The British Council and the commissioned curators –Jayden Ali, Joseph Henry, Meneesha Kellay and Sumitra Upham – present a new exhibition for the British Pavilion at the 18th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia 2023. Dancing Before the Moon is a series of new art installations on an architectural scale by six artists and architects, alongside a new film and soundtrack.
Large-scale objects reflecting different cultural and geographical customs populate the pavilion - from a giant, futuristic domino carved from ash timber to a ‘bone temple’ made of textiles. The exhibition 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 establish space.
In the UK, rituals practiced by diasporic communities are powerful vehicles for forging new spaces that promote cultures and traditions that are not considered in the planning of Britain’s built environment. Dancing Before the Moon celebrates those rituals and presents new ways of thinking about architecture beyond buildings and economic structures.
Each installation, by artists interested in materials and making, acknowledges everyday rituals from different global settings: architecture and textile traditions in Cherokee and Yoruba culture; Hindu and Buddhist belief in the afterlife; outdoor washing in Angola; healing spiritual practices in the American south; Jamaican dominoes in Nottingham; and the craft of Trinidadian steel pan drum-making and Cypriot outdoor cooking. The main hall of the pavilion has a large cinematic installation with a film made by the curators with numerous collaborators, that highlights the central role that rituals play in reflecting the traditions and community values of people living in the UK. The accompanying soundtrack includes original music and has been devised by Oscar #Worldpeace and Fredwave.
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 ultimately shaped by people. This installation responds to the wider themes of the Biennale 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.
Dancing Before the Moon film
In the main hall of the Pavilion, a new film work is shown on a large screen in a space dedicated to gathering and the sharing of ideas. The film observes rituals performed by the global diaspora in Britain, demonstrating an appreciation of land, community values and sharing space. Through dance, procession, games, growing and worship we are reminded that, irrespective of race, culture and socio-economic circumstances, we are all capable of inventing and transforming what’s around us. The film includes new footage shot around the UK including a pub in Nottingham and hair salon in Streatham and some rarely-seen archive footage from the BFI. A new soundtrack accompanies the film, blending old and new music in a new score devised by musicians Oscar #worldpeace and Fredwave. As a room for congregation, the main hall will host a programme of public events including film screenings and talks.
Jayden Ali - Thunder and Şimşek
As visitors approach the entrance of the British Pavilion, they immediately encounter an installation on the exterior of the Pavilion. Thunder and Şimşek explores Ali’s ancestral ties to the islands of Trinidad and Cyprus. This large-scale installation reflects the hybridised cultures and rituals that have grown from occupation. The overhead sculptures, made using steel hammered into shape, represent both the pastimes of Trinidadian steel-pan playing and Cypriot cooking - rituals that became critical to the descendants of these colonised islands claiming space in the UK. The sculptures occupy the traditional façade of the Pavilion’s portico - reimagining the portico as a transitory space for departure and arrival.
Sandra Poulson - Sãbao Azul e Água
Artist Sandra Poulson’s practice draws from her personal experience and observations growing up in Luanda, Angola. Dust sweeps Luanda, settling on people’s bodies and garments. Poulson investigates this residue as a vehicle for identifying socioeconomic status in the city and considers cleansing rituals as tools for social mobility and space occupation. This installation comprises four objects that reference the architectural vernacular and social traditions of Luanda: a cement tank used for hand-washing laundry, a colonial-era balustrade, a garment reminiscent of a traditional Angolan dress worn by women, and footprints. Made from fabric, each one is pattern cut, sewn, stuffed with textile landfill waste and rendered with sabão azul, a blue soap that is ubiquitous in Angola. Soap is used to conceal the objects’ form, and unearth hidden narratives. Sabão Azul e Água captures Poulson’s ongoing interest in cleansing rituals and their connection to space, heritage preservation, and labour.
Mac Collins – Runout
Dominoes is played widely by the British-Caribbean community inside pubs and community centres across the UK and has informed Nottingham-born designer and artist Mac Collins’ Runout. Collins investigates how the material culture and performance associated with dominoes and other cultural rituals have become tangible links to the Caribbean for the Jamaican diaspora in Britain. The exaggerated, futuristic object is made using ebonised and polished ash timber. Its ambiguous form sits somewhere between an abstracted domino and an unknown living form. Its deliberate scale and stature represents the integrity and pride that British-Jamaican communities have built around their collective culture. For Collins, Runout is a reminder of distant and fading ancestry, and the myths and stories created by generations of Caribbean communities reflecting on their position within contemporary British society. It also explores how diasporic urban rituals build social relations and occupy space.
Shawanda Corbett – A healing is coming
Interdisciplinary artist Shawanda Corbett creates work through the inspiration of African and Indigenous American ceramics, cyborg theory and the fluidity of jazz. The community of ceramic vessels cast their shadows on the wall to ‘occupy’ the pavilion. A healing is coming represents the perceived purity that women are expected to uphold in American southern culture, a masculine’s view of women in US Christian culture, the women’s necessary detachment from this projection in order to live, but their struggle to heal. The work focuses on a group of women who embark on different spiritual paths to practice healing. Voodoo/Vodou, an African diaspora religion (originally Vodun in West Africa), and Hoodoo (spiritual practice) are the spiritual practices the women used to seek relief in physical and mental healing.
Madhav Kidao – Bardo
Bardo has been made by melting down and recasting ‘Between Forests and Skies’ – a pavilion designed for the V&A in 2021 by Kidao’s practice Nebbia Works. The large aluminium ‘wall’ explores the rituals surrounding death. Bardo is a Tibetan word which refers to the intermediate state in Buddhism after death but before re-birth. It embodies the concept of ‘punarmṛtyu’ (Sanskrit for ‘re-death’) through the destruction of one form and the creation of another. Influenced by emergent cultures in London, and Hindu and Buddhist philosophies, Kidao’s work champions circular thinking and considers architecture’s temporality. The textures on the work’s surface have been manipulated by the sand in which it was cast, and as an acoustic panel, Bardo reflects and modulates sound, dispersing it through the holes in its surface.
Yussef Agbo-Ola - Muluku: 6 Bone Temple
Muluku: 6 Bone Temple honours rituals across architecture, performance and art within Yoruba and Cherokee communities that respect the natural world and foreground environmental consecration. Organic cotton is woven together on a frame using pineapple fibre to create a sacred structure inspired by the skin patterns of extinct and endangered species. Bones - once used to build with - are presented are presented within consecrated architectural artefacts on top of volcanic stones, heavy with the smell of mint and lavender. Celebrating the earth’s unique ability to create life through decay and reincarnation, this living architectural entity is designed to become a habitat for non-human species before degrading and becoming food for the soil.
Jayden Ali, Joseph Henry, Meneesha Kellay and Sumitra Upham said: “The British Pavilion at the Biennale Architettura 2023 celebrates what it means for people to create and occupy space. Through the lens of South Asian, African and Caribbean diasporas in Britain, Dancing Before the Moon explores how rituals have the potential to uniquely adapt and challenge the built environment. Here social and temporal practices are upheld for enhancing attachment to land, transforming space and binding communities.
“Thank you to our incredible artists and collaborators for transforming the pavilion into a platform that honours our past and imagines a future for British architecture that enhances cultural diversity and a sense of place and belonging. We are looking forward to engaging in the conversations generated by work that powerfully demonstrates the spatial ingenuity of communities from across the world.”
Jayden Ali is the Founding Director of interdisciplinary practice JA Projects and an educator 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 the 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: “The British Council is proud of and inspired by this year’s exhibition, which encourages us to reflect on contemporary architecture and to think about how a diversity of voices can help us to create more inclusive and vibrant places. Through an exploration of ritual and community, the exhibition challenges the architectural industry to put people at its heart and think differently about the production of architecture in the future. The artist commissions celebrate how people and communities occupy and use everyday spaces and places reflecting the architecture industry back on itself. We are also delighted that the exhibition has further reach though the UK poster campaign, alongside the global Biennale event.”
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 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, David Adjaye, Farshid Moussavi and Richard Rogers have all contributed alongside other emerging and established architects, designers, artists and engineers. The British Pavilion at the Biennale Architettura aims 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:
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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 Davis, Director of Architecture, Design and Fashion at British Council.
For latest news on the British Council commission: https://venicebiennale.britishcouncil.org/
For British Council Venice press office updates: https://venicebiennale.britishcouncil.org/press
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About the British Pavilion Selection Committee
The artist commissioned to represent Great Britain at the Biennale Arte is selected by an advisory panel of leading visual arts professionals, from across the UK. The panel membership changes for every edition of the Biennale. The panel selecting the artist for 2022 was chaired by Sevra Davis, Director of Architecture Design Fashion at the British Council, and 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, Architecture Curator
Dr. Neal Shasore, Head of School and Chief Executive Officer, London School of Architecture
About the British Pavilion
Zaha Hadid, David Adjaye, Farshid Moussavi and Richard Rogers have all contributed to the British Pavilion alongside other emerging and established architects, designers, artists and engineers. To find out more about previous British Pavilion exhibitions and British Council Architecture visit: venicebiennale.britishcouncil.org/history and design.britishcouncil.org/
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:
About the Scottish Pavilion
Other presentations from the UK at this year’s La Biennale d’Architetture include A Fragile Correspondence commissioned by the Scotland + Venice partnership at Docks Cantieri Cucchini. Highlighting cultures and languages that have a close affinity with the landscapes of Scotland, A Fragile Correspondence explores alternative perspectives and new approaches to the challenges of the worldwide climate emergency. The exhibition is a curatorial collaboration between the Architecture Fringe, -ism, and /other. Further details at www.scotlandandvenice.com. Fellow Scottish practitioners, Dualchas are also presenting as part of The Laboratory of the Future at the Arsenale (Corderi). The project is supported by Creative Scotland. Further details atwww.dualchas.com
About the British Council
The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities. We support peace and prosperity by building connections, understanding and trust between people in the UK and countries worldwide. We do this through our work in arts and culture, education and the English language. We work with people in over 200 countries and territories and are on the ground in more than 100 countries. In 2021-22 we reached 650 million people.
The British Pavilion is made possible through the generosity of the following organisations whose financial and in-kind contributions support the curators’ vision
Gold Partner: Therme is a leading global wellbeing provider designing, constructing, and operating the world’s largest wellbeing facilities. Its contemporary urban development proposition incorporates environmental concepts to re-integrate nature into everyday life. Therme Art is responsible for Therme Group’s outreach to communities, curating transdisciplinary forums that invite perspectives from art, science, and technology to consider culture and creative production, and working with internationally renowned artists and architects to commission site-specific projects. Therme Art has partnered with the British Council for the fifth year to support the British Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2023. Therme Art will host its Wellbeing Culture Forum, a roundtable discussion prompted by the British Pavilion’s exhibition Dancing Before the Moon and featuring the curators and artists in dialogue with other practitioners.
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. JA Projects designed this year's British Pavilion exhibition. Jayden’s art installation Thunder and Şimşek occupies the Pavilion’s portico and is his first foray into large-scale, 3D artworks. He is an educator 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.
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 Forest, French Guiana. 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. Born in rural Virginia in a multi-heritage Nigerian, African-American, and Cherokee household, his work reflects hybrid identities and relationships to different landscapes, ecologies and cultural rituals. 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; Van Abbemuseum, Netherlands; 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 often 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); Radical Acts at Harewood House, Leeds (2022), and To Be Held, curated by Ronan Mckenzie at The Carl Freedman Gallery, Margate (2023).
Shawanda Corbett: New York-born artist Shawanda Corbett has spent much of her life in Mississippi. She currently lives and works in London. Her interdisciplinary practice includes ceramics, performance, photography and film. She is currently studying for her doctorate in Fine Art at the Ruskin School of Art at the University of Oxford. Corbett's 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 SAI Gallery: Down The Road, Tokyo; Art Now: Let The Sunshine In, Tate Britain, London; and Body Vessel Clay: Black Women, Ceramics & Contemporary Art, Two Temple Place, London (2022).
Madhav Kidao is an Indian-born British architect and co-founder of London-based architecture, design, and art studio Nebbia Works alongside Brando Posocco. Kidao and Posocco’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, Kidao previously 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 has 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 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) and Bold Tendencies, London (2023).