European nettle trees that form part of the Nordic Pavilion in Venice Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

Being and Thinking with(in) the Pavilion Space. Curatorial Notes

Piia Oksanen, MA, curator, Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki

Also published in Leevi Haapala and Piia Oksanen (eds.), Weather Report: Forecasting Future. Ane Graff, Ingela Ihrman, nabbteeri. A Museum of Contemporary Art Publication 169/2019. Milan and Helsinki: Mousse Publishing and Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Finnish National Gallery, 2019. Transl. Silja Kudel

Dead Hedge is a two-metre diametre structure packed with twigs and branches gathered from around the Nordic Pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale. It is a work by the artist duo nabbteeri and is situated on an elevated section behind the pavilion, blocking human visitors from accessing a shortcut to the building. The work offers a suitable home, however, for many non-human species inhabiting the Biennale gardens – or at least, this is the proposal of the artists.

There are bird spikes attached to the beams under the pavilion’s eaves. The spikes are there to deter pigeons, unwanted guests. The built environment often draws species boundaries. Here, the exterior wall indicates the beginning of territory reserved for human activity.

The demarcation between the Nordic Pavilion and the Giardini[1] is both radical and virtually imperceptible. The rectangular building is distinct from the lush gardens, yet it opens directly onto the Giardini via its wall-high sliding doors. The spikes are installed to drive away birds, but it is otherwise difficult to prevent non-humans from entering the open space. Furthermore, wind, heat and humidity flow freely through every pore of the pavilion, undeterred by the spiked obstacles and built barriers. There is, moreover, no mechanical air-conditioning sealing off the building as an inward-looking, mechanised system.

In front of the pavilion, there is another work by nabbteeri, Compost, which consists of organic matter routinely removed from the exhibition premises and its grounds. The vegetation generates a steady stream of garden waste. By means of composting, this organic material is transformed into nutrient-rich humus, both as part of Compost and in the peripheral areas of the gardens behind the exhibition pavilions: thus, waste is only its temporary status. The Nordic Pavilion’s porous travertine tiles must be kept clear of rotting leaves, but the very same waste is transformed into life-sustaining fertile matter as part of nabbteeri’s works. How any given material is defined is contingent on the space or place it occupies, and attempts to designate separate spheres of human and non-human agency.

[1] Garden in Italian.

Featured image: European nettle trees that form part of the Nordic Pavilion in Venice
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

Read more — Download Being and Thinking with(in) the Pavilion Space. Curatorial Notes, by Piia Oksanen, as a PDF

Download the Full Article as a PDF >>