Nomeda and Gediminas Urbonai. The Bog Pavilion

Interviewed by Agnė Sadauskaitė

Photographs from personal archive

Translated by Gabija Seiliūtė

A bog in Venice Biennale. Sounds bizarre? In the following year, artists Nomeda and Gediminas Urbonas (NUGU) will pioneer and present one of the most interesting projects in the sixteenth Venice Biennale, where, for the first time, Lithuania will have its own pavilion. Everything about the idea, the bog, the pavilion and the meaning of architecture – below in the interview with Gediminas Urbonas.

Venice Biennale, taking place since 1980, could host Lithuania for the first time only in 2016, when the united team of Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians presented the Baltics pavilion. 2018 is also an exceptional year – The Bog Pavilion will be the first national Lithuania´s project. What are, in your opinion, the reasons behind such inactive country´s participation in one of the most prestigious art events? What does a country and its artists attain by participating in the Venice Biennale?

Venice Biennale is taking place since 1980, thus in the beginning Lithuania could not participate due to political reasons, unless as a part of the Soviet Union, although it is difficult to say how the Lithuanian architects would have to be considered in the context of the Union, in order to be invited to its pavilion. During the first year of independence, still under the Soviet military rule, it was economically difficult to integrate us into various structures, Lithuania has participated in the Biennale for the first time in 1997.

Participation in the Biennale is a significant matter, which could be compared to the Olympics, inclusion in the EU or NATO – it is generally a participation in civilized structures, international exchange, and not participating to an extent could mean an absence from the map. It is also a political and national decision, delegated and confirmed by the State and the Ministry of Culture. Such newly emerged political decision is remarkable, however, I agree the political will has been developing slowly and passively. Of course, Lithuania is successful in the cultural sector – it is noticeable and is being acknowledged internationally. Culture gives an important base for education and development in general, therefore if a country is involved in the cultural forums such as the Venice Biennale, we can evaluate the level of its consciousness and an ability to contribute towards the creation of the global intellect. On the other hand, Biennale is important in the creation of a concept in which architecture, encompassing many invaluable to humanity components, is perceived not simply as buildings, urban environment, but as a general spatial organisation. This involves elements of communication, infrastructure, even media, as well as air, soil, water. Thus, by participating in the Venice architecture Biennale we are displaying a general understanding of the changing world – not only in a political, but also in the eco-systematical sense. What does Lithuania have to say, if at all?

What The Bog Pavilion will be like?

First of all, when looking at the modern century, we can see how certain processes of industrialisation and urbanization have changed the world. When speaking of a bog as a structure, during the drainage of wetlands, the eco-systemical relationship between human and nature is being ruptured. We all know that Lithuania, as a “damp” country, boasting its large water resources, has also suffered intensive drainage processes in the last 100-150 years, when people were being moved away from wetlands, and the natural ecosystems were ruined, with an attempt to organize people as well as nature in a modern paradigm. The United Nations Protection of Nature program is one of the most important programs for people and biosphere, aiming to harmonize the relationship between human and nature. Until this program, the attitude towards the Earth was exploitative. As a paradox, we have learnt the economical way that the use of resources is not economic. This has been already discussed 50 years ago, by naming it as Anthropocene. Therefore, looking back to the wetlands is vitally important. Bogs are being stigmatised, hence the saying “bog down” or “this bog needs to be drained”*. This is a big mistake, we must learn anew how to build and arrange bogs, and I am not being nostalgic when saying this. The new ecosystems need to created and wetlands are considered to be protective barriers, environments which would help cities adapt to the rising water levels.

The pavilion will consist of physical and discursive pedagogic activities, for which we have involved academic communities, science research institutes, specialists working in architecture, design, technology – people who understand that wetlands are an important element in the context of the changing climate. Bogs are being called “Earth´s kidneys” due to its metabolic properties – determining what is useful and what is harmful. Bogs compost and reprocesses materials, making them suitable for life again.

Pokabių ciklo iliustracija

Project’s description states that instead of taking over, the Bog Pavilion aims to settle in nearby the territory of the Biennale, between air and water, while creating non-material architectural expressions and occurrences. What activities do you intend to do?

One of the most important activities is a sensor experience. Nowadays, living and being active in the environment of social media networks, there is a big decrease in the real sensor experience. Lack of which is one of the main stress factors. Our link to physical materials is declining, as many of them are being digitalised, we are living in a world of digital images. In such context, it is as important to reanimate human sensors as to destabilize it – not only it is important to feel how does a human think, but also how do the other species feel, so we could understand experiences outside the human sensors. How does a mushroom think? This perhaps sounds unexpected and poetic, but it is important for us to understand how do mushrooms organize their environment, since it would give us an understanding how we could build and organize future cities. This is s symbio-poetic step, becoming one of the most important steps in the Bog pavilion. Symbio-poetry is a theory about paradox. It is relevant in an architectural context, because we must behave paradoxically – to be within bounds of discipline, while simultaneously looking for another territory, dialogue with other disciplines. Therefore, we call a bog and an interdisciplinary state, where one foot is on a solid ground and another is sinking into a different matter. This unstable condition is interesting to architecture itself.

Your creative work is orientated towards processes and problems, transcending the boundaries of yards, cities and countries – you speak about the climate change, military conflicts, migration processes, as well as a dual human-world relationship – human as a citizen and human as a part of nature. Is architecture able to solve global problems and mediate different human identities?

Architecture is a field that shapes us as humans and as citizens. If during the last 25 years the shopping mall architecture has been invested into, it has shaped us as a society of consumers, having limited needs. In the case of a civilised society, orientated towards culture, environment and preserving the planet, the educational processes happen anywhere else but in shopping malls. Architecture has always been solving global problems, since it has been perceived in a much wider sense than simply buildings. “The explorative architecture” is lately becoming popular, where instead of discussing buildings, the adaptation of architectural tools to understand military conflicts, use of resources, climate changes is being discussed. Architecture can help to understand the scale of issues, to make it more obvious. Not only can architecture visualise space, but also time and process. For instance, how do you understand agriculture? It is not only material, but also an infrastructure, people, technology. Architecture is a complex discipline, and with its tools we can see and even forecast how to create an environment, which will help us to survive later. It is certainly not little houses or shopping malls; today we live in a situation, where if not investing in a creation of environment, we will not survive. Therefore, architecture must solve these problems.

The idea of The Bog Pavilion seems phenomenal. You will present a national project, although you do not work in Lithuania; you are not architects, however your reflexions and actions are aimed at architecture; architecture, which is strongly related to matter and earth, which you will attempt to convey as process and practice, fluctuating between water and air. Do you seek to provoke, rebel or are you looking for some new forms of dialogue?

Every artist, designer or architect do indeed question whether current humankind actions destabilise previously created objects. The bog becomes important, since it can stir up what is settled, acceptable. This is not rebelling, it is raising critical questions, and, of course, a search of new forms of dialogue. Symbio-poetics is a search. It is important how does an octopus, a jellyfish, a mushroom think, since other species have been living and accumulating experience along humans, and for the expansion of our experience, we have to learn from other species. During the history of human existence, we have seen catastrophic consequences, because we were learning from our own experiences, we need to be expand it with the experiences of others – by searching for a dialogue with other species.

Last year we made a research in Iceland, where we tried to transform humans into plants in an attempt to create oxygen. Nowadays it is possible with the help of genetic manipulation. We are considering creating such module during The Bog Pavilion.

Paviljono kuratoriai Nomeda ir Gediminas Urbonai su paviljono komisaru Pippo Ciorra Venecijoje

Currently, The Bog Pavilion preparatory works are taking place: a series of talks are being prepared, presentations, a book release is being planned, and Thursday, the National Gallery of Art will start showcasing a series of talks “Hello World?”, dedicated to the Biennale and becoming an integral part of Lithuania’s pavilion. Most of these activities are orientated towards the creation of a dialogue, the development of relationship and raising certain questions. Why is it important to talk about architecture, architectural Venice Biennale and the Bog Pavilion?

Architecture encompasses many fields, forming our environment and shaping us as citizens of the country, world and nature. The kind of architecture we create, think, the kind of people we will be. Certain neighbourhoods, which are dangerous, often raise violent people. Many current discourses can be grasped at the Biennale, since architecture is not only buildings, but also media, air, water, earth, economy, culture, as well as futuristic themes, such as people inhibiting different planets. Architectural Venice Biennale allows us to follow the direction of these discourses.

Why is the Biennale important? We are not questioning the fact of students learning maths or foreign languages in high school, because we think that a civilised person needs this knowledge, therefore I would say that architecture should be a part of the same program. Nowadays, architecture is becoming a part of a general education This biennial is a good school and I would recommend it not only for construction workers, architects and other specialists of the field, but also for people, interested in the problems of human survival.

Interview has been prepared for the series of talks for “Hello World?”, organised by the Architectural fund and dedicated to the Venice architectural Biennale and “The Bog Pavilion”. The curator of the lecture cycle – Andrius Rapolas. Author of illustrations – Laimonas Zakas.

Project’s deputy – architect Pippo Ciorra, senior curator of department of architecture of MAXXI National museum in Rome. Project’s curators – laureates of Lithuanian prize of national culture and art, researchers of Massachusetts’s school of architecture and planning Nomeda and Gediminas Urbonas.

*Direct translation from a Lithuanian idiom.

Paskelbta: December 30, 2017

2 responses to “Nomeda and Gediminas Urbonai. The Bog Pavilion”

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