Stories from Beneath the Water: The Panama Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2023
Aerial view of the Panama Canal and the Miraflores locks. Image © Gianfranco Vivi / Shutterstock
The 18th Venice Architecture Biennale is scheduled to open on May 20, 2023. Curated by Lesley Lokko, it will have the theme “The Future Laboratory”, presenting the African continent as a driving force in shaping the world to come. Through 63 national pavilions, 89 participants, and nine parallel events throughout the city, professionals from a wide range of disciplines and backgrounds were invited to explore new possibilities.
Recently, the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Panama and the curator, architect, and designer Aimée Lam Tunon, presented preliminary plans for the Panamanian pavilion titled “Panama: Stories Underwater”. This is an analysis of three different areas within the former Panama Canal Zone, addressing issues of division and integration: the divisive architectural structures and systems, the erased identities of submerged communities, and the island of Barro Colorado, critically examined to question the overlaps between notions of protection and control.
Since ancient times, the tropics have been widely recognized as a symbol of exotic beauty, dangerous animals, and lush vegetation. Presented as a faraway place with different histories, languages, and cultures, this geographic area represents an amalgam of qualities that define the fantastic and mysterious nature of reality. Often considered from a Western perspective as a hostile environment to progress, the tropics represent everything that is not Europe and the United States (Lasso, 2019), the antithesis of civilized modernity. The exhibition of the Panama Pavilion should provide a counter-narrative to this status quo, with Panama as a case study for a future vision of a “tropical” nation, recovering and connecting its diverse historical influences. – Aimée Lam Tunon.
Lesley Lokko on the 2023 Venice Architecture Biennale: “I Hope It Provokes the Audience to Think Differently and More Empathetically”
Aimée Lam Tunon, along with creative director Jasper Zehetgruber, pointed out that the exhibition space would have a first room that focuses on the divisive interventions that mark the former Panama Canal Zone, directing the visitor’s attention to its impact. To accentuate the connection with Venice, blue lights will be used to attract mosquitoes and other insects, whose shadows are projected onto the walls, connecting the colonizer’s perspective with Plato’s allegory of the cave. In addition, a courtyard will serve as a safe place for reflection that avoids direct confrontation with the trauma of colonialism. This will challenge the Western perception of the tropics as a “magical land”. Finally, a second room will address the question of what function this plays in the preservation of biodiversity at the local and global levels. This will serve as a place to listen and critically reflect on the relationship between control and protection and to imagine a future vision for science and modernity in Panama and other places.
In the exhibition, references can be found to the work of Dante Furioso, an architect of the Yale School of Architecture and a Ph.D. candidate in History and Theory of Architecture at Princeton University; Marixa Lasso, the current director of the Center for Historical, Anthropological, and Cultural Research of Panama (AIP) and author of various publications; Danilo Perez, a musician and composer and founder of the annual Panama Jazz festival; Alejandro Pinto, Sales and Trade Director of the largest underwater timber company in Panama, CoastEcoTimber; Luis Pulido Ritter, a Professor at the University of Panama, and a writer, academic, and essayist based between Panama and Berlin; and Joan Flores-Villalobos, the current Assistant Professor in the Department of History at the University of Southern California (USC).
Commissioner: Itzela Quiroz
Curator: Aimée Lam Tunon
Concept / Creative Direction: Jasper Zehetgruber
Participants / Research based on: Dante Furioso, Dr. Marixa Lasso, Danilo Perez, Joan Flores-Villalobos, Dr. Luis Pulido Ritter, Dr. Fahim Amir.
Public Relations Management: Desiree Lam Tunon.
Production Design / Visual Research: Marvin Flores Unger.
Graphic Identity / Web Archive: Finn Steffens & Conrad Weise.
Research Intern / Mapping: Maik Stricker.
Barro Colorado Island Installation: Marda Zenawi.
Veranda Production: Emmanuel Maria Marchi and Gaspard Diatta.
Documentary Videography / Editing: Valentin Duggon.
Exhibition Photography: Naaro Studio.
Sponsors: National Bank of Panama, Coast Eco Timber, Europanamena S.A., Strelitzia Foundation, Inter-American Development Bank, Linda Hall Library, Senacyt, Ximena Eleta de Sierra.
Special thanks: Art Events, Francesca Noia, Peter Nicastro, Smithsonian Institution, The Architecture Story.