doxiadis+, the Greek Architectural and Landscape practice, responds to “How will we live together?” the theme of the 17th Architecture Bienalle – la Bienalle di Venezia curated by Hashim Sarkis.
“Entangled Kingdoms” highlights the importance of the Symbiosis between species as a sine qua non condition for the survival and future prosperity of our planet.
“Our philosophy is “Forming Symbiosis”, seeing the world, and humanity’s place within it, through the interdependencies over the conflicts. We are only alive due to the web of life on Earth, to the subtle and constant exchanges between all living organisms. We are driven by a constant sense of wonder and respect for the intricate relationships between living things.
We immediately saw our 2019 invitation by curator Hashim Sarkis to participate in the main body of the 2020 Architecture Biennale as an opportunity to create a strong yet sensitive statement on this interdependence. We were drawn to the Kingdom of Fungi, the mycelia and molds which people usually either ignore or find disgusting, but without which we – and most of life on our planet as we know it – would not exist. Fungi, the kingdom between plants and animals, are the unsung heroes of the web of life. They are a creator, a facilitator, a decomposer. And they are simply everywhere.
We formed a working group of seven of our studio members, as well as priceless collaborators such as mycologist Zappi Gonou of Athens University, and curator Julia Pitts. We visited the space allocated to us in the Biennale and realized the fungi were already there, on the walls and in the air. We felt the need to make the invisible visible, to show the visitors this amazing world which surrounds us and even forms part of our bodies. It became very important for us to highlight fungi as living organisms which we must respect for their own sake, not for their use to us. We could find no previous examples where the tiny and short-lived fungi were exhibited live. So we embarked on an adventure, aided by Zappi, to make the first-ever fungus garden.
First we collected the fungal spores from the two rooms of the Biennale. Then Zappi propagated them in her lab in the University of Athens, identifying the various species. A year and a half of experiments followed. To learn how to grow fungi, we started with our own office space, growing a petri dish of each room. Then we made giant petri dishes, and started growing the Venice fungi in various conditions. A minuscule world of wonders grew before our eyes, in different shapes, colors, speeds. They interacted with each other, in cases keeping a polite distance, in other trying to take each other over. Some shaded the agar, the growing medium, with colorful digestive fields. We did experiment after experiment, seeing how temperature, material, placement changes the result. A fact: we cannot control fungi as we can control plants, they are too fast, too dynamic, too unknown.
Humans gain true understanding when knowledge is combined with emotion. That is the how the exhibit is designed. In the outer room, one just hears a rich multiplicity of sounds from the whole animal kingdom, feeling you are in a place full of life, like a jungle. A light in the form of roots pulls you towards the dark second room. Before you enter you are greeted with the words “Without me you don’t exist”.
The inner room is dark, eyes focusing on the glowing fungal garden. Black grainy Aspergili, Fusaria pink and fine like cotton candy, orange globular Epicocca, other Aspergili like green dust, grow, interact, and change with each day. The curator and the other Biennale collaborators and participants say “how are the fungi doing today?”, “wow, they have grown”, “what are those orange ones”, “are they really all around us?”, “how beautiful”, “what will happen next?”. The truth is we don’t fully know, we have provided a home for these fungi but we do not control them. Two tables flank the glowing garden, one explains our research and process, the other contains samples of fungi and their symbiotic form, lichens, which we have collected in Greece, in Italy and in Portugal.
In parallel, we were invited by Olafur Eliasson and his team to participate in UN Future Αssembly, giving a voice to fungi in the discussion of the future of the planet. Fungi from the mountain of Dirfi in Euboea moved to Venice to participate in the assembly.
The message of Entangled Kingdoms comes at a time when everyone is concerned about the effects of Climate Change and its association with the pandemic. We work to give form which will show the beauty of what is around us but we do not see. This year and a half spent with our tiny cousins have made us love them. We now smile at the microscopic universes we find in our old yoghurt, at the base of a wall, in the soil we work. Our eyes and our hearts are opened, and we hope to continue opening those of others.