the V&A presents a world of fragile parts at the venice architecture biennale
 

the V&A presents a world of fragile parts at the venice architecture biennale

the V&A presents a world of fragile parts at the venice architecture biennale
all images by andrea avezzù / courtesy of la biennale di venezia

 

 

 

at the 15th international architecture exhibition, london’s victoria and albert museum (V&A) presents ‘a world of fragile parts’ — an exhibition that examines the threats faced by global heritage sites. the display, the first-ever collaboration between the V&A and la biennale di venezia, also considers how the production of copies can aid in the preservation of cultural artefacts. the exhibition has been designed by london-based studio ordinary architecture.

 

a range of factors, including climate change, natural disasters, urbanization, mass tourism and neglect, have shed light on the risks faced by many heritage sites. consequently, artists, activists, and educational institutions are beginning to respond to the urgent need to preserve by embracing opportunities provided by cutting-edge digital scanning and fabrication technologies. the exhibition questions what should be copied, and the relationship between the duplicate and the original, in terms of authenticity.

venice architecture biennale v and a museum
the display examines the threats faced by global heritage sites

 

 

 

museums have a long history of producing copies. in the 19th century, the V&A’s began to display plaster casts of significant works of art, primarily to educate visitors and make them accessible to those unable to travel. towards the end of the 20th century, this method of duplicating began to diminish, and copies started being associated with negative values such as fakery and vulgarity. as a result, a number of cast collections in europe were discarded from their respective institutions. more recently, copies have taken on a perceived value as transmitters of knowledge and culture.

venice architecture biennale v and a museum
the exhibition considers how the production of copies can aid in the preservation of cultural artefacts

 

 

 

curated by brendan cormier, ‘a world of fragile parts’ investigates 200 years of copying cultural artefacts. the display includes items such as a facsimile of ‘the convention for promoting universally reproductions of works of art’ (1867) — an arrangement drawn up by the V&A’s first director henry cole to pursue the international exchange of copies. also presented are 19th-century plaster casts; photographs and electrotypes, alongside some of the most significant contemporary projects that have engaged with or deployed copying as a strategy for preservation.

venice architecture biennale v and a museum
the presentation examines the relationship between duplicate and original

 

 

 

some have responded directly to the ISIS crisis, such as the reproduction of a segment of the palmyra’s destroyed ‘triumphal arch’, produced by the institute for digital archaeology (IDA). the original had been half-destroyed by ISIS in october 2015. the arch segment is made from marble carved by a computerized stone cutter, and the digital model was created using photogrammetry, whereby hundreds of images are processed to produce a 3D file.

 

one of the main projects emphasizing the exhibition’s inherent urgency is a 1:1 scanned replica of a shelter from the calais ‘jungle’ refugee camp by sam jacob studio. the plastic and wood construction is rendered in CNC milled synthetic stone, transforming its value and meaning by elevating it to the status of a sculptural monument.

venice architecture biennale v and a museum
recently, copies have taken on a perceived value as transmitters of knowledge and culture

 

 

 

a 3D print of the nefertiti bust by artists nora al-badri and jan nikolai nelles is also on display. the bust of the egyptian queen, excavated in 1912, has been on show at the neues museum since its unveiling in berlin in 1924 — despite the requests of the egyptian authorities to return the artefact. furthermore, a detailed digital scan had been created but not made publicly available. in reaction, artists nora al-badri and jan nikolai nelles secretly scanned the bust using a staged kinect xbox controller. the ethical art heist, known as #nefertitihack, resulted in the three-dimensional model on display.

venice architecture biennale v and a museum
‘a world of fragile parts’ is curated by brendan cormier

 

 

 

the increasing accessibility of 3D scanning and printing couldn’t be timelier in the context of cultural preservation, as the threat of destruction and damage of our global material heritage rises,’ explains curator brendan cormier. ‘a world of fragile parts’ poses questions related to the legitimacy, ownership and significance of copies while highlighting their preservation value as they allow for physical, but also for cultural, emotional and political survival.’

venice architecture biennale v and a museum
the exhibition investigates 200 years of copying cultural artefacts

 

 

 

replicas are a phenomenon of our age, and are rapidly transforming attitudes towards authenticity,’ adds martin roth, director of the V&A. ‘as a complement to ‘traditional’ conservation, the value to culture of being able to create, store and protect accurate records of objects that might one day no longer exist or become inaccessible is clear. however, the abilities we have also pose challenging questions. which has a greater authenticity; an arch recreated in precise and perfect detail by a robotic arm, or an arch reconstructed using the same artisanal techniques as the original?’

venice architecture biennale v and a museum
a range of factors have shed light on the risks faced by many heritage sites

 

 

 

the exhibition has been designed by london-based practice ordinary architecture, whose work relates to both the curatorial narrative and to the context of the arsenale and venice as a whole. at the entrance, a six meter support arch holds a series of decorative plaster panels, re-enacting the grand san petronio arch that currently resides inside the V&A’s cast courts — itself a plaster copy of the original doorway to the basilica di san petronio in bologna. the layout of the exhibition is organized as a grid, offset from the structural grid of the room, to create a deliberate tension between old and new.

venice architecture biennale v and a museum
artists, activists, and educational institutions are beginning to respond to the urgent need to preserve

 

 

 

appearing as architectural fragments, the curated objects are presented on plinths, tables and walls. the display elements combine plexi-glass and plastered surfaces to reveal solid plaster interiors, which suggest they have been broken and repaired, or completed from fragments. the plexi-glass also sets up a series of reflections that multiply the objects, making a sequence of copies of copies. the color palette directly references the strikingly colored walls of the V&A cast courts, past and present, and marks out the exhibition’s various sections. the palette also differentiates the display objects from their context, articulating them as clearly contemporary elements within a historic setting.

venice architecture biennale v and a museum
evidence of digital scanning and new fabrication technologies is presented

 

 

 

for more images, follow designboom on our dedicated instagram account @venice.architecture.biennale

venice architecture biennale v and a museum
‘a world of fragile parts’ remains on display until november 27, 2016

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