In conversation with Camilla Boemio

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Inaugurated on May 28, the 15th International Architecture Exhibition in Venice presents a theme dear to its director, the famous Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena. Reporting From the Front is the chosen title, referrinf to the desier for a new vision and a new perspective of architecture, and life.A new point of view asked to the many participants from all over the world and especially to the different nations that, this year, are present for the first time. An important contribution has been, among others, the presence of Nigeria that with a post-industrial background has the task of representing an entire country. All this also thanks to the contribution by the curator of the pavilion, the Italian Camilla Boemio, to whom we asked some questions to better understand her research for this exhibition, and the genesis of the Nigerian project.

There are many projects that you have curated in the course of your professional career, both nationally and internationally… which are, in your opinion, the substantial differences between making a project in Italy and abroad?
In the Anglo-Saxon countries, and in northern Europe, you are directly connected with other continents, the visibility is really structured and oriented in the immediate to create new synergies. There is less interaction with politics, and a deep relationship with a larger number of collectors, patrons, nonprofit platforms, exhibitions, museums, foundations and cross actors who consider contemporary art an indispensable source of stimulus. There is no adversity; they have the awareness that, to be men of our time, they need to feed culture and innovation without limits. I believe, however, that the element of substantial differences is the lack of team play, not that there is not in Italia, but it is more unstable, precarious, it comes more from the bottom and becomes random when it raises the stakes. The envy in Italy seems to be visceral, belongs to the cultural socio-historical-aptitudinal heritage and it is so pertinent to the image of the country praised in the Opera. It is a stratification of the internal tension of what Gilles Deleuze in The bergosonism defines explosive forces that life carries within itself…it is always a case of virtuality that they are actualizing, a simplicity in the process of differentiation, a totality that goes dividing: the essence of life is to proceed by dissociation and division, by dichotomies. We find this dichotomy in applying categories to explain this country in which blend the contrasts: simple and complex, stable and ephemeral, union and cutting, construction and deconstruction, isolated individual and shared awareness of the group, inner and outer, consciousness and unconsciousness, first creative intuition and conclusive result.

What were the difficulties in your early career? In your experience what would you recommend to the new generation of curators?
I came from writing, from university research and was disruptive the desire to be able to put into practice a series of theories, ideas, and projects in contexts that could be receptive to experimentation. What has always interested me was to create correspondences between art, cinema, architecture and social issues on a global scale. In this context it was very formative relate myself with: intellectuals, philosophers, filmmakers, architects and scientists. I tried not to homologate my path to that of most curators experts in this profession. I do not feel to reccomend to the young curtors obbligatory to leave, to go abroad. Now it seems that to work and be satisfied in almost all areas, we need to leave Italy. I find important to create simple platforms in Italy, which allow the interaction of various curators, artists, intellectuals who can guarantee the non-manipulated design contents and unpublished; trying to contain the costs of artistic production collaborating with technical sponsors. The directions of many museums will not become curious, or will not immediately understand the richness of proposals that do not pass through the usual bureaucratic channels – this should not be a cause of defeat, because today the network and a greater ease to synergies, can also create great projects, in the contexts of the Italian district, or in the suburbs of the city triggering curatorial excellence. Fundamental is to break away from the chorus, and have critical exercise.

After the Maldives Pavilion at the 55th International Art Exhibition in 2013, you come back to Venice as curator of the first pavilion of Nigeria at the 15th International Architecture Exhibition. How did you face this new project?
It was deeply inspiring; I started to handle it two years ago with the first writing of the curatorial project. My involvement was born from the artistic interest and the desire to talk about social architecture: analyzing the differences of cultural and aesthetic canons, the reason why those differences there are, and the way in which we get closer to them. It is easy enough to dismiss a certain naive approach, immature against geopolitical issues, without really understand what is going on in a given nation and why certain fractures have developed in certain geographical areas. The theme of the Biennale, Reporting from the Front is a political/activist approach, very present in the architecture scene in Nigeria and in my research – I was undoubtedly the perfect curator for this collaboration with the architect and artist Ola-Dele Kuku. It began an examination of the relationship between architecture and its various display modes: the exhibition draws from the political avantgarde and the bequests critically aware of aesthetic production, providing a new exhibition framework in developing an articulated concept of architecture, requiring a structural rethinking of the issue of diminished capacity. Making sure it was not just a specific analysis for Nigeria, but in dialogue with global economic trends.

Venice is characterized by the presence of numerous historic buildings used as national pavilions, permanent or temporary, during the various Biennales. What did you bring to choose for the first pavilion of Nigeria a warehouse of liquor and beer storage in Giudecca as the Punch space?
Every venue is functional to the curatorial project. Must merge, or create a voluntary non-random fracture of intent including: the set-up, the works presented and the space. It is a choice that draws from the anatomy of the curatorial project, and comes to the structural grammar of the architecture of the city. I shrink from the obvious choices that, among other, very often become forcings trying to work with the idea of a permanent dialogue. Choose a sixteenth century building could be ideal for supporters (mainly companies and galleries), but it would be very artificial and devoid of visual tensions for the project.

Art and architecture are two of the cornerstones of the International Bienniale of Venice and in recent years have tended to merge a lot, in the design of the pavilions of the different countries. As curator, what, in your opinion should not be missed in an exhibition?
The structural work for the set-up should be fluid, persuasive, original and in perfect dialogue with the space. I completely agree with Beatriz Colomina, the exhibitions are not simply spaces for the visualization of the architecture, are spaces for incubation of new forms and new ways of thinking about architecture. Diminished Capacity belong to this category, in which they suggest original readings of an architecture that showcases activating a series of suggestions and theoretical discussions.

In support of this fusion between art and architecture there is, perhaps, the choice of the architect /artist Ola-Dele Kuku. What did you led to choose him as the representative of Nigeria?

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Nigerian Pavilion – 15th International Architecture Exhibition La Biennale di Venezia 2016 – photo Filippo Peretti

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Nigerian Pavilion – 15th International Architecture Exhibition La Biennale di Venezia 2016 – photo Filippo Peretti

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Nigerian Pavilion – 15th International Architecture Exhibition La Biennale di Venezia 2016 – photo Filippo Peretti

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Nigerian Pavilion – 15th International Architecture Exhibition La Biennale di Venezia 2016 – photo Filippo Peretti

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Nigerian Pavilion – 15th International Architecture Exhibition La Biennale di Venezia 2016 – photo Filippo Peretti

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Nigerian Pavilion – 15th International Architecture Exhibition La Biennale di Venezia 2016 – photo Filippo Peretti

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Nigerian Pavilion – 15th International Architecture Exhibition La Biennale di Venezia 2016 – photo Filippo Peretti

He is one of the most complex and unique figures in the Nigerian scene; already rich of many talents he is an artist, architect, theorist and teacher. Collaborating with him the boundaries of architecture became a blend of disciplines and of stimuli that arrive to the interaction with the philosophy and sociology. There is still a strong European power anchored to the idea that Africans from the West of the continent, particularly those of African slums, can not or will not do great art, or if they realize it, it is an exception. How we can think to talk only about colonialism, slavery and exoticism. Are we so stuck to recognize the complexity, the differences, the finesse and the history of a continent from which emerge reality and visions of art and architecture originated from different regions in Africa?

What is and which is the message of the International Architecture Exhibition?
The loss of stereotypes, towards Africa, and a kind of purity which interacts with various elements like the cosmos, God, languages and the principle commandments of the article one of the Declaration of Human Rights, create a leitmotif in which the body of the exhibition, choosing artworks made with different mediums and languages, is built. The work of Ola-Dele Kuku contributes to creative and critical thinking of how we could live with a completely different perspective of the African continent. My curatorial approach seeks to examine how he not only focused on the history of Nigeria, but, at the same time, he studied the conditions for mobility in relation to the need to rewrite the diminished capacity of a territory, at the macro scale. The conflict is one of the recurring themes in his research. As an architect-artist, he identifies the conflict as one of the driving mechanisms in our world, and as a tool to set the change in motion. The conflict has played a crucial role since the dawn of creation. The diminished capacity is a part of the mechanism of a situation of conflict. The existing hierarchy is at its peak and it is about to fall. And although social media give the impression that our world is only “fiction”, we are even more segregated in a closed-mindedness that leads us to be slaves of the uncertainty and the inability of critical analysis. As our world will evolve is not yet clear, but there is no doubt that the conflict will stimulate change and inspire innovation. In the Pavilion the artistic practice of Ola-Dele Kuku develops an intensified narration: with drawing, installations, and objects (eg: Opera Domestica I – Archives Theatre), in an unconventional approach, revisiting the pillar of the method of the architectural representation- the map, the perspective drawing and the section – injecting disturbing shifts in their strict formalism with the interaction of visible codes and phrases visible in the installation Neon text (“Africa is not a country!”) and with the Braille light box. The exhibition creates a stratification of tensions between the methods, the concepts and the materials used. It is an unexpected and site-specific use of the space in which the curatorial concept starts from a definite impact statement: “Africa is not a country!”, prospecting new methodologies.

This year the 15th International Architecture Exhibition is directed by architect Alejandro Aravena who chose as title “Reporting from the front”, to which is associated the photo taken by Bruce Chatwin to the German archaeologist Maria Reiche standing on a ladder in the desert. What is the meaning of the theme that Aravena wanted to give to the whole exhibition and how does it fit in the project of the Pavilion of Nigeria?
As Aravena says: “The architecture is concerned for shaping the places in which we live. The shape of these places, however, is not defined only by the aesthetic trend of the time or talent of a particular architect. They are the consequence of rules, interests, economies and policies, or perhaps alsoof the lack of coordination, of indifference and of the simple randomness. The forms that they acquire can enhance or ruin people’s lives. The difficulty of conditions (insufficient resources, the restrictive constraints, the needs of all types) are a constant threat to a quality result. The forces do not necessarily intervene in favor: greed and bustle of the capital, or the stupidity and conservatism of the bureaucratic system, tend to produce mundane places, mediocre, boring. Still many battles to be won, therefore, to improve the quality of the built environment and, consequently, the quality of the lives of people “. From this, born a deeper relationship with the Pavilion of Nigeria in which, an assiduous research in debunking the dullness, the clichés, but also accept the change, are necessary elements to be able to understand the present, and build (even in theoretical and artistic way) our future. The critical awareness of the media, the approach to a knowledge of world critical points where is in place, and branches off, the change, is an indispensable weapon of knowledge to be men of our time, and to understand how the social architecture can go to renew the links of the “res publica”.

The presence of Nigeria has certainly an historical value. What does for this country mean to have a representation in an exhibition of international level like that of Venice?
We have truly made history with Diminished Capacity. Nigeria has long been, from the beginning of both independence from the British Empire in 1960 and the outbreak of civil war in 1967, in a continuous phase of socio-cultural development. It is the most populous nation of the continent and it is the so-called “pulsating heart of Africa”. At this stage the government’s priorities were not immediately expected the participation at the Venice Biennale although many young Nigerian artists inaugurated the postcolonial modernism, inspired by the rhetoric and ideologies of decolonization and nationalism in the mid-twentieth century, and, later, by supporters of negritude and pan-Africanism, translating the experience of decolonization in a typical “post-colonial modernity” which has continued to be the work of great Nigerian artist. I want to mention this quote, taken from a publication needed to understand the various stages in the modern history of Nigeria. ‘Postcolonial Modernism: Art and Decolonization in the Twentieth-Century Nigeria’ illustrates the path reached. A place to start to build / decode the ‘new’ cultural ferment. The layering of knowledge leads to mention publications as a base to filter concepts of  movement of our present. The latter becomes an analysis of how assimilation is an ancestral hip hop cone from which solidify new epiphanies. According to the Nigerian High Commissioner of the Pavilion, George Nkanta Ufot (The Director of the International Cultural Affairs) of the Ministry of Information and Culture, the development of international cultural exchange is one of the main priorities of the new government. I am sure that the ambition of the Ministry of Information and Culture is to establish a solid foundation for the continued participation of Nigeria at the Biennale.

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Alessia Cervelli

Laureata in Storia dell’Arte Contemporanea presso l’Università di Roma La Sapienza, intraprende fin da subito un percorso multidisciplinare che la porta a svolgere attività curatoriali indipendenti e di critica, affiancate a ricerca e catalogazione in ambito istituzionale. Da sempre legata al mondo della scrittura, porta avanti la propria passione sia in campo “giornalistico” sia letterario, rivolgendo, inoltre, una particolare attenzione alla pittura e alla fotografia. Attualmente vive e lavora a Roma.

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