55th Venice Biennale. Lara Almarcegui at the Spanish Pavilion
The artwork of Lara Almarcegui (Zaragoza, 1972) at the 55th Biennale di Venezia stems from a heightened awareness of the city, using its wastelands and buildings to reflect on the evolution of the urbis itself and the elements that comprise it. With engaged projects such as her guides to modern ruins and urban wastelands or her rubble mountains, Almarcegui has taken her practice to capital cities like London, Beirut and Vienna and has participated in major international contemporary art events such as Manifesta 9 (2012) and the São Paulo Biennial (2006).
Under the curatorial guidance of Octavio Zaya, Almarcegui brought two related projects to the Italian exhibition—the highlight of the art world calendar—that continue in the same line as her previous works. One tackles the physical space of the Spanish Pavilion in the Giardini, while the other explores an empty plot of land beside the island of Murano.
In the pavilion, a large sculpture installation interacts with the architecture of the building constructed by Javier de Luque in 1922, occupying the entire interior. This intervention consists of mounds of different construction materials, of the same type and quantity used by workers to construct this very building in the early 20th century.
The installation revolves around a huge mountain of cement rubble, roofing tiles and bricks smashed to gravel which occupies the central room, making it virtually impossible to enter this space directly. Other lesser mounds, each of a different material (sawdust, glass and a blend of iron slag and ashes), were located in the side rooms, which visitors are able to walk through and so circle around the large central mound.
With regard to her project, Almarcegui explains, “The materials are the rubble from demolitions which, after being recycled, have been transformed into gravel by means of the treatment process currently used in Venice.”
Meanwhile, in Murano Almarcegui has also devised A Guide to Sacca San Mattia, the Abandoned Island of Murano, Venice, a research project that focuses on the Sacca San Mattia, an artificial island formed by the waste deposits of Murano’s glassmaking industry. The project is actually a study of an empty plot on that island, how it was formed, the site’s current geological and environmental conditions, the projects that have been planned for this plot and the reasons why none have come to fruition.
In connection with this project, Almarcegui reveals that “my preliminary research consisted in talking to Venetian city planners and architects who told me about their future plans, which allowed me to locate the wastelands and empty plots that would be affected by those transformations. I visited those areas in order to choose the one I thought was most significant.” She adds, “The Sacca San Mattia seemed like the most suitable wasteland in the area of Venice because of its odd, complex configuration: a piece of land formed by layers of waste produced by the glass and construction industries.” Indeed, the Sacca is an abandoned tip created between 1930 and 1950 by the repeated dumping of rubble and dredging of the lagoon. This undeveloped plot with a surface area of 26 hectares is the largest piece of available empty land in Venice, which has made it the subject of countless speculation initiatives, such as the controversial idea of digging a railway tunnel under the lagoon to link the city with its airport, with a station located in this area.
Laura Almarcegui, Spanish Pavilion at la Biennale di Venezia, installation views, May 2013
Laura Almarcegui, A Guide to Sacca San Mattia (the abandoned island of Murano), Venice 2013
Photos: Claudio Franzini