THE SOUT HERN CROSS IN THE SMALLEST CORNER OF THE GIARDINI
If a common territory does exist, no doubt it would be the sky. It embraces space and time; its cartographies are a mirror for humanity’s myths, fears, and ambitions. The sky tells us of the infinite space and of the insignificance of our existence. Its mere contemplation bares our vulnerability, makes us more human, and subjugates us to a whole, to a common space and time.
That is why the sky can be described as common ground. The atmosphere is the intelligent device that separates us from the cosmic freeze and the infinite heat, equalizes the extreme, makes our space hospitable, allows for everything beautiful that we can smell, touch, see, and feel. The atmosphere is breeze and is rain, is dense and diaphanous. It is the trigger, the everchanging device of our common garden’s architecture.
At this other scale, the scale of the ages, architecture is different to how we architects perceive it. It is not the center of anything nor of anyone. Architecture is an ephemeral and earthly pleasure, like wine, sensuality, or food. On this map, architecture is merely a new geologic conformation, a set of cavities colonized, inhabited, occupied by a society that, with its myths, histories, affections and mysteries, rebuilds it constantly. On this other record the life of cities intertwines with the life of societies; they celebrate and enjoy each other in freedom. There is neither control nor disciplinary action; there are neither styles nor ideologies; there are no correct ways of use; no abhorrent nor immoral pleasures; just cavities, nooks, refuges, corners.
On this other map every passable void is common ground, the atmosphere its binding fluid and the sky an intangible presence. The sky completes the landscape, today’s and prehistory’s. The sky is the canvas.
The northern sky is not the same as the southern sky.
The southern sky draws its cross.
It is its cross that guides the explorers of this side of the world. In our Western culture, “the cross” brashly symbolizes burden and liberation, is at once submission and subversion, represents death and resurrection. This gleeful insolence is our South, and that is how it is drawn upon its sky.
The pavilion of the people most to the south of all those who inhabit the Giardini couldn’t be alien to this. Its body, its interior, its skin, are not recognized within the fine architecture of architects, but in the dense cavities of the inhabitants.
Perhaps this is why the Uruguayan Pavilion, the smallest in the Giardini, is crouched amongst the trees, hiding in the forest; and getting to it is only possible if the wish to do so exists. Perhaps this is why it has only one hole through which to penetrate its shadowy and hospitable womb, fresh shelter for the visitor on the long summer days in which the art and architecture biennials take place. Its condition, marginal to the streams of the Giardini, also has allowed it to be generous host to the Roma and to the homeless during the long Venetian winter, that time in which it transforms into an empty theater and recovers its primitive condition.
Nowadays there are projects to change it, there are attempts to draw it closer into the world of the architects. Its simplicity, it insignificance, its indifferent austerity are unbearable for the haughty pride of the architects who have not yet been able to see it as something just as valuable as a finished work: a communicational infrastructure.
Should the smallest pavilion of the southernmost country of all those that inhabit the Giardini shelter in its womb the dreams of the convoked architects to show their skills, fantasizing with how it should be and is not?
Is this perhaps another metaphor of contemporary architecture? Does this perhaps speak to us of their preoccupations, their yearnings ... of the scale of their maps?
However, the austere infrastructure of the pavilion will remain there: indifferent, generous to whoever values it. In the summer it will provide shelter for the explorers of art and architecture and will offer housing in the winter for those marginalized by the system.
The curious presence of the Uruguayan Pavilion in the Giardini challenges us: Where is the sense that a small South American country—of little more than 3 million inhabitants—as Uruguay has a permanent pavilion in the Giardini to dialogue with the world’s great culture generators?
Why of its place, hidden in the forest?
Is there beauty and metaphoric value in its austere architecture?
Is there causality within this happenstance of its existence?
What is its reason for being on the Common Garden?
THE SENSE BEHIND THE HIDD EN PAVILION IS TO REMIND US OF THE POLITICAL DIMENSION OF ART AND ARCHITECTURE
Uruguay is above all the construction of a political space. It rose an independent nation as a construct destined to mediate, balance, and contain the great powers that in South America represented Brazil and Argentina. Its name reminds us so, being merely the description of a geographic and political space: República Oriental del Uruguay (Republic East of the Uruguay). This small country is the place that a republic that is east of the Rio Uruguay occupies.
Its cosmopolitan population also answers to this curious reality. During the construction of modernity, and especially in the 20th and 19th centuries, it has been the heterotopia of European culture. Its Spanish, Italian, German, English, and French colonists found in this country the other space in which to redeem wars and miseries.
Le Corbusier captured it perfectly in his passage through Montevideo in 1929. The cosmopolitanism and the cultural nobility of this small nation overpowered him, and so he wrote years later in his famous book Towards a New Architecture.
That could be one of the reasons for the smallest pavilion hidden amongst the trees in the Giardini: to remind us silently, at the times when the major cultural events of the Western world are taking place, that art and architecture are political constructions.
The calls of the general curators of the last few Venice biennales—Aaron Betsky, Kazuyo Sejima, and David Chipperfield—have understood it so and sought to look beyond buildings. The object is recognized as the obscurer of architecture’s free and creative thought, and their calls invite us to think with another depth, from other registers, with other skies as reference.
“Architecture beyond buildings,” “People meet in architecture,” and the present “The common ground” seem to refer to one same idea.
The small, hidden pavilion is a metaphor of that same idea. It represents a country whose capital, Montevideo, is the farthest south of all the capitals of the world, and its austere materiality and thick interiority speak to us of a place that has had in its genetics, cosmopolitan and generous toward the immigrant cultures, its greatest wealth. A place east of a river whose rich political, artistic, educational, and academic practices have allowed it the privilege of occupying a spot in the Giardini.
Its most noble vocation could well be to humbly remind us of the ultimate sense of architecture: to be shelter and symbolic space; a means, never an end; a path, never a destination; an open experience, never a polished narrative.
The hidden pavilion could well be the Southern Cross in the stellar sky of the Venice Biennales.