Saturday, November 01, 2008

Profile: STEALTH.unlimited

"We're from very different backgrounds,"says Serbian Ana Dzokic, who, with Dutch partner Marc Neelen, established STEALTH.unlimited in 2000 to work on projects across Belgrade and Rotterdam. "It's the schizophrenic situation between these two places that provides the framework for more or less everything we do," she adds.

Their work focuses on understanding the mechanisms behind informal urban culture, a fascination that began with a study of mid-1990s Belgrade, probing the logic behind its seemingly chaotic street-based economies. "If you go step by step and describe how things work, you understand there is some sort of system behind it, perhaps something we can learn from," says Dzokic.

After an extensive process of mapping and documentation, the team began to develop a piece of software to model the messy metabolism of street trade, illegal housing production and makeshift public transport - not to explain their findings, but to add rigour to their method. "When you're trying to translate an urban process into a computer environment, you have to be very clear about the parameters," says Neelen. "It forces you to be precise."

Less architects, more subversive catalysts for change, the formidable duo engages in projects with an explosive energy that attracts other collaborators and often turns the brief on its head - as its commission to "bring urban dynamics" to Rotterdam's Boijmans Museum demonstrated. "We proposed to clog the space completely," says Dzokic, "make it unusable." Filling the gallery with a dense grid of 2,000 vertical cardboard sheets, they then invited artists to inhabit the structure, forcing them to excavate space in a process of collective authorship.

"It was an intense and disturbing process for everyone," says Neelen. "If you want to keep the conventional pyramid hierarchy with curator, artist and visitor, you cannot invite these urban dynamics into the museum context. They learned that very quickly."

Originally published in Icon, November 2008

Venice Secret Garden by Gustafson Porter

A secret garden at the Venice Biennale can be found at the furthest corner of the sprawling Arsenale complex. Landscape design practice Gustafson Porter has created a treat for the few intrepid archi-tourists that make it through the endless installations that fill the former shipyard.

"I can't tell you what paradise looks like," laughs Kathyrn Gustafson, partner at the London-based practice, "but we've tried to provoke thoughts of what it could be."

Hidden behind a rusting tangle of industrial relics, beyond the crumbling fortified walls of the Arsenale is a conspicuously perfect vegetable garden. Sitting in what were the grounds of a Benedictine convent destroyed in the late 1800s, the project aims to resurrect the kitchen gardens that fed the nuns, while retaining a sense of the wild. It's a haven after the sensory overload of Biennale director Aaron Betsky's main exhibition.

You enter the first part of the garden, "Remember", through an old storeroom lined with the names of now-extinct animals and plants, before emerging through a polytunnel into "Nourishment", an impossibly abundant vegetable patch swelling with marrows, peppers and pumpkins, all grown off-site and timed to fruit in unison.

For the opening, the gardens were topped off by the pictured sculpture, an airy construction of white sheets and balloons. It was a whimsical touch that suggested Venetian baroque and the cherubs in Tiepolo paintings lugging random bits of cloth across the heavens.

"Landscape architecture is a greatly neglected subject from a curatorial point of view," says partner Neil Porter. As the first landscape installation in the biennale's 11-year history, the project marks an important watershed.

Originally published in Icon, November 2008