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Hashim Sarkis

Within the framework of the project “Biennale Architettura Sneak Peek” promoted by La Biennale di Venezia, Luca Molinari interviews the curator of the next edition Hashim Sarkis, trying to discover with him “How will we live together?”, revealing some coordinates along the research path that will lead to the 2021 event.

Luca Molinari|So we are living in a very special moment, because a few months ago you launched the question How will we live together?, and then nobody has the possibility to live together since then and we have been locked down for six months, which is a completely exceptional situation, it’s been the first time for everybody. The title is perfectly fitting with the situation, so how can you link the concept of the exhibition with what we are now living and with the fact that we are scared of living together?

Hashim Sarkis|Maybe it helps us that it’s an open question, rather than a proposition. It keeps it open, indeed the title could be seen as a coincidence, as an irony, I’m not sure. At the same time, when we started thinking about whether we have to adjust the exhibition to the present circumstance, we looked at the reasons we came up with the theme and I thought that the reasons I ask this question is because we are facing climate change, which would require us that we think completely how we live together, if we were to live at all. It requires that we rethink our relationships across borders, the refugee questions, political versus geographic relationships, to deal also with ecological issues.

L.M.|It requires us to rethink our political polarization that is increasing, dividing us more and more. And it requires us to rethink our relationship with ourselves, but also with other beings. In many ways, if you think about these different dimensions of the reason we ask the question, why or how we will live together, these are the very underlying reasons that led us to the pandemic. So it makes the question maybe very direct, but at the deeper level, still very relevant.

H.S.|It’s for that that we believe strongly that the title and the reasons behind the title maintain their validity despite the pandemic, and maybe acquire a different meaning because of the pandemic. People will experience the projects differently. As a result of that, I think some of the participants are adjusting, some are maintaining the course, but I would say in general, people still feel the relevance of their projects and an increasing relevance and are at some point welcoming of the conditions we’re living in because it gives their projects more value. But in some cases they are worried that it would give it too much of a narrow dimension, that they want to make sure that it is accommodated but not consumed by the present condition.

L.M.|I think the title is so powerful in this moment because I remember when you launched it, it was a kind of how to bring the architecture in a larger political agenda, in addition to the fact that architecture is not separated by the world but is inside the world. And is also dealing with the idea of a social agreement, which is very important, which brings this contract not only in this society, but with all the living being, then environment we are living, so a kind of responsibility is given…

H.S. |… to architecture and to space. This is right on in relationship to the present condition because what I was proposing through the title and the theme is a new spatial contract, because I feel like we are unable to come up with a new social contract with all of those problems that we’re facing, we’re still unable to bring society together. So why not rely on architecture and its ways of defining space? Special possibilities of interaction to rehearse the social contract at different scales? When the pandemic happened, we resorted to the spatial contracts first to measure distances, to think about degrees of isolation, degrees of contact. And these right now are the ones that are defining our social engagement. So in a way there’s another dimension of the pandemic that is related to the exhibition that the spatial is informing the social.

L.M.|This is even more crucial because of what we are living today, that the pandemic have increased the social difference. So this idea of the distance is not only physical, it’s mainly social and economical. So the idea is obviously of a spatial contact that is even more relevant and urgent in this moment.

H.S.|You hear people talking about physical distancing, but also social connectedness through other means than the physical. I think the possibility is that we have rehearsed during the pandemic and continue to lay out when we measured the chairs apart here, and how we can sit so that we can have a conversation while still maintaining our old ways in which architecture helps us define our interactions socially and takes on, I’m not going to say the lead, but at least the prominence and the imaginary inspiration for society in terms of thinking of possibilities of interaction.

L.M. | And do you think this is one of the possible ways to bring back architecture to the real life and to society? Because in the last decades we are living a distance between the high architecture and everyday living. So this could be a way to bring architecture to a direct responsibility within a social reality, which is asking for visual to us and for different solution.

H.S. |Yes. I also want to add that as a result of us trying to figure out how we’re going to rearrange space in order to live together safely, there’s always been an architect at the table, and that’s very important. That’s very refreshing. Because it’s not that the social agenda has worked out and then the architect comes in to express it, but the architect is now part of the shaping of the social space…

L.M. | also considering the fact that during the last century we have been consuming so much space and resources that today the social contract is meaning transforming without consuming. So it’s a totally different agenda in relation to the modernist vision of building the world.

H.S. |There’s a lot in this Biennale that is about reconceiving the resources we have, and the big section in the Giardini is dedicated to the global commons, how to preserve them, protect them, and enhance them. But many of the projects are about densification, meaning compacting and try to make more use out of space, adaptive reuse, new resources and materials that can be more accommodating of the limited resource of our conditions. The environmental agenda pervades the whole exhibition.

L.M. | So can we say that today, the hope is one of the key words is the agenda?

H.S. |I think so. If you look at the exhibition by the Historical Archives of La Biennale at the Central Pavilion at the Giardini (The Disquieted Muses, 29 August – 4 November 2020), you see architecture having a very different tone in terms of how it presents its project to the world, compared to the other arts. The other arts can be critical, can be distopic, can be antagonistic. Architecture in general has been optimistic, proposing opportunities, visions, new worlds, sometimes critical, but it doesn’t go that extreme. I believe that we can go farther in our critical making us aware of what’s going wrong in the world, but we cannot do that without presenting alternatives. That’s in a way our vocation, that’s our disposition as architects in a way we are condemned to optimism. And that’s the exhibition, hopefully.

Captions and Photo credit (from top to bottom)
– Hashim Sarkis, photo by Jacopo Salvi, Courtesy La Biennale di Venezia (cover)
– Cave_bureau “Mbai Cave Steam + Struggle,” The Anthropocene Museum: Exhibit 3.0 “Obsidian Rain,” 2017. Courtesy Cave_bureau
– Studio Ossidiana, Variation on a Bird Cage, 2019-20. Courtesy Studio Ossidiana
– Osbourne Macharia, “GIKOSH. Example of Photographic art projects involving the creative Millenial within the informal settlements in Nairobi,” Keja,” 2019. Courtesy Osbourne Macharia
– SOM, “Moon Village Earth Rise,” Life Beyond Earth, 2020. Courtesy SOM | Slashcube GmbH
– Olalekan Jeyifous and Mpho Matsipa, Liquid Geographies, Liquid Borders, 2020. Courtesy Olalekan Jeyifous

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