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Gediminas and Nomeda Urbonas
Gediminas and Nomeda Urbonas

October 7, 2019, 6:00 pm

Throughout history, the project of architecture was realized by draining swamps, marshes, and wetlands. Dividing the land into a liquid and solid, butchering the territory for agriculture, waterways, and settlements, extracting and parceling it by expelling the indigenous—all are technologies of architecture and colonization. To notice the swamp below our feet is to switch to a nondualist ontology more appropriate to the Anthropocene. Architecture today must embrace the swamp, with its hybridity, complexity, queerness, and paradox, as a way to decolonize and de-school itself. 

This presentation will discuss the Swamp as a conceptual character and a window into its own operation through which we can conceive the architecture of the imaginal infrastructure of a swamp. With the short overview of programmatic concepts that employ conceptual, spatial, speculative and aesthetic aspects of a swamp as a laboratory, the focus will be on a Swamp School, as self-organized, open-ended and ever-changing infrastructure that supports collaborative experiments in design, pedagogy, and artistic intelligence for learning and adapting to imminent unknowns.

With a series of events, soundscapes, detours, and time- and site-specific interventions performed and installed across the city of Venice, the investigation of swamp resonates with both the planetary crisis and Venice’s own permeable conditions. “Don’t drain the swamp” is today’s imperative for architecture that wants to decolonize and to reinvent itself as a discipline calling to engage with its own history, modernity, pedagogy, and future. The swamp is uncanny to architecture, thus the Swamp School is a site to learn how to change habits of thought and adapt to the radically changing environments.

Gediminas Urbonas is an artist, educator, and co-founder of the Urbonas Studio (together with Nomeda Urbonas), an interdisciplinary research practice that facilitates exchange amongst diverse nodes of knowledge production and artistic practice in pursuit of projects that transform civic spaces and collective imaginaries. The Urbonas’s work has been exhibited at the São Paulo, Berlin, Moscow, Lyon, and Gwangju, Busan Biennales and Folkestone Triennial; at the Manifesta and Documenta exhibitions; and in solo shows at the Venice Biennale and the MACBA in Barcelona among others. Urbonas co-edited Public Space? Lost and Found (MIT Press, 2017) an examination of the complex interrelations between the creation and uses of public space and the roles that art plays therein. Urbonas 5 year-long research project on Zooetics exploring the potential to connect with the noetics and poetics of non-human life in the context of the planetary ecological imbalance, concluded in 2018 with the symposium at MIT and opened a new research program focusing on sympoiesis. Urbonases curated the “Swamp Pavilion” – future learning environment at the 16th Venice Architecture Biennale 2018. Gediminas Urbonas is an Associate Professor at the MIT Program in Art, Culture and Technology (MIT). 

Respondent: Pedro Gadanho, Director of the Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology, Lisbon, Portugal, and 2020 Loeb Fellow at Harvard.