“The Druzhba Project” by Urbonas studio – 15th international architecture exhibition – la biennale di venezia 2016

Druzhba Image Credit: Urbonas Studio
ACT at MIT

The Druzhba Project

Gediminas Urbonas, ACT Director

Nomeda Urbonas, MIT research affiliate

Baltic Pavilion, Palasport Arsenale

Gediminas Urbonas and Nomeda Urboniene will present the Druzhba project as their contribution to The Baltic Pavilion at the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale. Reflecting on the cross-border, “shared space of ideas” that forms the theme of the Baltic Pavilion, the Druzhba installation explores the cultural, political, and geographical territories that unfold in a fictional journey along the world’s longest pipeline. The project’s psycho-geographic readings of this massive oil infrastructure reveal mechanisms of power and submission that rightfully belong to the past but persist even today.

The Druzhba (“Friendship”) Pipeline, a web stretching 4,000 kilometers from Siberia through Belarus and the Ukraine and into the Baltic states, Eastern and Central Europe, is a master signifier: a self-referential, grand-narrating imperial infrastructure meant at its inception in 1960 to “lead the world into a new dawn.”

During Soviet times, Druzhba represented a fundamental idea of connection among nations, continents and cultures. Many important sites and landmarks shared the name, as did singing groups, cinemas, ships, and products from cheese to cigarettes. Yet the pipeline’s immense machinery of infrastructure and capital, ideology and sentiment, labor and leisure, tells a simple but imprecise story designed to bind together in friendship regions that still exist under intense political pressure and mutual suspicion.

Launched in 2003, Urbonas’ Druzhba project employs interviews, videos, and sculptural and archival materials to weave together numerous narrative threads about the Druzhba pipeline and the ambiguous areas of exchange between economics and culture that the pipeline exemplifies. The installation highlights the flows and energies produced by a disintegrating infrastructure of power and links the distorted and pressurized story of the Druzhba pipeline to personal anxiety and the idea of friendship.

The Baltic Pavilion

The Baltic Pavilion brings together an international team of artists and curators to inquire into the political, infrastructural, and geological transformations and inertias defining the Baltic region—Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. The exhibition seeks to disentangle and reassemble complex networks of spatial practices and ideologies, approaching the Baltic region simultaneously as a singular entity and as three separate places with shifting identities and possible futures.

The exhibition is curated by Kārlis Bērziņš, Jurga Daubaraitė, Petras Išora, Ona Lozuraitytė, Niklāvs Paegle, Dagnija Smilga, Johan Tali, Laila Zariņa, and Jonas Žukauskas. It will inhabit the Palasport Arsenale, Giobatta Gianquinto, a brutalist sports hall designed by Enrichetto Capuzzo in the 1970s. This will be the first time the structure welcomes visitors as part of the Architecture Biennale.

Accompanying the pavilion exhibition will be The Baltic Atlas, a publication gathering original texts from all the participating artists. This Atlas is intended to open up an ecology of practices and methods that juxtaposes multiple ways of seeing the region as “an intensification of networks, agendas, and ideas that are relevant on a global scale.” 

Contributors to The Baltic Atlas include:

Åbäke, Indrek Allmann, Reinis Āzis, Viesturs Celmiņš, Nancy Couling, Tom Crosshill, Muriz Djurdjevic, Leonidas Donskis, Jānis Dripe, Keller Easterling, David Grandorge, Felix Hummel, Gustav Kalm, Karolis Kaupinis, Maroš Krivý, Jonathan Lovekin, Carl-Dag Lige, Laura Linsi, Agata Marzecova, Timothy Morton, Kaja Pae, Thomas Paturet, Ljeta Putāne, Eglė Rindzevičiūtė, Markus Schaefer, Jack Self, Nasrine Seraji, Tuomas Toivonen, Nomeda and Gediminas Urbonas, Jānis Ušča, Aro Velmet, and Ines Weizman.

More on the Biennale and MIT’s contributions