Venice Biennale 2016 – In 1965, Indigenous activist Charles Perkins brought his kids to the Moree Artesian Baths in New South Wales, Australia, a pool for white people only… And won a battle against racism waking up the conscience of a country of swimmers by the poolside. Until then, “we thought we were a lucky country. It revealed that it wasn’t: some people weren’t as lucky as others” says Hetty Perkins, daughter of Charles – Watch the short reportage by The Guardian.
Visitors of the 15th Venice Architecture Biennale can discover this and other stories at the Australian Pavilion in Giardini. A swimming pool, a light scent of chlorine and rippling reflections on blue painted walls invite to discover the social and cultural importance of municipal pools. Here Australians fronted segregation and battled for human rights, defining their own national spirit.
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The exhibition is presented by the Australian Institute of Architects and curated by Aileen Isabelle Toland and Amelia Holliday of Sage Architects and urbanist Michelle Tabet. The Pool encourages the audience to step outside the architect-to-architect discourse to show how a familiar, common object, the pool, is both artefact and catalyst of change.
“Pools in Australia are currently facing significant challenges as social institutions. The threatened closure and demolition of Australian public pools is a perennial theme of community protest and activism and is an issue to which architects and urban commentators are inevitably drawn” say curators.
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The main room of the pavilion features a water-filled pool, which covers about a third of the space, and is about a foot deep. Across the pool guests can relax on wooden bleachers. Eight prominent Australians including Olympic champion Ian Thorpe and Hetty Perkins share their memories and stories about their relationship with pools. The stories can be heard in eight different points of the pavilion.
“Australians have a very particular relationship with water, which is shown in many different ways through the pool as an important social space in our country” said Ian Thorpe to Archipanic at the inaugural event of the exhibition.
Hetti Perkins, daughter of Indigenous activist Charles Perkins, sees the opportunity for pools to serve as an effective social leveller, which has yet unfulfilled potentials between indigenous community and the rest of the country. For author and essayist Anna Founder, pools can be seen as a secular alternative to religious spaces of communion.
Lounger were commissioned from indigenous workers at the Centre for Appropriate Technology in Alice Springs and in collaboration with industrial designer Elliat Rich. The designs steel-framed seatings were designed with the vibrant colors of Central Australia and are laid out by the poolside.
The exhibition inaugurates also the new Australian Pavilion at Giardini designed by Denton Corker Marshall. Those who wish to immerse in a deeper story can find more informations in a book that features also a selection of some of the most recent pool architectures in Australia.
All photos: courtesy of Australia Pavilion.