The Arch Biennale/Venice

a view of the game boards in the Cyprus Pavilion


29/ October 2016. Report, PTL. Socrates Stratis, the curator for this year’s Cypriot Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, welcomed the workshop group with a tour of the Palazzo Malipiero exhibition, “Contested Fronts, Commoning the Practices for Conflict Transformation.” There were 3 basic categories of investigation, “Counter Mapping,” “Creating Thresholds,” and “Introducing Urban Controversies.” From the curator’s description:

“Contested Fronts” is an exploration of architecture’s role for commoning practices in ethnically and socially contested spaces. It focuses on the agencies of architecture’s ad-hoc technologies that contribute into conflict transformation by advocating for reconciliation processes to go hand in hand with urban reconstruction processes. “Contested Fronts” concentrates on the agencies of ad-hoc technology’s materiality and use into encouraging the emergence of informal groups (collectives), with members coming from areas across divides. Ad-hoc technology has to do with means of engagement, means of representation and communication as well as tactful organization of physical spaces and initiation of events and rituals.

I have had a several encounters with Cyprus, going back to the late eighties when I first visited the island as a guest of a UN investigator for missing persons (UNCMP). That was also my first trip to Famagusta, the surreal abandoned Miami-like city where time stands still.  Cyprus is where I decided to take up the art of History, when I was struck by  a neat historical coincidence, or what could be viewed as a never ending historical condition, where soldiers continue to man the walls of the city much in the same way Venetian soldiers stood some 5 centuries ago. Architecture is after all history’s substructure. While my love with history evolved… I wasn’t cut out to study Byzantine history as I was soon to discover (but i did get a lot out of the very seductive subject of iconography and iconoclasm) I did realize that the several basic tropes to be found in Cyprus, the Green dividing line, the fortified bastions, bricked up streets and alley ways, sandbag guard-posts, UN observer troops, clandestine exchanges and contraband, and a surfeit of stubborn  and uncompromising politicians, where going to be found everywhere…

introduction by Socrates Stratis
Socrates Stratis

Socrates spoke about double infrastructures, re-arranged alliances, “disenclaving” the last term no more byzantine then Balkanisation would be to those of us who had just come from the R-Lab Bac & Bak  workshop in Mostar. But it was perhaps the way these series of studies brought different perspectives to the subject of Famagusta, from the meticulous mapping of the streets and structures that had not been done since the civil disputes and subsequent diaspora changed the political eco-system in 1974. And then there was the small imprint of the “Action Dove Graffiti,  the outlined image of a dove with a hand for wings, with the moniker “Hands on Famagusta” a sort of sign introduced onto the walls of the city that raised some very significant questions about how to read a city, and especially a city in such abandonment, where the citizens who did occupy this “twilight zone” space would not conform to any one or another kind of accessible social reading. Socrates wrote: “the volatility of the action dove contrasted by the anchoring gesture of the hand implies the struggle of such endeavor: how to navigate in conditions of political irresolution by demonstrating the conflictual character of the making of the urban and by promoting new alliances of urban actors across the divide.” (cited in Socrates Stratis, ed., Guide to Common Urban Imaginaries in Contested Spaces, Berlin, Jovis, 2016. pp. 75)

Of course for any one who has read Lawrence Durrell’s very personal account of the island’s many foibles and schisms, brought together in a book published in 1956 and controversial to this day, one might have recognized Durrell’s intuitive capacity to recognize the powder-keg tensions building up just below the island’s paradisical surface. Back to Cyprus then, a recurrent place to help understand real world issues.

Socrates Stratis, Curator, Cyprus Pavilion
Institute of Thresholds, Cyprus Pavilion

The second part of the day’s workshop at the Cypriot Pavilion was a talk by Pelin Tan, who has been working arduously to build one of the most experimental architecture programs around, at  Artuklu University in  Mardin. A Turkish city in close proximity of the Syrian border, now an active war zone, Mardin is surrounded by refugee camps and peopled by not only Turks, but also Arabic and Kurdish peoples. The question Pelin is pursuing is very simple, yet exasperatingly out of reach of most architectural practices: “what should be the humanitarian role of the architect?” The questions she raises deal precisely with some very specific conditions common to refugee camps: from their urban, almost permanent to temporary sprawling  nature, giving rise to some very real problems and some very real and clever autarkic solutions. Citing Abdulmaliq Simone and Keller Easterling, Pelin navigates through a very potent reality: some 2.5 million refugees are under Turkish administration (AFAT). Pelin takes Giorgio Agamben to task, these environments are, for her, “post-states of exception” they are neither that isolated nor non-emancipatory. With her students, they have been analysing the geography of the camps, near villages, near highways, near rivers, and near borders, and their transformative impact on those very places, as villages grow into major urban centers, highways grow into strategic routes… Pelin recognises that the state is spending disproportionate amounts of money to bring all kinds of subsidiary infrastructure into these camps and therefore questions just how these top down decisions get made… And yes its the details that count, what can we learn, Pelin asks, by knowing how much is the electricity bill to run just one of these camps?

Marta Gil left,  Pelin Tan, Cyprus Pavilion
Daniel Urey left,  Socrates Stratis at the Cyprus Pavilion

Daniel Urey presenting “Reconciliation Architecture:” the term is being used here to describe a methodological approach to an urban practice that focuses on cities that have become more or less socially and physically dysfunctional, jammed by conflicting social interests that are constantly strained by competing spatial allegiances, historical legacies, or otherwise symbolic occupations of shared spaces. “Reconciliation Architecture,”  an evolving research and action based platform being developed by Daniel Urey together with Peter Lang at Architecture @ the Royal Institute of Art  intended to invest in alternative approaches to resolving conflicts within cities divided by political, ethnical, economical or segregational histories, reconsidering the very signs, symbols, monuments and landmarks that have come to define these divisions in space and territory.


Socrates Stratis, left, Peter Lang right. photo by Pelin Tan.

The afternoon was spent at the Stalker Archives in the Serra dei Giardini

Clockwise: Guillermo Arsuagua, student from Marden, unknown, Lorenzo Romito, Pelin Tan, Socrates Stratis

The afternoon was spent at the Serra –the restored Greenhouse next to the entrance of the Biennale Giardini. There the Roman based civic arts group “Stalker” presented their archive project, currently on display in the upstairs mezzanine until the end of this year’s Architecture Biennale Edition. Lorenzo Romito and Francesco Careri were present and discussed aspects of the collection, put together over the Spring of 2016 with the generous support of the Istituto Svizzero a Roma, the Swiss Institute in Rome (ISR). Stalker’s archive marks 20 years of walks and other related exploratory projects around the urban peripheries of some of Europe’s major cities, but there are also territorially based projects that have brought the group to the Near East, Latin America and the United States.

Clockwise: Marta Gil, Guillermo S. Arsuaga…
Lorenzo Romito, Pelin Tan, Socrates Stratis, Federico Wulff

img_6150July, 2016. Biennale Urbana, Venice
Tentative Schedule

The Arch Biennale Venice NOTES

Friday 28 October morning workshop at the Cypriot Pavilion ( Palazzo Malipiero, San Marco 3198 (Campo San Samuele) 30124 Venice)
10am Socrates Stratis, curator  of the Cypriot Pavilion will give a guided tour of the exhibition
Pelin Tan, Artuklu University, Mardin, as participator with the Institute of Threshold project  will present her project Evolvement

There will be a workshop with playing with the board games designed by students with  LU2CY (Laboratory of Urbanism of University of Cyprus) for the Hands-on Famagusta project
Cyprus Pavilion link:
13.00 EMUVE EU Research by Design Project + EMUVE Unit Urban Lab. 20’ Presentation Federico Wulff Barreiro + Alice Hiley
13.20 Debate and discussion: Research by Design in crises contexts.
15:00 Walk to the Biennale. (begin at Baltic Pavilion, across from the Arsenale Entrance)
18:00 Walk Venice Walk. Led by Lorenzo Romito and Francesco Careri (co-founders, Stalker-Rome), ending at the Gallery for the Hamish Fulton exhibition.

if you can join us for the preliminary-meeting to be held at the Serra dei Giardini with all students and workshop participants the night before: 18:00 (in front of the Venice Biennale Giardini). 27 October. There will be a special viewing of the Stalker Rome archive, collected during their 4 month residency at the Swiss Institute Rome.

Socrates Stratis is an associate professor at the Department of Architecture, University of Cyprus. He has a Doctorate Degree in Urban Studies-Planning from the University of Paris 8, France, and a Bachelor and Masters Degree of Architecture (Urban Design) from the Cornell University, USA.

His is the main founder of the agency AA & U For Architecture, Art and Urbanism. He is the curator of the “Urban-A-Where?” project (2012) and a member of the scientific committee of Europan Europe. Making explicit the political dimensions of architecture and urban design through their spatial agency, particularly in contested spaces, has been his priority through teaching, research, curation and practice. His work is published internationally, including the Venice Biennale of Architecture 2004, 2006 and 2008.
PELIN TAN sociologist/art historian, Istanbul
Pelin Tan is involved in research-based artistic and architectural projects that focus on urban conflict&territorial politics, gift economy, the condition of labor and mixed methods in research. Trained in Sociology, Tan completed her MA thesis ‘Globalization and Contemporary Art after 1990’ at Art History, Istanbul Technical University (2003) and PhD thesis on the concept of ‘locality’ in socially engaged art practices at ITU (2010) that she partly has preceded at Berlin Humboldt Univ. Art History Dept. (DAAD, 2006-2007). Tan lectured at Art History-TU, MA in Architecture and Urban Studies (adbk – Nürenberg). Between 2011-2013 Tan worked as Asst.Prof. at New Media, KHAS, Istanbul. Currently, she works at the Architecture Faculty, Artuklu University, Mardin.

She edited Güncel Sanatta Kamusal Alan Tartışmaları (Public Space Discussions in Contemporary Art, İst. Bilgi Univ. Yay., 2007); with A.Çavdar Istanbul’un Neoliberal Kentsel Dönüşümü (Neoliberal Urban Transformation of Istanbul, Hayy Pub. 2011) and has publications including: Becoming Istanbul, An Encyclopedia (2008); When Things Cast No Shadow (5th Berlin Biennale, 2008); Megastructure Reloaded (2008); Contemporary Art In Turkey: 1986–2006 (2007) and With/Without Spatial Politics In The Middle East (2007), Recht-auf-Stadt (2011). Editor of Muhtelif (Istanbul); Advisory editor ArtMargin contemporary art magazine MIT and NOON – Journal of Contemporary Art and Visual Culture of Gwangju Biennial Foundation. Collaborative writer of Domus (Milan); Pipeline contemporary art magazine (HongKong); Express (Istanbul), Arch+ Istanbul Issue (2009).

Tan was a research/curatorial resident at IASPIS (Sweden), GeoAir (Georgia). Guest curator at Witte de With / TENT for TRACER (2003 – 2004), and curated Knut Asdam solo show at DEPO (Istanbul), Energy Room – an archive of public art, at santralistanbul, Radical Aesthetics screening/discussion at DEPO with O.Ozengi, Innocent Act, StudyoKAHEM – an architectural research at 10th Istanbul Biennial. Tan is involved in research projects: “Institutions by Artists”, Vancouver (with Anton Vidokle, 2010-2012), “Precarious Labor in Contemporary Art”, Istanbul (with Önder Özengi, 2011-2013) and Artistic Research in Asia. Tan is The Japan Foundation Research Fellow (2012, Osaka City University Urban Research Plaza).

Biennale Urbana:
Stalker co-founders Lorenzo Romito and Francesco Careri will be present during the workshops.