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Somewhere Other
La Biennale di Venezia

Our installation for Biennale Architettura 2018, curated by Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, invites visitors to look through a series of portals that will transport them from Italy to Australia and back again.

Further conversations, essays and behind-the-scenes process captured in Somewhere Other by Uro Publications.

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Subjects of continual exploration in the work of the practice, portals are used to frame views and establish connections between buildings and their context. Our installation extends this function further - a calibrated device and a long lens between Venice and Australia. Looking through these portals will introduce the viewer to the buildings of John Wardle Architects, landscapes of Australia, and the craft of several collaborators that were central to realising the work.

The installation interprets the Freespace theme established by Architecture Biennale curators Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara of Grafton Architects. Their manifesto describes Freespace as a call for architecture to find ‘unexpected generosity in each project’. The portals find their generosity by drawing in a broad range of experiences that would otherwise be inaccessible within the confines of its physical footprint.

A cantilevered cone at one end of the installation tapers to a viewing portal, one inspired by two very different masks: Venetian carnival masks and the horizontal eye slit in legendary bushranger Ned Kelly’s iron-armour helmet (and through this to Sidney Nolan’s engagement with the Australian landscape).

Somewhere Other has evolved from a link already made between John Wardle Architects, Venice and the Veneto region. In 2015 the studio was joint winner of the Australian Tapestry Workshop’s inaugural Tapestry Design Prize for Architects.  

The winning tapestry, Perspective on a Flat Surface, represented a contemporary response to Andrea Palladio’s Teatro Olimpico in Vincenza and, in particular, the trompe-l’œil onstage scenery created by Vincenzo Scamozzi. A proposition to physically realise the abstract space of this tapestry was the initial point of exploration.

Integrated with the installation’s portals, thresholds and viewing points are a series of screen-like mirrors by artist Natasha Johns-Messenger.

An Australian artist now based in New York, Johns-Messenger is known for her spatial installations that use light, gravity, site and space to make us question what is real and what is not. She has a ten-year working relationship with John Wardle Architects.

Statement by La Biennale di Venezia curators Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara.

We are fascinated by the fluency and freshness of the work of this practice. In our work with them for this exhibition we have seen the strong intellectual and creative thread which both liberates and directs them. We loved the theme of Somewhere Other presented. They quote D. H. Lawrence writing despairingly about Australia being “upside down at the bottom of the world”. We were very keen in this Biennale Architettura to reflect on this issue. How the world might be perceived differently from diverse parts of our planet?

The idea of reversing the Scamozzi trompe-l’œil street scenes in Palladio’s Teatro Olimpico as a means of focusing outwards and capturing an audience, as well as being cross-cultural, showed an openness and a wish to spatially engage with the visitor. They have constructed a series of three-dimensional lenses as a way of describing their view of the world from their particular location on the earth, using light, colour, craft, and the architectural elements of frames and portals.

We see these characteristics in their built projects, which show that feeling of continually manipulating space, zooming in and zooming out, even at the scale of infrastructure such as the beautiful Tanderrum Bridge.

YF+SMcN

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