: 9 May – 22 November 2015

Venice Biennale 2015 : The Nordic Pavilion


By Katya García-Antón,
Director of OCA and Curator of the Nordic Pavilion

The Nordic Pavilion for the Venice Biennale, built between 1958-62 was designed by the renowned Norwegian architect and Pritzker Prize winner Sverre Fehn, to represent Sweden, Finland and Norway. Built on a plot between the pavilions of the United States and Denmark, it is centrally situated on one of the main arteries of the Giardini.

Building a Nordic Pavilion was always going to involve some consideration of the question of a Nordic identity. Indeed the Pavilion´s deceptively simple architecture belies a sophisticated assembly of heterogeneous elements – circulation, trees, topography, weather, context and natural light – which may point towards such a reading. However it is this last element, the question of light, which to me is the most striking. On entering the pavilion one senses a change, but this is not the same as walking through the entrance door of other pavilions. The light changes, it is a gradual shift and it is difficult to pinpoint when you are fully immersed in the calm evenness of this light. Fehn described it as a ‘shadowless Nordic light’. Living in Venice for a while your eyes adjust to the reflections and projections constantly around you. For a little while in the Nordic Pavillion, one can find a sense of light that is not known anywhere else on the island.

It is precisely this immaterial shift that causes a double take on difference and identity, and provokes an alteration in our attitude towards things. For Fehn’s so-called ‘shadowless pavilion’ points us towards our senses in order to reflect upon the immaterial parameters of our environment. In turn it reveals how that immateriality can be apprehended or manipulated, how it can open up a discussion on identity, or lead us to novel ways of experiencing aspects of the world around us, which one may have considered to be natural. It is in Fehn’s subtle interweaving between the building and storytelling, between materials and language, that he has offered an opening into a discussion, both local and universal, political and personal, which I believe the project in the Nordic pavilion in 2015 will explore to new heights.

The Nordic representation at the Venice Biennale has traditionally been hosted at the Nordic Pavilion at the Giardini and consisted of joint projects by Finland (FRAME), Norway (OCA) and Sweden (Moderna Museet). In 2005 a proposal was made by Moderna Museet’s Director at the time, Lars Nittve, to consider a new model of collaboration that would grant sole responsibility for the pavilion to one of the three countries on a rotational basis. In 2007, it was agreed to rotate the presentation in the pavilion as solo nations, between the three countries, according to the following schedule: Sweden in 2011, Finland in 2013, and Norway in 2015. The intent was to open up opportunities for further project development and a way to test new models of representation within the traditionnal Biennale format in Venice. In 2015 therefore Norway will present a project in the Nordic Pavilion alone for the first time in its recent history. In autumn 2015 the Nordic partners will convene, to discuss their recent experiences, and consider a return to the shared model, as well as ways in which to work with curators across the Nordic countries in editions to come.