Strongly desired by Giovanna Melandri, when she was still at the helm of the MAXXI museum of contemporary art in Rome and then taken over by the current director Alessandro Giuli, BioGrounds is a project that aims to develop a new environmental awareness in the public.
The idea stems from the combination of environmental life (Bio) and the assonance with the term playground (Grounds), entrusting contemporary designers with the objective of creating installations, devices and performances capable of telling the story of a place and its nature, involving visitors through actions and interventions.
It was therefore on the occasion of the opening of Lesley Lokko‘s Architecture Biennale (20 May – 26 November 2023) that the exhibition, curated by Domitilla Dardi, landed on Certosa Island, an uninhabited island immediately behind the Giardini della Biennale, 250 metres from San Pietro di Castello.
Historically the site of a monastery, in the 19th century the island became a military outpost until its final abandonment in the middle of the last century. Today the island, affectionately called the ‘Central Park of Venice’ by the Venetians for its precious biodiversity, is managed by Polo Nautico Vento di Venezia, which has built a dock and organises cultural activities and events.
It is here that Domitilla Dardi has brought to life BioGrounds: a performance by the Teatro Stabile del Veneto and three installations conceived by designers and artists, designers in dialogue with theoretical experts on ecological issues (philosophers, botanists, critics). Designed to transform, live and age in the environment, the works were created by Andrea Anastasio in dialogue with Angela Rui, Formafantasma with Emanuele Coccia and Beka&Lemoine with Stefano Mancuso. While Studio Ossidiana signed the site-specific intervention for the Alcantara-MAXXI Project.
In particular, the latter project, entitled Seed Bed, stands next to the ancient cloister of the monastery, the only evidence of the monastic complex of the Certosa. The Rotterdam-based duo has created a garden, delimited by a system of curtains – made of Alcantara – attached to a light metal structure. Still barren, the garden was sown during the Biennale’s opening days, when visitors were invited to scatter seeds of native plants, interacting with the birds that inhabit the island, which in turn will most likely help to spread the species sown on the ground. At the end of the exhibition cycle, the Alcantara material used for the Seed-bed installation will be regenerated, through an innovative technology that allows the recovery of the original raw materials.
The Invasi project, conceived by Andrea Anastasio in dialogue with Angela Rui, brought a multitude of terracotta vases to the wooded and lagoon area of the Certosa, intended as the first true archetypes of living. Some feature stoneware inserts, specially made together with the Florim company, with engraved words informing us about the state of health of our planet. Returned to nature, Anastasio’s vases become shelters for plants and animals that will colonise them over time, using them as dens.
Populus Alba, the project developed by Studio Formafantasma with Emanuele Coccia (in collaboration with De Castelli) has, finally, narrated trees as living organisms and not as a mere supply of wood for carpentry. To make this character of the plant evident, the authors gave voice to the tree, through some metal devices that were hung directly on the trunk, branches and base of the plant, to listen, through one’s smartphone, by downloading an audio file via QRcode, to the very voice of the tree narrating its condition.
Architects and video-artists Beka&Lemoine, together with the botanist Stefano Mancuso, placed the installation Lo Spaccasassi (“The Stonebreaker”) in the centre of the Certosa ruins: a circle of seats made of segments of tree trunks with, in the centre, a specimen of hackberry tree, a plant that grows and makes space for itself among the stones and for this reason is considered a symbol of strength and resistance. To pay homage to it, a series of actions/performances to be held on special days.