Two massive shipping containers left Australian shores bound for Venice. There, there were met by the team of specialist contractors, who had constructed the contents back in OZ. Next, the team from John Wardle Architects, along with collaborators: artist Natasha Johns-Messenger, filmmakers Coco and Maximilian, and Murano glassblower Leonardo Cimolin, set about the monumental task of assembling their elements into Somewhere Other, a vast installation worthy of La Biennale di Venezia.
‘It’s an idea formed around the theme of translation, and working between two distinctly different places: Australia and Venice,’ explains founding principal John Wardle. ‘To make this connection between “somewhere” and “other” we determined our exhibition to be a series of portals and thresholds that orchestrate various forms of engagement, from the most intimate to the most social, with opportunities for entering within, or standing back and observing.’
The result is a meticulously constructed installation, which joiners Jacaranda Industries have clad in spotted gum, an Australian native hardwood. Integrated throughout the structure’s viewing points and thresholds are a series of screen-like mirrors and films – by artist Natasha Johns-Messenger and filmmakers Coco and Maximilian, respectively – as well as an intriguing optical device created in collaboration with Venetian glass master Leonardo Cimolin.
‘The capacity of Natasha’s work to confound perception and challenge what and how we see things led us to invite her into our project for Venice,’ details John. Meanwhile, Coco and Maximilian’s six short films cover John Wardle Architects projects. But rather than merely document, they creatively explore emotional engagement with architectural space.
One end of the Somewhere Other installation tapers to a viewing portal, inspired by both Venetian carnival masks and the horizontal eye slit in legendary bushranger Ned Kelly’s iron helmet. ‘It’s suggestive of the way we engage with interior space,’ explains John of the view.
At the other end, is a U-shaped passageway where a film, presenting a journey through passages, windows and door openings, is projected at human scale. At the same time, two of Natasha’s angled mirrors create an engaging illusion, enfolding viewers in the projection.
A final ‘Venetian Portal’ can be viewed from that same U-shaped passageway. This polished chrome cone extends through funnel-shaped Venetian glass by master craftsman Leonardo Cimolin. Uniquely, this viewpoint has an opposite function to the other two, focusing a viewer’s attention inward on the architectural pavilion space before them, rather than elsewhere… somewhere other!
Curated by Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale, Freespace, runs from May 26th to November 25th.
To accompany the exhibition, John Wardle Architects has commissioned a monograph, Somewhere Other: John Wardle Architects, by Uro Publications.