Pierre Bélanger Examines the Mining Industry at Venice Biennale

A visitor to Extraction watches a video displayed in the ground / copyright Laurian Ghinitoiu, via Arch Daily

One of the first national architecture pavilions to be curated by a landscape architect debuted last month at the Venice Architecture Biennale. The Canadian exhibit, entitled Extraction, is curated by landscape architect Pierre Bélanger, ASLA, who is also associate professor at Harvard University. Ryerson University ecologist and landscape planner Nina-Marie Lister, Hon. ASLA, also worked on the project, along with architecture firm Rvtr, design firm Opsys, and the multimedia firm Studio Blackwell.

Extraction examines Canada’s role in extracting the resources that fuel our cities. “Canada has become a global resource empire. The preeminent extraction nation on the planet,” Bélanger said, citing its 20,000 mining projects now underway.

Visitors to the exhibit are invited to look through a hole in the ground, where they see a solid-gold survey stake planted at the intersection of the English, French, and Canadian pavilions. Beyond the stake, a video plays, displaying the history of Canada’s resource extraction through 800 images from 800 contributors in 800 seconds.

Bélanger and his team were initially warned that visitors to the exhibit would begrudge prostrating themselves to view the film, so “we milled a beautiful ½-inch surface of Corian that we keep clean and made a pillow for people to kneel on as a way to engage the project. Many people started laying down on the ground and relaxing.”

A visitor to Extraction watches a video displayed in the ground / copyright Laurian Ghinitoiu, via Arch Daily
A visitor to Extraction watches a video displayed in the ground / copyright Laurian Ghinitoiu, via Arch Daily

Architect Bruce Kuwabara told Bélanger that Extraction “engages us in questions of responsibility and ethics in the face of an overwhelming challenge — to reset the relationships of power so we might create a more transparent and equitable world.”

Bélanger explained that most Biennale visitors suffer from “interior exhibition fatigue,” and that the fresh air and natural light were in part responsible for the large crowds Extraction has drawn. Furthermore, “we specifically under-designed the project and augmented the texture and interaction in order to engage the senses in ways that appeal to a much larger audience than drawings, models, or writings on the wall.”

He added: “exhibitions at the Biennale are expected to be about the celebration of national architecture, located inside of a national building belonging to a specific nation. Our involvement as landscape architects, ecologists, planners, and urbanists makes it unique.”

Indeed, the Venice Biennale is a valuable opportunity to share landscape architecture as well. “The basic element of land — in all its political, ecological, social, and technological dimensions — is often overlooked. We need to make land relevant to pressing questions and critical matters of urbanism and a very large audience of professionals and the public.”

Extraction will be on display in Venice through November 27 and then proceed onto a Canadian tour through 2017. A book of essays concerning Extraction is also in the works, co-edited by Bélanger and Lister. Learn more online or by following the project on twitter @1partperbillion.

2 thoughts on “Pierre Bélanger Examines the Mining Industry at Venice Biennale

  1. Tony 10/01/2016 / 11:28 am


    I just left the Canada “Pavilion” at the Venice Biennale. While I quite liked what I had previoiusly (and subsequently) read about the intended message, I can tell you it really isn’t being heard by attendees. Most of the people who had been looking for the Pavillion using their Map just gave up and went to the next exhibit. The few who did bother to stop, kneel and peep thru the tiny eyehole spent less than 1 minute and got up shaking their heads.

    I love the idea of being outside and agree one’s mind needs the frsh air after trudging thru several indoor pavillions. Surely a larger physical presence would have told this story and allowed many more of the thousands of visitors to the Biennale to actually learn the story being told.

    Call me out of touch if you will, but in my view the presentation could and should have been given a better opportunity to get the message out. Too clever for your own good, folks!!!

  2. Margaret Logan 01/20/2017 / 10:17 am

    The message is very important and profound but failed to be communicated in 800 seconds.

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