by Island. The programme has been produced in of collaboration with partners including Tate Collective, the Royal Academy of Arts, the Design Museum, musician Matthew Herbert, poet Inua Ellams, Studio Wayne McGregor and many more. It will address topics ranging from migration and decolonisation to language and borders, from isolation and identity to buildings and landscapes.
The programme is launched at the opening of the Pavilion with a performance by spoken word artist Kate Tempest. On Friday 25 May, the Pavilion hosts the Royal Institute of British Architects’ EUROPA Super Session, to explore the future of architecture practice across Europe at this pivotal moment in history. This is followed by No Place Like Home, in which experts from a range of backgrounds present their perspectives on climate change and migration. With the exception of these performances, the building will be empty, abandoned and untouched after the last exhibition. A detailed Pavilion schedule will be made available to visitors at the start of each month from June to November.
In a joint statement, the curatorial team of Adam Caruso, Peter St John and Marcus Taylor said:
“In past Biennales, the Pavilion has held curated exhibitions on architectural themes. This year, we have taken a different approach. There will be no exhibits; instead we have realised a structure that can be experienced like a building. There are many ways to interpret the experience of visiting Island and the state of the building suggests many themes; including abandonment, reconstruction, sanctuary, Brexit, isolation, colonialism and climate change. It is intended as a platform, in this case also literally, for a new and optimistic beginning. It is forward looking whilst acknowledging the past, whether good or bad.”
Sarah Mann, Director of Architecture Design Fashion at the British Council and Commissioner of the British Pavilion 2018 said:
“This year’s winning proposal, Island, will represent Great Britain at the most influential gathering for contemporary art and architecture anywhere in the world. We are thrilled to present this new structure for the British Pavilion which breaks with convention, creating a place for visitors to meet and engage with the building and each other, in a new way. The accompanying programme of events will highlight the Pavilion’s role as a space for debate, for exchange of ideas and for visionary thinking.”
An accompanying publication brings together a collection of works that have informed the project. Published by The Store X The Spaces, the book features contributions from Kate Tempest and artist John Akomfrah, a reprint of Shakespeare’s Tempest and three short stories by Trinidad-born writer Sam Sevlon. The publication also features installation photographs by architectural photographer Hélène Binet and an introductory essay by Penelope Curtis, director of Lisbon’s Museu Calouste Gulbenkian. John Morgan studio has created a graphic identity for the project that takes its cue from the first edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses, the cover of which, with the title set in white on a blue background, was said to resemble a chain of white islands in a blue sea.
The British Council has been responsible for the British Pavilion in Venice since 1937, showcasing the best of the UK’s artists, architects, designers and curators to an international audience. This year, the British Council will also support the participation of UK architects and designers in the central exhibitions at La Biennale di Venezia.
In addition, the British Council’s Venice Fellowships supports a group of over 60 UK-based students, young professionals and researchers to go to Venice to invigilate the Pavilion and undertake independent research. The Fellows have been selected and supported through partnerships with 29 universities and institutions. Each month a new group of Fellows will be at the British Pavilion to assist visitors, answer questions and offer information on the programme of events taking place. During their month in Venice, the Fellows undertake a research project responding to the context of Venice or the ideas of Freespace and Island. The Venice Fellowships offers students and recent graduates an opportunity to gain international experience, develop key skills and networks within the arts and architecture sector.