The British Council and the commissioned curators – Jayden Ali, Joseph Henry, Meneesha Kellay and Sumitra Upham – today announce their preliminary plans for the British Pavilion at the 18th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia 2023. Their exhibition, Dancing Before the Moon, will present a series of installations featuring new work by six artists and designers and a new film and soundscape.
The exhibition promotes the idea that everyday rituals (from growing food and cooking to playing games and dancing) are tools for diasporic communities to establish spaces and present new ways of thinking about architecture and the built environment. Through a series of installations, a group of UK-based artists and architects will transform the pavilion to represent a future for British architecture – one where social practices are celebrated for binding communities and transforming space.
As visitors approach the entrance of the British Pavilion, they will immediately encounter a new exterior installation designed by Jayden Ali. The main hall of the pavilion will consist of a large cinematic installation with a film developed by the curators and collaborators, highlighting the central role that rituals play in reflecting the traditions and community values of people living in the UK.
Inside the pavilion, the galleries will focus on objects conceived and produced by five UK-based artists and architects, with an interest in materials and making: Yussef Agbo-Ola, Mac Collins, Shawanda Corbett, Madhav Kidao and Sandra Poulson.The objects will reflect global cultural practices that impact space.
Collectively, this exhibition champions an expanded notion of architecture. One that is intangible, that cross-pollinates with performance, craft and other creative disciplines, and that is shaped by people.
This installation responds to the wider themes of theBiennale Architettura 2023 - The Laboratory of the Future – giving audiences a chance to imagine different futures where collaboration, experimentation and equity are prioritised in the planning of space in the UK.
Jayden Ali, Joseph Henry, Meneesha Kellay and Sumitra Upham said:
“The British Pavilion at the Biennale Architettura 2023 is a space for rethinking the role that people play in shaping the built environment. It demonstrates the need for architecture to look beyond buildings and economic structures and towards everyday social practices, customs and traditions in order to meaningfully reflect how people use and occupy space.”
Jayden Ali is the Founding Director of interdisciplinary practice JA Projects and a Senior Lecturer at Central Saint Martins; Joseph Henry is a designer and urbanist, co-founder of platform Sound Advice and is the Capital Development Manager in the Culture and Creative Industries Team at the Greater London Authority; Meneesha Kellay is a curator and commissioner, currently Senior Curator, Contemporary Programme at the V&A; and Sumitra Upham is a curator and writer, currently Head of Programmes at the Crafts Council.
Sevra Davis, Director of Architecture Design Fashion at the British Council and Commissioner of the British Pavilion said:
“We are delighted that the British Council Commission for the 18th International Architecture Exhibition will look at architecture and the built environment in a new way, advocating for rituals as a way of changing spaces. This newly commissioned installation presents a radically different vision for the UK – encouraging us to reconsider our customs and traditions and create more innovative, forward-thinking places.”
The British Council has been responsible for the British Pavilion at the International Art and Architecture Exhibitions organized by La Biennale di Venezia since 1937, showcasing the best of the UK's artists, architects, designers and curators. These exhibitions, and the British Council’s Venice Fellowships initiative introduced in 2016, help make the British Pavilion a major platform for discussion about contemporary art and architecture. They also continue the British Council’s work in supporting peace and prosperity by building connections, understanding and trust between people in the UK and countries worldwide.
From the first International Architecture Exhibition at the pavilion in 1991, the British Council has invited high profile names to curate and show. Zaha Hadid, Richard Rogers and Norman Foster have all contributed alongside other emerging and established architects, designers, artists and engineers. The British Pavilion at the Biennale Architectureaims to create debate that both challenges and influences the future of British architecture.
Since 2012 the British Council has commissioned the exhibition through an open call. Curators have been encouraged to use the pavilion as a space for research, alongside showcasing pioneering architecture and challenging ideas.
Dancing Before the Moon:
“There is a reason, after all, that some people wish to colonize the moon, and others dance before it as an ancient friend.” James Baldwin
About the exhibition title, the curators said: “In many countries, the moon is celebrated as a symbol of life. To us, the quote reflects a longing and appreciation for global rituals and everyday practices that demonstrate an appreciation of soil and the cosmos. It proposes an alternative way of considering collective relationships to land and geography, and how communities come together to hold space through making and social practices. Importantly it speaks to both the past and the future.”
Full press pack, including images here: https://bit.ly/Venice2023
For media enquiries regarding the British Council’s commission for the British Pavilion at the 18th International Art Exhibition - La Biennale di Venezia please contact:
Rebecca Ward for the British Council +44 (0) 7977 071450
Claire McAuley, British Council +44 7542268752
Or email the press team: email@example.com
The 18th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, 20 May – 26 November 2023
The British Pavilion is commissioned and managed by British Council Architecture.
Commissioner:Sevra Davies, Director of Architecture, Design and Fashion at British Council.
For latest news on the British Council commission: https://venicebiennale.britishcouncil.org/
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About the British Pavilion Selection Committee
The UK’s presentation at the International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia is selected by an advisory panel of leading architecture professionals, from across the UK. The panel membership changes for every edition of the Biennale Architettura. The panel selecting the 2023 pavilion was chaired by Sevra Davis, Director of Architecture Design Fashion at the British Council and Commissioner of the British Pavilion and also included:
Simon Allford, President RIBA
Gus Casely-Hayford, Director V&A East
Carole-Anne Davies, Chief Executive, Design Commission for Wales
Anab Jain, Co-Founder and Director, Superflux
Chithra Marsh, Associate Director, Buttress Architects
Dr. Agustina Martire, Senior Lecturer in Architecture, Queen’s University Belfast
Vanessa Norwood, Creative Director, Building Centre
Dr. Neal Shasore, Head of School and Chief Executive Officer, London School of Architecture
About the Venice Fellowships
The Venice Fellowships enable students and volunteers to spend a month in Venice during one of the world’s most significant art and architecture biennales:
The British Pavilion is made possible through the generosity of the following organisations whose financial and in-kind contributions support the curators’ vision:
Gold Sponsor: Therme Group
And those who wish to remain anonymous
Jayden Ali is an architect, artist, and filmmaker whose interdisciplinary practice, JA Projects, works internationally on public-facing, cultural projects that strengthen communities and actively reflect on society. He is a lecturer at Central Saint Martins, a trustee of Open City, and a Design Advocate for the Mayor of London. He has been recognised by numerous publications as a key voice shaping the life of cities and is on the Architects’ Journal’s prestigious ‘40 Under 40’ list. He is an alumnus of the Architectural Association, The Cass and the University of East London.
Joseph Henry is a designer, urbanist and writer whose practice advocates for equitable processes for making cities. Joseph works at the Greater London Authority as Capital Development Manager in the Culture and Creative Industries Unit. He previously led the Ecological Urbanism research inquiry, where he developed planning policy and guidance to embed circular economy principles into London’s planning system. Joseph, alongside Pooja Agrawal, co-founded Sound Advice, an extra-institutional platform that explores new forms of spatial practice through music. Sound Advice develops projects that foreground narratives and culture critical to designing a more progressive and plural urban environment. Joseph has written for titles such as Dezeen and Casabella. He is a trustee of the Russell Maliphant Dance Company and an advisor to Thearum Mundi.
Meneesha Kellay is a curator and commissioner working across art, architecture, design, and performance. Currently the Senior Curator, Contemporary Programme at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), she supports emerging creative practice through commissioning exhibitions, installations, performances, and events. Previously she was Public Programmes Curator at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), Assistant Director of the AA Night School at the Architectural Association, and led Open House London 2014. She has worked on projects for the Africa Architecture Awards and the Baltic Pavilion at the 15th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia in 2016. She holds a Masters in Cultural and Critical Studies from Goldsmiths, University of London, and a Bachelors in Architecture from the University of Manchester. Meneesha is a steering committee member for Design Can and a key advocate of the V&A’s anti-racism efforts.
Sumitra Upham is a curator and writer interested in spatial and discursive practices and the social value of making. Currently Head of Programmes at the Crafts Council, she oversees its contemporary craft collection and an interdisciplinary programme of exhibitions and events. Previously she was Senior Curator of Public Programmes at the Design Museum (2017–21); Curator of Programmes for the 5th Istanbul Design Biennial, Empathy Re-Visited: Designs for more than one (2019–20); and Associate Curator at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), London (2012–16). Sumitra holds a Masters in Curating Contemporary Design from Kingston University and a Graduate Certificate in History of Art and Architecture from Birkbeck, University of London. In 2020 she joined the board of Trustees at Cubitt, an artist-run gallery and cooperative.
Yussef Agbo-Ola, founder of Olaniyi Studio, is an architect and artist living between London and the Amazon. His practice questions how art, architecture, and anthropological research can create experimental environments that challenge the ways we experience geological conditions and living ecosystems. His research manifests through architectural pavilions, photographic journalism, material alchemy, interactive performance, experimental sound design, and conceptual writing. Agbo-Ola holds a Masters in Fine Art from the University of the Arts London and a Masters in Architecture from the Royal College of Art. He has led art and architectural commissions for the United Nations; the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), London; the Serpentine, London; Sharjah Architecture Triennial; TEDxEastEnd, London; the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); Venice Architectural Biennale; and Palais de Tokyo, Paris, among others. Agbo-Ola is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Architecture at Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (GSAPP), where he directs an experimental design studio within the Advanced Architectural Design programme.
Mac Collins is a British designer and artist committed to designing and making narrative-led and impactful furniture and objects that explore intersections of culture. As an artist of dual heritage, Collins draws on his British Jamaican lineage to create artefacts informed by the stories and experiences of his intertwined community. He graduated with a degree in 3D Design from Northumbria University, Newcastle, and is the recipient of the London Design Festival’s Emerging Design Medal (2021) and the Ralph Saltzman Prize (2022), which culminated in a solo exhibition at the Design Museum, London. Recent group exhibitions include: Discovered: Designers for Tomorrow at the Design Museum, London, in partnership with American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) and Wallpaper* (2021); and Radical Acts: Why Craft Matters at Harewood House, Leeds (2022).
Shawanda Corbett, New York-born artist Shawanda Corbett spent much of her life in Mississippi. Her wide-ranging practice covers performance and pottery through a ‘cyborg’ perspective, looking at the relationships between differently abled and abled bodies. Her colourful, sculptural ceramic vessels feature paired forms in curious communion. She is currently studying for her doctorate in Fine Art at the Ruskin School of Art at the University of Oxford. Her work is represented in the collections of the Fitzwilliam Museum, the Harris, and the Arts Council Collection, all in the UK. She is the recipient of the Kleinwort Hambros Emerging Artist Prize (2021) and the Tate’s Turner Bursary (2020). Recent solo exhibitions include: Art Now: Shawanda Corbett, Tate Britain, London; and Body Vessel Clay: Black Women, Ceramics & Contemporary Art, Two Temple Place, London (2022). She lives and works in Oxford, England.
Madhav Kidao is an Indian-born British architect and co-founder of London-based architecture, design, and art studio Nebbia Works alongside Brando Posocco. KidaoandPosocco’s work explores the peripheries of architecture and is driven by an interest in the idiosyncrasies, contradictions, and undefined boundaries of our world. They investigate tools, narratives, technology, and materials to fabricate new public and cultural environments with a particular focus on craft and process. A graduate of the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London, Kidaopreviously worked at Heatherwick Studio (2013–17). Although an architect by training, his practice includes collaborations with artists, musicians, and theatre companies, as well as art direction for film. He has a particular interest in imagination-led design, performance, experimental technology, and craftsmanship.
Sandra Poulson, Angolan artist Sandra Poulson lives between London and Luanda. She is a Masters student in Fashion at the Royal College of Art and a Bachelors in Fashion Print from Central Saint Martins. Her work discusses the political, cultural, and socio-economic landscape of Angola to analyse the relationship between history, oral tradition, and global political structures. Her practice draws upon inherited societal memories of colonial Angola and its civil war to dismantle contemporary narratives through semiotic and archaeological studies. She is the recipient of the MullenLowe NOVA Award and the Central Saint Martins Dean’s Award (2020). Her work has been exhibited in various exhibitions internationally, most recently at the Lagos Biennial (2019) and Bloomberg New Contemporaries at the South London Gallery (2021). She has had solo presentations at ARCOmadrid (2021); V.O Curations, London (2022).