Venice Biennale 2021

Venice, IT - 2021

Grove is a delicate and beautiful gathering space that offers a vision for inclusive, open building. A soaring, undulating canopy of luminous, lace-like clouds embedded with liquid-filled glass vessels hovers above a central pool-shaped screen, into which a film, called Grove Cradle, by London-based Warren du Preez and Nick Thornton Jones is projected. The projection pool is surrounded by a forest of totemic, basket-like columns with embedded custom speakers that carry a multi-channel spatial sound environment by composer Salvador Breed and 4DSOUND of Amsterdam.

Together, the film and sound environment offer visitors an almost overwhelmingly intense experience of innumerable worlds falling into chaos and rising again in new life. Inspired by the form language of Beesley’s “living architecture” environments, the film’s intricate geometries move from inert crystalline minerals into surging life forms. Within an astral, dream-like vision of constant metamorphosis, a child-like being emerges, reflecting the fundamental journey from death into new life. Rising and falling in cycles, deeply fragmented wilderness is interwoven with shimmering, hopeful light. Whispering voices emerge from cavernous depths, creating an emotional passage from suffering through new life and innocent wonder.

COVID-19 necessitated a complete re-imagining of the original Grove concept. Initially conceived of as a robustly physical, densely interactive environment, it soon became clear that a different type of public installation was required during a global pandemic. So Beesley looked to ways of creating expanded and enhanced physical and virtual experiences by working with collaborators in sound and film. The result is a new type of multimedia installation that re-interprets the interwoven layers and constantly transforming, near-to-life qualities of Beesley’s immersive architectural visions. It is also a direct response to the urgent question posed by the title of Hashim Sarkis’s exhibition.

How will we live together? Beesley and his collaborators offer a vision of a transformed world where future architecture seeks communion with plants, animals, and inert matter alike. Free citizenship was long defined by protective city walls, yet those same walls have also fueled catastrophic changes that befall us now. Instead of the rigid, bounded, and closed territories that divide us, can we live in open, constantly exchanging, shared worlds? Can a new architecture based on dissipative natural forms, such as fragile snowflakes and shifting clouds, create buildings that that are both unapologetically sensitive and extraordinarily coherent, self-renewing, strong, and resilient?

In Grove, Philip Beesley has expanded upon his major built projects, such as the recent permanent sculpture Meander (located in Cambridge, Canada), and innovative fabrics developed in collaboration with fashion designer Iris van Herpen. The deeply layered, resilient physical structures of these preceding projects have been transformed into ghost-like virtual worlds for presentation in Venice. The experimental architecture of Grove offers profoundly restorative and healing qualities. By translating complex, interdependent natural systems into projected physical and virtual structures and environments, Grove offers a vision of a radically inclusive future where we can mesh our bodies, minds and spirits with our surroundings, breach seemingly unbreachable divides, and create renewed worlds grounded in mutual exchange and empathy.

Grove is open to the public at the Arsenale – one of the main exhibition venues of the 17th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia from May 22 to November 21, 2021. VIP and Press Pre-opening dates are from May 20 to 21, 2021.

Grove Cradle Film

DigitalFUTURES Venice Biennale: Living Architecture

Press – Canadian Architect