What People Have to Say: Andrew Ayers, Hubert Klumpner, Matevž Čelik, Jurtin Hajro, and Oliver Elser
“The Montenegrin Pavilion has a wonderful feeling of being a ‘fringe’ or ‘off’ event, not only because of its location far from the official hubbub of the Giardini, but also because of the fresh approach that this ‘marginal’ location has allowed. First one must find the pavilion, a process akin to a treasure hunt, as one negotiates a maze of silent Venetian alleys in a scenario straight out of Invisible Cities. The ancient ground-floor spaces, disposed around a classic Venetian courtyard, are splendidly atmospheric. In their cramped, domestic-scale confines (a far cry from the lofty halls of the Giardini) is a highly theatrical mise en scène, in which four decaying buildings of Yugoslavian late Modernism are recreated through large sectional models into which visitors can peer, squeezed claustrophobically into the confined space. The result is a gorgeously intimate peepshow of ruin porn, a dolls’-house dissection of decay, where the ghosts of what was and what might have been haunt us with their lost possibilities.
The Montenegrin Pavilion is also interesting in the way it deals with Rem Koolhaas’s theme of ‘absorbing modernity.’ As Jean Prouvé tells us in the French Pavilion, ‘modern’ is a problematic term that is perhaps best avoided. Many of the national pavilions get round it by interpreting modernity as Modernism, and at first glance the Montenegrin Pavilion appears to do the same. But if one considers the original meaning of modern—late Latin modernus, from modo, ‘just now’—one can see the implication that to be truly modern one must reject the past, as Montenegro seems to be doing in its neglect of these ideologically charged relics of a defunct country and regime (socialist Yugoslavia). As presented in the models, these buildings are sites of memory, places of Proustian poignancy where nostalgia is summoned up even for those who never knew that time or those localities. To be truly ‘modern,’ it seems, one must lose something, and it is this loss that is so intelligently and atmospherically evoked in the Montenegrin Pavilion.”
Andrew Ayers studied at the Bartlett School of Architecture and Planning, University College London, and now lives in Paris, where he is a freelance writer, lecturer, and journalist, as well as a docent at the Maison de Verre.
“I thought the Montenegro Pavilion displayed a lot of sensitivity to place. It presents an alternative way of using post-Socialist resources—opportunities to reuse existing structures and transform them without significant investment. Not erasing them, but incorporating them into the evolving logic of the city. The socialist Hotel Fjord, for instance, has probably already entered the vocabulary of Kotor. It’s not this strange, Modernist intrusion. It has already been appropriated in its absurdity. Somehow it fits. It’s so strange it fits.
The exhibition is actually a beautiful way of reflecting, in this old backyard of a Venetian house—a little bit too small, a little bit too dark, a little bit too tight, a little bit hidden—the challenges facing Montenegro. It was a very interesting, well-executed, well‑communicated exhibit, operating at a large scale in a small space. It was extremely successful. In retrospect, one of the most exciting pavilion openings I attended.”
Hubert Klumpner is Dean of the Department of Architecture at ETH Zürich and a co-principal, together with Alfredo Brillembourg, of the interdisciplinary design firm Urban-Think Tank. Urban-Think Tank was part of the Golden Lion-winning team at the 13th International Exhibition of Architecture – la Bienale di Venezia for the installation “Torre David/Gran Horizonte.”
“Montenegro is a nigh-mythical territory for architecture. Le Corbusier missed it on his trip to the East—and he should be sorry for that. However, this is a part of Europe that, even today, many are just discovering. I believe that the Montenegrin Pavilion at this year’s Biennale will be a real discovery for a lot of people, too.
I followed the development of the pavilion a little, but I was still pleasantly surprised at the opening. Encountering these photorealistic models of run-down buildings on the ground floor of a small Venetian house is one of the truest experiences of architecture at this year’s Biennale. I like that you could see all the brutal transformations of architecture caused by nature and time. The Montenegrin presentation occurs at a time when a new kind of fascination with ruins and the civilizations that built them has been awakened in Western society. In this case, of course, it’s a fascination with modern civilizations. The exhibition reminds us immediately of the problems with the architecture of socialist Yugoslavia—its phantasms and its megalomania. However, the decaying architecture, in this case, is not presented as a sign of collapse, destruction, or decadence. The visitor’s experience of the architectural ruins in the exhibition is extremely positive—as a basis for discussion about the future and sign of hope that we can build something new. Looking at the models raises the questions of whether and how these buildings can be reused. However, I find it most interesting to ask what we can learn about architecture from these ruins. This is the real ‘treasure’ that one should try to discover at this exhibition.
It seems that, in Montenegro, nature is still more powerful than architecture and that it will always dominate. Perhaps this is where we need to travel today in order to rediscover the true elements of architecture.”
Matevž Čelik is an architect, architecture researcher, and writer. In 2002, Čelik co-founded Trajekt, Institute for Spatial Culture in Ljubljana and since 2010, he has been the director of the Museum of Architecture and Design (MAO) in Ljubljana and Ljubljana’s Biennial of Design, BIO 50.
“For me, the four abandoned late-Modernist buildings displayed at the Montenegro Pavilion reflect a thematic ‘territoriality as a primary geographical expression of power.’ It seems like an architectural amnesia at the intersection of space and society. In these terms, not only are society and space related, but the changing function of ideology shifts that relationship with time, which becomes a new variable. The disregard for architecture as the basic expression of influence and power supplies an essential bond among society, space, and time. Its usage may find place in capitalist as well as in socialist societies.
Geographical context allows people to construct and maintain spatial organization. For the Balkan countries, territoriality is not an instinct or a drive, but rather a complex strategy to influence and control access to people, things, and relationships. Its geographical alternative is a non-territorial spatial behavior. Territories are socially constructed forms of spatial relations and their effects depend on who is controlling whom and for what purpose. It may achieve dangerous levels if it is used successfully for certain political reasons.
Whether the Balkan countries had that destiny because of external Western forces or its internal bureaucratic and political failures is a difficult question. Whether the Iron Curtain was a useless invention of the socialist bloc is also another topic in and of itself. Whether building 750,000 bunkers in Albania (a neighbor of Montenegro) is the right thing to do when you lead a friendless country is also a difficult question to answer without more details. Or whether it is right for highly Modernist buildings that once reflected enthusiasm and confidence to be destined, after four to five decades, to decay and demolition. But the answer to one thing is clear: territoriality and the careless disregard of society have found their operating mechanisms in architecture at each age, and they surely will not stop now!
The issue raised by the Montenegro Pavilion’s curators is that of facing space in time, through social variables under ideological shifts.”
Jurtin Hajro is the director of CoRDA (Center of Research and Design in Architecture) and a professor of architectural design at Epoka University in Tirana, Albania. He received his Bachelor’s and Master’s from the Middle East Technical University, Ankara, and has worked as an assistant researcher, fellow, and senior architect in several Istanbul-based architecture studios.
“Imperfect models are typically a no-go in architecture. But in ‘Treasures in Disguise’ they fit perfectly: they create the impression of decay, which is unusual for an architecture exhibition, and allow the objects on display to shift between space, site, history, and image. The models are large enough to draw you, the visitor, into the space. That was a super nice experience.”
Oliver Elser is a curator at the Deutsches Architekturmuseum (DAM) in Frankfurt. His projects on architecture models include the “Sondermodelle” exhibition at the Venice Art Biennale in 2013, with artist Oliver Croy; the show “The Architectural Model—Tool, Fetish, Small Utopia” at the DAM in 2012; and the “Wohnmodelle” exhibition on housing experiments, shown in Vienna, Sofia, and Belgrade.