Within the Venetian Arsenale, a delicate and seemingly weightless crystalline canopy of clouds floats from the ceiling of the sprawling Corderie. The ethereal array is joined by a cluster of tall mechanical columns, which have speakers embedded into their jagged, steampunk crowns. At the heart of the room, a soft and mesmerizing pool-shaped screen displays a film by the London-based duo of Warren Du Preez and Nick Thornton Jones.
This is Grove, a multimedia installation now open as part of the ongoing Venice Biennale of Architecture. Led by Toronto-based artist and architect Philip Beesley, the deeply immersive spatial, visual and auditory experience recalls Beesley’s best work in creating ethereal physical structures that respond to their environmental stimuli, and to the humans that approach their feathery fronds.
The centrepiece of this gathering space that is at once tranquil and transcendent, the film — called Grove Cradle — was commissioned especially for the exhibition. It depicts the emergence of a child-like being “within an astral, dreamlike vision of constant metamorphosis.”
While a wondrous ambiance is conjured by the crystal clouds and the film, the speakers mounted within the installation’s columns convey a multi-channel layering of sounds. Designed by composer Salvador Breed and Amsterdam-based 4DSOUND, the rich auditory landscape comprises “layers that offer hope and come near you in an intense way,” says Breed, “fields that open up, and spikes that come close and tickle you” — almost like Beesley’s ethereal architecture itself.
The visual, acoustic and spiritual orchestra of it all blurs the line between spectator and art, creating an encounter so immersive that it exists within the self. Indeed, Beesley’s Living Architecture Systems Group describes Grove as an “almost overwhelmingly intense experience of innumerable worlds falling into chaos and rising again in new life.”
If it is a terrifying beauty, it ultimately isn’t a frightening one. The installation melds the living and the inert, the natural and the human-made. The innocent being that appears in the film – as “inert crystalline minerals” surge into life forms – encompasses everything: plants, animals, the Arsenale and the spectator herself. To the Biennale’s central question of “How will we live together?,” this is Beesley’s answer.
Grove is described as an “almost overwhelmingly intense experience of innumerable worlds falling into chaos and rising again in new life.”