Halfway through the 17th International Architecture Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia (Venice, Italy), the Lithuanian Pavilion (aka the Lithuanian Space Agency) continues the ambitious artistic and scientific study of a hypothetical artificial planet made entirely from human bodies. Even though it would take a trillion years to truly implement such an idea, tens of thousands of visitors have already participated in the astrophysical simulation and begun to form the virtual asteroid.
The Lithuanian Pavilion transformed the interior of the Renaissance-style church of Santa Maria dei Derelitti into the Lithuanian Space Agency’s (LSA) laboratory. In this laboratory, Julijonas Urbonas (the LSA’s founder, artist and researcher) presents his most recent project Planet of People. The LSA explores what it would actually take to realise the architectural fiction of Planet of People, raising questions about its sociopolitical implications. In addition, the project explores current aesthetic, ethical and political issues concerning space prevalent in existing national and commercial programmes such as cosmic culture and imagination, space colonialism and pollution, policies governing the activities of space exploration and the privatisation of outer space.
Presented by the Lithuanian Council for Culture and organised by Rupert, Centre for Art and Education in Vilnius, the LSA exhibition is commissioned by Rupert’s director Julija Reklaitė and curated by Jan Boelen, artistic director of Atelier LUMA in France, rector of Karlsruhe University of Art & Design (HfG) in Germany and the founder and former artistic director of Z33 – House for Contemporary Art, Design & Architecture in Belgium.
The LSA, a fictional organisation that explores space architecture and culture, was established in 2019 as a result of Urbonas’ more than decade-long research into ‘gravitational aesthetics’. Gravitational aesthetics is a genre of architecture, design and art concerned with the choreographing and locomotive power of things – both real and imaginary – and the effects these choreographies have on the sensual, psychological and social domains. ‘The recent project is also a crossover between speculative design and architecture. Here, architecture is not physically tangible but instead imagined. By considering architecture on a planetary scale, for instance, terraforming, we can view earthly architecture differently. This unique critical perspective defines architecture as a very earthbound discipline, with gravity as its main problem’, says Urbonas, ‘This is why it is important to push architecture into more radical circumstances and consider the inversion of Vitruvian conceptual architecture. In other words: what would happen if in architecture humans gave up their long-held central position in favour of becoming raw material?’.
Visitors approaching the LSA in the unique setting of the church will find a portable ‘space camping’ architectural constellation designed by Isora x Lozuraityte Studio for Architecture. The travelling lab anchors itself on two large reflective sails that bracket the project and protect the sensitive historical surfaces. The impression of mobility is based on deployable structures created by artist Vladas Suncovas, who also designed the 3D scanner rig. At the centre of the Planet of People installation, a machine made up of six 3D cameras programmed by Studio Pointer* (an interactive media design studio run by Asya Sukhorukova and Jakob Schlötter) scans the participants of the experiment and ‘sends’ them into one of the Lagrangian Points (L2). L2 is a point in space where gravity is almost absent, allowing frozen bodies to float freely until they converge into a blob due to their weak gravities. In this way, a new ‘human’ planet is extra-terraformed, making all participants planetary co-architects.
According to the LSA architects Ona Lozuraitytė and Petras Išora, ‘the main aim of the visual layer was to create unrecognisable evidence of known technology.’. For this purpose, the architects addressed current material urgencies and used an unusual-looking material borrowed from the largest plastic manufacturer in the Baltic States and one of the leading plastic recycling companies in Europe. This material has been recycled several times and now, as part of the LSA, is just in another stage of its continuous circulation. Its mass represents a critical perspective on human-made shifting geology and the stratum of material flows and traces that humans are leaving behind as a species. The tangled structure and ironic ornamentation resembles human guts and engages in an interesting interplay with Urbonas’ Planet of People, which consists of entangled human bodies. Conceptually referring to the idea of humans as post-fossil, this sinuous material was moulded into torus-shaped sitting elements and the surface of a rotating table that contains both a reception desk and the archive of the Lithuanian Space Agency. This archive encompasses some of Urbonas’ other works or ‘prototypes’ such as Airtime, Barany Chair, Cerebral Spinner, Cumspin, Emancipation Kit, Euthanasia Coaster, Hypergravitational Piano and Oneiric Hotel. These works and the research behind them have formed the basis of the main installation, Planet of People.
As part of the project, the LSA has produced its first annual report, edited by the assistant curator Milda Batakytė and Urbonas, and published by Six Chairs Books together with Rupert and Vartai Gallery. The publication features several texts on gravitational aesthetics by the artist himself, an in-depth presentation of Planet of People and commissioned feasibility studies by researchers from different fields of planetary science such as space architecture, design, art, engineering, astroanthropology, astronomy and astrophysics. Specially adapted for the Biennale Architettura 2021, the very first version of Planet of People was presented as Urbonas’ solo show in late 2018 at Vartai Gallery in Vilnius. The planet had also been forming in 2020 at the Collective’s City Dome exhibition space in Edinburgh and the Science Gallery in Dublin.
This is Lithuania’s third time participating in the International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, and the second time that the country has produced the Pavilion independently. In 2016, Lithuania, together with Latvia and Estonia, participated as a united Baltic Pavilion. In 2018, Lithuania presented its first individual pavilion titled The Swamp School, curated by Nomeda and Gediminas Urbonas and commissioned by Pippo Ciorra.
Artist: Julijonas Urbonas
Curator: Jan Boelen
Commissioner: Julija Reklaitė
Assistant Curator: Milda Batakytė
Laboratory design: Isora x Lozuraityte Studio for Architecture
Deployable structures design: Vladas Suncovas
Graphic design and 3D scanner programming: Studio Pointer*
Engineering: Povilas Ambrasas
Producer: Mindaugas Reklaitis
Presented by the Lithuanian Council for Culture
Organised by Rupert, Centre for Art and Education in Vilnius
Address: Chiesa di Santa Maria dei Derelitti, Barbaria delle Tole, 6691, (Castello), 30122 Venice, Italy (Map)
22 May – 21 November 2021
10 am – 7 pm
Daily guided tours: 6 pm
Closed on Mondays
Every person must present an EU Covid Certificate (Green Pass) to access the Lithuanian Pavilion.
For further information, images and interviews, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Find out more at www.lithuanianspace.agency