MAY 20- NOVEMBER 26, 2023
Swamp Observatory
The Children’s Forest Pavilion / Lithuanian Pavilion
Venice Architecture Biennale

Gediminas Urbonas, associate professor MIT
Nomeda Urbonas, MIT research affiliate

Nomeda & Gediminas Urbonas, and their project Swamp Observatory, are featured at the “The Children’s Forest Pavilion” – the Lithuanian Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale, commissioned by Ines Weizman and curated by Jurga Daubaraitė, Egija Inzule, and Jonas Žukauskas.

The Swamp Observatory AR app is the result of a two-year collaboration with a school on Gotland Island in the Baltic sea, arguably the most polluted sea in the world. Developed as a conceptual playground and a digital tool to augment reality with imaginaries for new climate commons, the App offers new perspectives to the planning process suggesting eco-monsters as emergent ecology for the planned stormwater ponds in the new sustainable city.

It is the seventh time the Urbonas’s work is represented in Venice Biennale. In 2007, their first time in the Venice Biennale, their Villa Lituania received the honorable mention for the best national pavilion in the Art Exhibition. They exhibited Druzhba project in Baltic Pavilion in 2016, and curated the Swamp School, first Lithuanian representation in the Architecture exhibition as an independent country in 2018. Their co-edited volume Public Space? Lost & Found was launched in 2017; they were awarded the European Social Fund Grant for Residency in Venice in 2019; they contributed to the Panoptic Garden – public program at the Uzbekistan Pavilion in 2022 – all Venice Biennale Art exhibitions.

The Swamp Observatory

For several years, Nomeda & Gediminas Urbonas have been obsessed with the concept of the swamp, investigating it as a biosphere, and as metaphor that often signifies unorganized mud. For them, the swamp unfolds as a library of cultural, historic, and cybernetic knowledges. Learning from the swamp’s intelligence is here translated into organizational aesthetics that grapples with the mess of the new climatic regime.

For the 2023 Venice Biennale, the Urbonases (Urbonas Studio) present The Swamp Observatory, which uses Augmented Reality to unveil invisible and imaginative ecosystems of the planned stormwater ponds for the future city district Visborg in Visby, Gotland Island, Sweden.

The stormwater ponds cannot be said to constitute a proper swamp but may, through the design of the landscape, attain a similar function that enables the carbon and methane sink, collection and distribution of water, filtering of pollutants, while serving as a habitat and as a refuge for a diversity of life forms, and also become a destination for social engagement, and scientific and artistic research. The Visborg stormwater ponds land in the middle of the debate on environmental sustainability and constitute a model for how to reintroduce wetlands on Gotland where water shortage is already a part of daily life.

By developing and using a hybrid reality in space with the help of AR, Urbonas Studio proposes a new model for art in public space that sensorially engages communities and facilitates their bonds with the environment before the planning process has physically landed. Aided by The Swamp Observatory, the habitats of the Visborg wetland will have arrived well before it is landscaped. In doing so it will render environmental citizenship of Visborg with a new climate commons in the center of planning created and maintained by local stakeholders and users.

Suggested as an instrumentarium to restore the swamps on Gotland island of the Baltic sea, the AR app is developed in collaboration with the students and teachers at Athene school, who during their art, biology, English and music classes have contributed to creating eco-monsters that will cohabit the planned stormwater ponds in northern Visborg. During several workshops students drafted proposals for the eco-monsters and wrote short prompts on each specifying their ecology – what they eat, how they behave, are they nocturnal, how they see and make the world. Later in the recording studio students produced sound samples to create language for their eco-monsters by recording sounds produced solely with their own body parts. Working in collaboration with electronic sound artists “Mouse on Mars” the spatial sonification was designed for each monster, filtering and mixing the samples send by the participants.

The relationships between humans and forms of life unfold through monster interactions that are programmed in collaboration with Terry T Kang BS’22. Here Carbon Coral, Methane Cloud, Atom Ring, Phosphorus Moss and Sulfur Swarm constitute assemblies that become visible with the help of the Swamp Observatory in the Visborg field. With AR technology, citizens can explore and experience a hybrid between physical reality and fiction before the planning and after and expand on their community to include other forms of life. The project probes the idea of a social biotope and a new way of engaging current and future citizens in urban development where pedagogical interventions and a process of collective artistic creation can catalyze new commons – climate commons.

Image Credits: Nomeda & Gediminas Urbonas. The Swamp Observatory AR App. Urbonas Studio in collaboration with: Atheneskolan Gotland, Indrė Umbrasaitė, Kristupas Sabolius, Mouse on Mars, Terry T Kang and Thomas Harriett. Commissioned by the Public Art Agency Sweden and the Baltic Art Center. Supported by Lithuanian Council for Culture and MIT Center for Art, Science & Technology. Powered by Hoverlay (2022). Photo by Jonas Žukauskas

IASPIS Panel on Urgent Pedagogies: Methodologies

Saturday, May 20th, 10 – 11:30 am

Gediminas & Nomeda Urbonas will discuss their artistic methodology engaging Environment. A conversation on exploitation of natural systems environments, climate justice and data mourning, with will be joined by Paulo Tavares, Marina Otero Verzier, and Ute Meta Bauer as respondent, with moderation from Pelin Tan and Magnus Ericson.
Urgent Pedagogies is a series of conversations sharing experience of methodologies in building environments for learning in relation to different urgencies, contexts and conditions.
Location: Studio Giardini, Rio Terà S. Isepo, 798, 30122 Venezia VE, Italy

Other events in the Urgent Pedagogies Program:

Care: Thursday, May 18, 5 – 6:30pm

A conversation on post disaster, emergency conditions, public health infrastructures and social injustice, with Laura Kurgan, Pelin Tan and Yelta Köm, response byGabu Heindl and Mona Mahall, moderation Pelin Tan and Magnus Ericson

Heritage: Friday 19th, May, 10 – 11.30 am
A conversation on heritage, memories and decolonization, with Sandi Hilal and Alessandro PettiPaulo MoreiraDalida María Benfield and Christopher Bratton, response by Emilio DistrettiFrancisco DíazSuha Hassan, moderation by Pelin Tan andMagnus Ericson.

About the Children’s Forest Pavilion

The Children’s Forest Pavilion – Lithuanian Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale is commissioned by Ines Weizman and curated by Jurga Daubaraitė, Egija Inzule & Jonas Žukauskas. The pavilion is composed as a playscape and conceived to acknowledge the unique approaches of children to observe, draw conclusions, explain the forest, and demand agency in forming it. This project brings together works and findings developed in parallel to outdoor activities held with children in woodlands in Lithuania and Finland. Guided by environmental educators, activists, artists, architects, and foresters, they were introduced to think of forests as negotiated spaces where no single actor has a central stake.

Combined with film installations, worktables and play structures, the architectural elements in the pavilion support the research and learning environment of the exhibition, which shows how the children that participated learned about ancient forests, primordial swamp landscapes and long processes of geological formations.

Through the outdoor activities, the children explored the forest at various levels of scale and perception, looking at the growth patterns of lichens, investigating chemical pollution molecules through augmented reality, and discovering sounds from reverberations of ancient and living timber, among other things. The exhibition includes an alphabet made of the branches of hundred-year-old mountain pines, a space with supersized shadows, as well as computer-generated spores and slime moulds in a myriad of shapes and forms, and invites visitors to play and learn about forests, as architectural and infrastructural spaces: environments of natural systems governed, exploited, and regulated by human interventions, technologies, industries, institutions and agencies, but also places of depleting biodiversity.

Opening of the Children’s Forest Pavilion
May 18, 2023 at 15:00
2125 Campo Tana, Castello, Venice (opposite the entrance to the Arsenale)

Related Links:

The Children’s Forest Pavilion, May 18 – November 26, 2023

Swamps and The New Imagination. Terrestrial University, ZKM, (2021)

Manuals for the Swamp School at the Venice Biennale, Architecture Exhibition (2018)
Manual 1: Swamp Radio [on Transmitting]

Manual 2: Futurity Island [on Sympoietics]

Manual 3: Commonism [on Cohabitation]

Swamp Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, Architecture Exhibition (2018)