Venice Biennale

Neil Gillespie’s vision, superbly managed by his colleague Laura Kinnaird, for this years Scottish contribution to the Venice Biennale was not in the traditional sense a physical enclosure around a theme, rather a carrier of the theme in the form of a newspaper. Divvying Scotland up into in a geographical north south east west split, various groups associated with university architecture departments contributed content to the newspapers on the theme of the event - namely uncovering the hidden contribution of a century of modern architectural thinking.

The west contribution led by Alan Hooper, with Jamie Whelan and Chris Dove and David Page with Andrew Frame and Fraser Maitland representing the Glasgow School of Art and Strathclyde University respectively, supported by the historian Miles Glendinning from Edinburgh University, excavated the little discussed history of the absorption of modernism into the historic city centre Glasgow fabric. Contrary to the comprehensive ‘renewal through demolition’ strategies of the outer city, an apparently subtle and cohesive alternative emerged in the inner city. Whilst much 20th century modernist visioning envisaged a clean slate, a tactic adopted by the 1945 Glasgow City Bruce Plan - the inner city was thankfully spared with an interweave of methodologies, dissolving this isolationist modernist stance. The groups identification of this stance which was termed ‘embedded modernism’ - the idea that new and old can coexist - paralleled the aspiration for an ‘embedded programme’ for the Scottish contribution in the existing garden of the Biennale.

In broad contextual terms the main Biennale event is a sequence of pavilions and exhibitions in that garden, representing extremes such as the Canadian Arctic contrasting with the desert settlements of the Israeli pavilion, Swiss dialogue with Belgian abstraction, German sobriety with French enthusiasms, Brasilian and Argentinean production jousting, Danish poetry with Austrian typology. Each in their own way reflects a kind of orthodoxy, an accepted national position, distinctive and clear - viewed in silence but for watchful invigilators and occasional amplified sound to make you feel less lonely.

Koolhass, the virtuoso curator of the formal rather than national part of the show, recognised this dilemma and the dumbing absence of real voices by imagining a programme of performance, music and dance interweaving with the Arsenale aspect of the show. It was this idea that the Scottish contribution subscribed to. It asked could the Scottish contribution be real voices, in the shadow of the harvest of the avant-garde of the British Show. It, the British show, displays a geographical neutrality, it’s focus the generalist movements that shaped and influenced an age. The Scottish Pavilion adds a geographical movement, not in the show however but distinct from it outside in the garden of the Biennale itself.

The key idea here is that perhaps parallel to each official show there should be another voice, real rather than mechanical. With increasing centralisation of production, management and political activity, the need for the means to voice and hear alternatives assumes a new value. The idea of a platform for the contributors to ‘sell’ and talk to their newspapers offered this voice in this pop-up annex to the official setting in an immediate, transient, exploratory, disposable form, augmented here by Frame and Maitland ‘new-stand’.

This embryonic satellite concept embodied in the ‘newspaper pavilion’ challenges the idea of a circumscribed national boundary defining architectural production. In a sense the national state struggling with transnational political economy and at the same time with its own internal dialogues needs to embrace a new openness. Neil Gillespie’s exploration of the outside territory the glue between the national stances is an exciting dimension to the remaking of the Biennale. In that respect Neil has done the Biennale a great service - rather than a doctrinaire Scottish National position his model advocates a modest variation on the idea of official event – paralleling the world event of his home city - the idea of the Scottish contribution as a ‘fringe’ to the official festival.

Scotland’s residency at the British Pavilion was supported by the British Council, Creative Scotland and the Scottish Government.