Lisbon Triennale Shows Curators’ Push Toward Tactical Engagement

Thursday, September 19, 2013
(Frida Escobedo & Max Hooper Schneider)

(Frida Escobedo & Max Hooper Schneider)

I wrote in my first post from the Lisbon Architecture Triennale Close, Closer that it’s the first international exhibition that does not need or even want outside visitors. The exhibition’s organizer and head curator, Beatrice Galilee, downplays installations and object-making in favor of active workshops, networking, and “research” projects aimed primarily at residents of the Portuguese capital.


Galilee calls this idea—that invited architectural exhibitions should no longer be to create and install physical tableaus, but to initiate and carry out localized research—”an alternative reading of contemporary spatial practice.” She and her generation of curators is calling for a reengagement of the “social and humanistic” aspects of architecture and these exhibitions’ successes or failures depend on how well their research projects engage with local communities and how well it informs these publics about places and events that surround them everyday.

The exhibition opened, for example, with a program of “Speech Acts, Body Acts, and City Acts” in a large but under-utilized urban plaza, Praca da Figueira (Square of the Fig Tree), where the Triennale has placed a beautiful circular, tilting stage for public events designed by Mexican Frida Escobedo. The first day included a debate by Lisbon mayoral candidates that brought out residents of the plazas fronting buildings to listen from their window and then a program of performances by Francisca Benetiz, Visible Speech, aimed at the city’s Deaf Community using signing experts.


In the evening the civic stage hosted Superpowers of Ten by Andrés Jaque / Office for Political Innovation (curated by Jose Esparza Chong Cuy), a play based on Charles and Ray Eames’ film of the same name. The play is described as a celebration of “the struggle of inhabiting in and out of the frame, recuperating narratives lost somewhere in the scaling up and in the scaling down of the camera.”

The first few days of the triennial these events all were seen by a wide variety of of local people crossing the square or sitting in its many cafes and restaurants. It’s hard to quantify the degree to which these events truly impact on the city, but they are open and accessible to the public. The impulse to have architects operating in civic space rather than on the drawing board is now, at least, the preferred operative model for young curators and we will likely see more of it in future biennales and triennials.

2 Responses to “Lisbon Triennale Shows Curators’ Push Toward Tactical Engagement”

  1. bjorn says:

    not sure about this “new”, anti-architecture attitude toward curation. Isnt an exhibition a physical object? and when it becomes non-physical it becomes something else, right? Maybe it is no longer even an exhibition. Architecture is about making and building physical things. that comes with many social, political, ethical, economic concerns, but it is the physical component of these processes…

    If people want to be into performing arts, go be performing artists. want to change the world? go work for a nonprofit or work in local government.

    i realize that architecture is not about vapid formailsm, but this anti-architecture stuff is getting out of hand.

    also, how does a program of international architects, curated by international architects, for international architects really “engage the public?”… Seems like more empty, trendy rhetoric to me. Are there reports on how many locals attended these events?

    also, when things become “active workshops, networking, and “research” projects”, rather than physical installations, it seems that only a certain “in-crowd” or people who are “in-the-know” and tapped into the right knowledge and social networks would even know about these events.

    By de-materialising architecture and curation, it seems to be even more alienating and elitist.

  2. william menking says:

    I think the issues you raise are exactly what I was pointing to in my article. But while there are questions about the role of architecture it is certainly worth trying something different and I want to encourage the curators in their effort to make architecture relevant to real word issues. It may fall short in what it promise but there is nothing wrong with trying something different-after all there are plenty of more traditional exhibitions. But your right in the end the success or failure of this approach does depend on the response from people living in Lisbon.

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