Two architect-academics from UTS are presenting their installation at the Venice Biennale of Architecture. Guillermo Fernández-Abascal and Urtzi Grau are the only Australian representation in the main exhibition this year. Their installation ‘Folk Costumes, Indo-Pacific Air’ traces the history of the region’s current masked state.

In the months preceding the global pandemic, a series of airborne events transformed the atmosphere of the Indo-Pacific region: these included bushfire smoke on Australia’s east coast, teargassing of Santiago de Chile and Hong Kong protesters, the Indian Supreme Court’s ruling on Delhi’s pollution failures, and activists covering iconic statues with respirators across Johannesburg and Pretoria. All these events represented political struggles taking place in the region’s air and triggering a proliferation of masked faces.

In their installation, Fernández-Abascal and Grau present five hybrid creatures breathing the air from the end of 2019. In the room, five well-dressed friends welcome the Biennale’s visitors and illustrate how we could breathe together, and live together. Nevertheless, before the pandemic, masks and respirators – the folk costumes of a region in the making – defined the Indo-Pacific imagery.

“Similarly to the ones invented in the 19th century, these folk costumes are also socio-technological constructions. They combine responses to environmental conditions, cultural and political concerns, and available techniques and technologies. Yet they neither illustrate an essential link between national identity and land, nor imply symbolic, structural, or semiotic explanations to validate colonial empires or the existing social orders,” Grau explained.

Folk Costumes, Indo-Pacific Air will be on display at the 17th International Architecture Exhibition ‘How will we live together?’ – the Venice Biennale from 22 May to 21 November 2021.

Images by Hamish McInotsh and Matteo Dal Vera