French Pavilion 18th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia
May 20 – November 26, 2023
The Ball Theater is a hemispherical theatre built inside the French Pavilion, like a pavilion within the pavilion. It reflects the Biennale Architettura 2023 general theme – “Laboratory of the Future” – set by Lesley Lokko, because the theatre is in essence a laboratory of identities, of places and of imaginaries. It is a device that enables people to project themselves into elsewheres and into the future. What the artistic team does here is to create an architecture that offers visitors an experience that is simultaneously spatial, aesthetic and acoustic. For, according to Lesley Lokko, today it is no longer the role of architecture to represent or to be represented as an image. It needs to be made and experienced. It is time to write the next chapter.
The installation is designed to reawaken our desires for utopia. With its globe shape, the theatre immediately recalls the architecture of the revolution or of the Russian constructivists. Its smooth and continuous outline gives it a utopian aura that represents a world in miniature, this terrestrial globe that we are now ever more aware of sharing, with its meridians and its parallels. The shape of the theatre is an invitation to look forward again, beyond crises. In a time of emergency, austerity and climate anxiety, this theatre delivers a message: let us awaken the utopia within us! Let us allow ourselves moments of discovery and euphoria.
The theater’s shape can be interpreted equally as a terrestrial globe or as a mirror ball, a kitsch icon of an era when partying was still possible. This party aura suggests a new approach to today’s crises, one where the emphasis is no longer on emergencies, but on the possibility of imagining somewhere and something different. This is enacted in the life of the theatre for the duration of the Biennale Architettura 2023 by the alternation between moments of contemplative immersion in a soundscape echoing with foreign and far-off voices, and periods of intense occupation and activity based on variations on the theme of the “ball”, an interplay of workshop-residencies involving artists, researchers and students.
The installation intrigues visitors by placing them at the centre of a stage that prompts risk-taking, speech, gesture and intervention. It is not the typical theatre of illusion characterized by the face-to-face between actors and the audience, but a theatrical setting designed for experimentation. A stage that delivers an experience that challenges. Which does not so much provide answers as raise questions. Where did this half-sphere come from? Who lives in it? What is it for? How did it get there? What are the fragments of voices, whisperings and radio static that emanate from these loudspeakers saying? Has it just landed or is it about to take off? These are questions we ask ourselves in an uncertain world: should we stay grounded or take off? Should we get close to things, create new communities, erase distances and distinctions, or conversely withdraw and remain aloof? How to choose? How do we reinvent our relationship with this world in quest of a future? And how do we readdress the question of ecology, in a fundamental way, by means of architecture, and not against or despite it?
The architecture of the theatre stands midway between structure and setting. The purpose of this scenographic dimension is – like in a real theatre – to accommodate a stage, performers and an audience. The image it projects is nevertheless ambivalent, juxtaposing objects as contradictory as the futuristic capsule and the primitive hut. The details are meticulous whereas the assemblages, the props and the cables remain visible. The object is simultaneously ramshackle and sophisticated. It conjures up associations with Noah’s Ark, some kind of makeshift craft that has landed here. The beings that built it, it would seem, wanted to escape a world that no longer had a place for them. They chose a flimsy and temporary structure which they equipped, like an echo chamber, with rudimentary devices for capturing and emitting sounds and devising possible new rituals: microphones, loudspeakers, and projectors.