With the title WORK, BODY, LEISURE, the Dutch Pavilion at the 16th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia addresses the spatial configurations, modes of living, and notions of the human body engendered by disruptive changes in labor ethos and conditions.
The project, commissioned by Het Nieuwe Instituut and curated by Marina Otero Verzier, includes contributions by a group of architects, artists, designers, historians, musicians and theorists selected by the curatorial team and through a number of open calls. This collaborative endeavor seeks to foster new forms of creativity and responsibility within the architectural field in response to emerging technologies of automation. A domain of research and innovation that, despite its ongoing transformation of the built environment and bodies that inhabit it, is still largely devoid of a critical spatial perspective.
Welcome to the Netherlands, a testing ground where the future of labor has been and continues to be reimagined. For centuries, its physical landscape has been meticulously shaped and designed by human-machine enterprises. So has its societal structure. An emphasis on work and discipline over leisure manifests in its architecture, from the scale of the territory to that of the bed.
The flat horizon, managed and protected by flood control systems, and the regular division of land are reinforced by the greenhouses that sit on top of the precise geometric lots. In these enclosures of sublime beauty, the productivity of the ground is maximized by automated technologies. Inside, flowers and fruits flourish, their potential unrestricted by exterior conditions, their immediate surroundings, or soon, human labor. Beyond the greenhouse typology, climate-controlled interior spaces offer endless possibilities for experimentation. The flexible office has become a terrain of long shared tables and open spaces where workers no longer have a reserved seat, but rather reinvent their personal workstation every morning. Assisting these ever-changing communal spaces, walls of lockers present the systemic counter image of individualized, closed worlds for the administration of private identities and belongings. Populating factories, storage facilities, co-working spaces, and the leisure-oriented architecture of the changing room, the locker facilitates the temporal reinvention of not only space, but also the bodies that inhabit it. The locker is an interface between the laboring and the non-laboring self, if any distinction between the two remains today.
The lockers in the exhibition chart a journey through a series of architectures in the Netherlands and beyond in which bodies are categorized and transformed: offices, playgrounds, farms, factories and virtual spaces, windows, beds, and doors. Scenarios that look familiar—if rarely accessible or seemingly banal—but are nevertheless at the epicenter of the transformation of labor:
New Babylon, revisited by Mark Wigley.
Artist Constant Nieuwenhuys attempted to resolve the dichotomy between work and leisure. In his seminal project New Babylon (1956–74)—an architectural paradigm of free space and time afforded by automation—society would devote its energy to creativity and play. By robotizing labor, Constant demanded the right to not labor, and visualized the imminent post-labor world. And yet, as his oeuvre evolved, this optimistic vision gradually gave way to a more conflictual perspective. Violence would not be eradicated by the new technological order mobilized to satisfy society’s immediate needs; rather, it would be revealed as an intrinsic part of such order: an architecture founded on the exploitation and invisibility of working bodies, conceived as automated machines. Would New Babylon be possible without the work of the other?
The Door(s) of No Return:On Technologies of Certain Bodies, by Amal Alhaag.
The Door(s) of No Return are a symbol of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, from which captive bodies were transported to the so-called New World. The space between the Door(s) and the ocean is a site for the engineered, racialized body. One that represents the genealogy of violence that precipitated the forced movements of the enslaved, and those still unfolding of the migrant and refugee. Yet the Door(s), or rather the threshold between being and no/being, is also a site of science fiction. A space for acts of refusal. For the radical imaginary of a non-exploitative, non-discriminatory, non-racist world.
Renderlands: Installation, by Liam Young.
What we think of as visions of the future designed by western architectural offices are actually produced by outsourced render farm workers in India. Ultimately, this reality of distributed spaces of production draws a picture of the human labor involved in architectural practice. Next to conditions of labor, the collaborative miniature model of an imaginary city presents the future and aspirational architectures dreamed up by the render farm workers themselves—the worlds that they wish they would be asked to visualize.
Shore Leaves, by Giuditta Vendrame, Paolo Patelli, and Giulio Squillacciotti.
Aboard bulk carrier and container cargo ships, seafarers wait for their shore leaves in the ports of Rotterdam and Venice. Short moments, vital for their wellbeing, when sailors connect with their families and friends. Yet the demands of industry for time-saving procedures, advanced through port automation, and the displacement of security measures onto shore threaten this right. The efficiency in the circulation of the goods on which our economies are highly dependent has equal influence on social capital. While human labor is still indispensable, human bodies strive to adapt to remodeled times and spaces and descend further beneath the threshold of visibility.
The Port and the Fall of Icarus, by Hamed Khosravi, Taneha Kuzniecow Bacchin, and Filippo La Fleur.
In the dynamic world of logistics and industry, stagnation leads to decline. The port of the future is continuously looking for ways to do things better: more intelligently, more efficiently, and more sustainably. The smart and now automated logistical infrastructure of the Rotterdam harbor is placed in relation to the city and its inhabitants, reflecting on the effects of emerging technologies on society and the built environment.
Automated Landscapes, by Marten Kuijpers and Victor Muñoz Sanz.
More than forty years after Constant’s New Babylon, the architecture of full automation is currently being implemented across the Netherlands, from the country’s main port in Rotterdam to its productive hinterlands. If in New Babylon there was only play, the territory of the Netherlands could be seen as its counterpart: a productive Cartesian landscape, designed for unprecedented efficiency. Behind this apparent banality, a machinic, data-filled beauty reveals itself—but only on screens in the control rooms inside the contemporary office, from where automated spaces are controlled and monitored.
The Institute of Patent Infringement, by Jane Chew and Matthew Stewart.
The dubious world of intellectual property rights allows “Big Tech” multinationals to create a monopoly on ideas concerning automation. Focusing on the political dimension of labor, the Institute of Patent Infringement encourages architects to appropriate the frameworks under which these multinationals operate, and subvert their patent drawings, revealing a possible radical and emancipatory potential inherent in these technological regimes, as well as a space where architecture can play a role.
Safety Measures, by Simone C. Niquille.
Ergonomic softwares are applied to virtual factories used to evaluate worker safety, comfort and productivity before building in brick and mortar. The human body, first measured, rendered as data, and standardized, is ultimately represented as a digital avatar and deployed via these simulations for the design of physical workers and workstations. In shaping architecture, these virtual models ultimately define what a human body is and its optimal parameters, while the non-standard body, the unrecorded other—often marginalized in terms of class, gender, race, or disability—is rendered non-existent.
Bed-In, with Beatriz Colomina.
Room 902 of the Amsterdam Hilton Hotel was the site of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Bed-In for Peace in 1969. By conceiving their honeymoon bed as a horizontal architecture for protest, work, production and reproduction, Lennon and Ono transformed it into a “fucktory,” anticipating the working bed of today. That is, the scattered, pillowy office from which professionals regularly work, assisted by communication technologies and a growing digital infrastructure.
Architecture of Sex Work, in collaboration with Amsterdam Museum and The Foundation for Responsible Robotics (FRR).
In the Netherlands the notion of “fucktory” finds its more prominent urban response. The architecture of sex work has been typologically defined and legally normalized through the tippelzones (street prostitution areas), the afwerkplek (drive-in infrastructures for sex), and the window-brothels, which have gradually been transformed into studios for creative workers since the 2007 launch of Amsterdam’s Project 1012. These modernist, rationally designed and efficient interiors describe the transformation of a body into a worker—and soon, perhaps, an automated one.
Songs for Hard Working People, by Noam Toran with Florentijn Boddendijk and Remco de Jong.
A contemporary cover album of work and protest songs from the mid-19th to mid-20th centuries serves as the soundtrack for the Dutch pavilion. The songs provide a historical context for the nature of today’s labor and connect past but enduring struggles with contemporary debates regarding the effects of industrialization and automation on the working body. Songs for Hard Working People is also a tribute to all the workers involved in the production, construction, and maintenance of the Biennale and who remain largely invisible.
The publication Work, Body, Leisure reflects upon urban developments in which automated labor and leisure converge; addresses the ways in which evolving notions of labor have categorized and defined bodies at particular moments in time; and discusses the legal, cultural, and technical infrastructures that enable their exploitation.
With contributions by AMO, Pier Vittorio Aureli and Maria Shéhérazade Giudici, Jonathan Beller, Silvia Federici, Ayesha Hameed, Femke Herregraven, Egbert Alejandro Martina, Francesco Marullo, Henk Ovink, Paul B. Preciado, Manuel Shvartzberg, Ekim Tan, Nathalie de Vries, Marina van Zuylen, among others.
Editor: Marina Otero Verzier
Managing Editor: Nick Axel
Graphic Design: Hans Gremmen
Published by Het Nieuwe Instituut and Hatje Cantz Verlag GmbH
During the opening program 24-27 may, exhibitors and collaborators inhabit and activate the architecture of WORK, BODY, LEISURE through a series of (bed-in) interviews, guided tours, discussions and performances. Find out more about the program here.
The extended program of the Dutch Pavilion has been produced in collaboration with and supported by Creative Industries Fund NL. Read more about this collaboration.
Read more about WORK, BODY, LEISURE
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