Report from [Home at Arsenale]

a curated library addressing the notions of home and dwelling

Pavilion of Slovenia at the 15. Architecture Venice Biennale 


project commissioned by Matevž Čelik 
curators Aljoša Dekleva and Tina Gregorič
curators’ assistant and librarian Silvia Susanna

1.2._picture by Flavio Coddou
3._picture by Uroš Rustja
        Temporary curated collections are never universal visions, but occasions for materially inhabiting some argumentations.

        In the case of [Home at Arsenale], the argumentation was the notions of home and dwelling, the collection was a library curated by 27 participants** invited to tackle these notions through a selection of books and, the occasion was the 15. Venice Biennale where the Slovenian Pavilion doesn’t have a house. Why? When around 1907 Biennale aimed at transforming Giardini into an international exhibition, it established a collaboration with the nations with which had stable relations; at that time, Slovenia was part of Yugoslavia. In 1988 Biennale declared the lack of exhibition space in Giardini. Three years later, when Slovenia declared independence from Yugoslavia, there was no more space in Giardini for a house. At the beginning of the XXI century, a growing participation request generates a new coordination which allows the integration of official and collateral presences within the city provoking from 1995 a real estate system connected to the national pavilions out of Giardini.1
        From these premises, [Home at Arsenale] materialized as a curated library addressing the notions of home and dwelling through a wooden structure  made for inhabiting and opening up vibrant debates on the idea of home and the implications of dwelling.

        The collection of books emerged as the combination of diverse curatorial decisions coming from the positions of the 27 invited participants*. Following Warburg’s library principle, I arranged the books according to a series of possible dialogues among books’ content, beyond the books’ genre and participants’ lists. However, visitors were free to browse, read, photograph and relocate the volumes and welcome to extract, readdress as well as criticize, revision, or re-contextualize narratives, ideas, concepts, theories, methods, tools, practices, projects reported in the books, among them, with me or, during the public events, with the invited participants. So in the end, as Michel de Certeau affirmed, the text got meaning in relation to the reader: “Whether it is a question of newspapers or Proust, the text has a meaning only through its readers; it changes along with them; it is ordered in accord with codes of perception that it does not control.”2
        Accordingly, the collection of books reflected sources, references, and ideas of the invited participants. Visitors, thanks to labels and the booklet, could relate each book, to each participant position, sometimes converging in the same book, and to the overall list. Each book materially and speculatively embodied the unit of the pavilion both as a paradigmatic object for confronting the idea of home in its bodily realm and cultural, linguistic, immaterial, symbolic sphere; and as a link among all the people engaged in the project.

        On a physical level, books - mainly made of paper and written human language - reflect precise contextual conditions (time and space). Through their material structure: the paper, binding, and printing they physically transmit aims and significances for which they have been made. In Europe, before the movable type invention (1455) the book was a precious artisanal, hand-made product. With Gutenberg, it became the vehicle of the Protestant Reform and French Revolution. Today, from a digital perspective, either as a cheap pocket volume or as an art publication is primarily recognized as an offline media.  
        The digitation process dissolved its materiality and facilitated a faster free production as well as a wider distribution of texts. But rather than instigating some fetishistic battles for the preservation of book as object, I think it’s necessary to consider as the media theorist, and philosopher Boris Groys explained in an article3 that: “there is a tension between our material, physical, corporeal mode of existence - which is temporary and subjected to time - and our inscription into cultural archives that are much more stable than our own bodies. (...)” And certainly, we still have to confront with them.
        On the other hand, books witness and report a wide range of discourses produced in different times and distinct geographical areas and as Foucault noted, “is a false unity, and its boundaries are unstable and permeable. The frontiers of a book are never clear-cut. Every book is caught up in a system of references to other books, other texts, other sentences: it is a node within a network and its unity is variable and relative, we must rid ourselves of a whole mass of notions, each of which, in its own way, diversifies the theme of continuity”3.
        A strong node of [Home at Arsenale] network was The Poetics of Space as it was the most selected book. In his essay, published in 1957, Gaston Bachelard wrote about the influences of the poetic imagination through the space. He wrote: (…) our house is our corner of the world (…) it is our first universe, a real cosmos in every sense of the word. (…)”.    
      Nowadays, empathising with such a statement corresponds to sincerely question ourselves as inhabitants first and as architects later: how and in which conditions are we establishing our first universe? Of course, this is a big question to which this modest text can not certainly answer, but some tracks can be found in the language, the origin of the words and, in their semantic drift. In English, the distinction between home and house is on the material level, home refers to the abstract knowledge while house refers to the quantifiable condition. Interestingly, in more ancient western languages this distinction is more precise and let emerge also the political and social understanding of the western civilizations. For instance, in Latin "Domus" designates not only the building, but also the social entity embodied by the owner the "dominus", while “Aedes” expressed the physical entity. Like "Domus", the Greek "oìkos" (the basic unit of society in most Greek city-states) indicates not only the building, but also the family and the owned property that included slaves, animals and so on. It is in fact, from Oikos that comes the "Oikos-nomia": the discipline that deals with the administration of the house. Although hidden in the root of other apparently distant words, the concept of home and house in these two indoeuropean languages has its foundations in the economic and political sphere, as well as in the social and cultural ideas established in the western contexts.
         If today I anchor my reflection on these notions, “establishing our first universe as a real cosmos in every sense of the word” means socially, politically and physically confronting, experiencing and answering to the current specific and global conditions resulting from these forces. From this perspective, any spatial expressions, either in a spontaneous or in a consciously organized form, has an impact on the inhabitant imagination, both in relation with their relative social, cultural and political contexts, but also as part of the global economical system. Thus the Palestinian camps reported in the books of Alessandro Petti and Sandi Hilal or the housing program of Tlatelco by Mario Pani for settling 100.000 inhabitants, or the speculative Buckminster Fuller ideas in Space, or the series of architecture revealed in The Un-private House are, first of all, material translations of a taken-position in specific territories where local and global forces clash, and material and virtual spaces overlap.

        It is very important in fact to not dismiss the impact of the virtual space on the physical one. Despite its intangibility, the virtual space is not so abstract. The sociologist Saskia Sassen explained how the highly digitised complex of economic operations benefitted from the physical concentration of local intermediation systems that gave birth to what she called Global Cities. This urban phenomenon emerged during the 80’s by this rapidly expanding and increasingly networked sectors, but also by neo-liberal political positions that deregulated, privatised and expulsed land and people from the system.
A discourse that somehow reports to our premises and certainly for concluding toThe Production of Space where Henri Lefebvre affirmed that “(…) Our knowledge of the material world is based on the concepts defined in terms of the broadest generality and the greatest scientific (i.e. having a content) abstraction. Even if the links between these concepts and the physical realities to which they correspond are not always clearly established, we do know that such links exist and that the concepts or theories they imply - energy, space, time - can be neither conflated nor separated from one another. (…) When we evoke 'energy', we must immediately note that energy has to be deployed within a space. When we evoke 'space', we must immediately indicate: what occupies that space and how it does so: the deployment of energy in relation to 'points' and within a time frame. When we evoke 'time', we must immediately say what it is that moves or changes in isolation is an empty abstraction, likewise energy and time. (…) If indeed spatial codes have existed, each characterizing a particular spatial social practice, and if these codifications have been produced along with the space corresponding then the job of theory is to elucidate their rise, their role, and their demise. (…)”. 

<post scriptum>

Six months spent at [Home at Arsenale] undoubtedly made up a period that I can frame it as home. I especially enjoyed diving into never-ending readings because continually interrupted by a myriad of discussions with people, visitors, lovers and critics (my favorite) to this temporary architecture. I can't say what my favorite title was, but many of the books mentioned in this text have been certainly important references. However, I think that the dark side of the pavilion played a special role in my experience, its presence reminded me that the absence of ideas, those that have not emerged, or that need to be defined, occupy a space that needs to be discovered, sometimes invented. Agamben, in his essay What is the contemporary? 4 said that to experience contemporaneity: it is necessary to feel the gap. "Contemporary is the person who receives in the full face the bundle of the darkness of his time". And in the darkness, we have to look at.

*full list at the end of the page

1. I Giardini: Topografia di uno spazio espositivo
Federica Martini, Vittoria Martini article part of
Venezia Venezia, 55 Esposizione Internazionale d'arte La Biennale di Venezia, Padiglione del Cile, 2013, Barcelona

2. The Practice of Everydaylife
(L'invention du Quotidien)
Michel De Certau, 1980 Paris

2. The Archaeology of Knowledge (L’archeologie du Savoir)
Michel Foucault, 1969 Paris

3. Entering the Flow: Museum between Archive and Gesamtkunstwerk
Boris Grois, 2013 e-flux Journal #50

4. What is the contemporary? (Che cos'è il contemporaneo?)
Giorgio Agamben, 2008 Milan

Stephen Bates / SERGISON BATES architects / UK
Matija Bevk, Vasa J. Perović / BEVK PEROVIĆ architects / Slovenia
Tatiana Bilbao / TATIANA BILBAO ESTUDIO, architect / Mexico
Jan Boelen / Z33, curator / Belgium
Dominique Boudet / architecture critic / France
Arno Brandlhuber / BRANDLHUBER+, architect / Germany
Aljoša Dekleva, Tina Gregorič / dekleva gregorič architects /
Slovenia Sofia von Ellrichshausen, Mauricio Pezo / PEZO VON ELLRICHSHAUSEN, artists and architects / Chile Jesko Fezer / IFAU UND JESKO FEZER, architect / Germany
Konstantin Grcic / KGID, designer / Germany
Juan Herreros / ESTUDIO HERREROS, architect / Spain
Tomaž Krištof / STUDIO KRIŠTOF, architect / Slovenia
Jan Liesegang / RAUMLABORBERLIN, architect / Germany
Hrvoje Njirić / NJIRIC+ arhitekti / Croatia
Michael Obrist / FELD72, architect / Austria / Italy
Rok Oman, Špela Videčnik / OFIS architects / Slovenia
Marjetica Potrč / architect and artist / Slovenia / Germany
Pascale and Christian Pottgiesser / CHRISTIAN POTTGIESSER ARCHITECTURESPOSSIBLES, architects / France
Alice Rawsthorn / design critic / UK
Emmanuel Rubio / literary and architecture critic / France
Jurij Sadar, Boštjan Vuga / SADAR+VUGA, architects / Slovenia
Irénée Scalbert / architecture critic / UK / France
Brett Steele / AA, architect and architectural editor / UK
Yui Tezuka, Takaharu Tezuka / TEZUKA architects / Japan
TYIN tegnestue / architects / Norway
Aleš Vodopivec / architect / Slovenia
Maruša Zorec / ARREA, architect / Slovenia