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Shumi Bose on the Collaborators for Home Economics

Shumi Bose on the Collaborators for Home Economics © HOME ECONOMICS #5, 210X297MM, OK-RM AND MATTHIEU LAVANCHY, 2016


Home Economics is this year’s exhibition at the British Pavilion for the Venice Architecture Biennale. Before the exhibition opens to the public on 28 May, we talked to the curators about the ideas and concepts behind the exhibition. 

This year, curators Jack Self, Shumi Bose and Finn Williams have invited established and emerging artists, architects and designers to produce immersive 1:1 environments, which challenge the status quo and propose new futures for the home. Each of the five rooms in the pavilion has been designed around different periods of time. These timescales – Hours, Days, Months, Years and Decades – correspond to how long each is to be called 'home'. This week we spoke with Shumi Bose about the collaborative aspect of the exhibition, why they felt it was important to work with such a broad array of participants and what this has added to the propositions and exhibition overall.

Collaboration seems to be a really strong theme within this exhibition. Why do you feel this is important in architecture and design?

Domestic architecture and the idea of “home” is something that everybody relates to, whether you're considering a mortgage, or if you've ever had to pay rent, or move house. The idea of how you make yourself at home is something that is accessible to everyone. So we really wanted to reflect on that open conversation, to see what it was possible to spark by asking a broad range of people to work together.

Asking a fashion designer to collaborate with an architect to produce a piece of furniture might seem a fairly strange thing to do, for example – but it threw up interesting concerns, because it meant approaching the same problem from very different angles. We don't just want to bemoan the problems with the current situation of housing provision ­– that’s fairly easy to do – but instead to invite thinking from other sources, and framing the home as a common concern.

We held a weekend workshop right at the beginning of the process, inviting all participants and advisers to join our exhibition and graphic designers and pull together different ways of approaching different problems. There was no hierarchy, and the sharing and cross-pollination of ideas and information really set the tone for how we were going to work.

Everybody's been able and encouraged to check in on what the other teams are doing, and there have been various concerns that pass from one room to another. It's just a richer way of working – slightly harder to manage – but ultimately, probably more reflective of architectural practice. It's a collaborative thing: we live together, we work together.


What was the thinking behind having a different designer for each room?

We definitely wanted to give voice to innovative thinking; we didn't want to be authoring perfect solutions. As young curators, we're well aware that we don't necessarily have the expertise, or even the time, to research definitive answers. We began by thinking about whom we could invite to address the topic from various perspectives, and using an untested framework – that is, using the lens of time to assess what ‘home’ really means.

We wanted the exhibition to pioneer innovative thinking, challenging thinking, provocative thinking. So we chose people who are slightly ‘fringe-y’, with at least one foot in Britain, and who might be open to using this lens of time to push the thinking forward. There are a number of offices producing, building and designing excellent housing in the UK – housing that’s trying to address some of the questions being explored in the exhibition – but we didn't want it to turn into a showcase of existing projects.


There are a broad number of disciplines represented in the exhibition, from industry advisers to developers, even a chef! Why did you feel this variety was so important? What do you feel it has added to the design of the propositions?

We really want this exhibition to change the way we think about, live in and produce homes. So it was important to use the panel of industry advisers to root all this radical, speculative thinking in very gritty, pragmatic concerns right from the beginning. We invited a panel of experts who would be able to validate or test the proposals, so none of the ideas we developed would seem completely madcap.

Fergus Henderson is a chef, and we invited him partly because he trained as an architect with Cedric Price at the AA, but also because he could bring some interesting ideas about hospitality to the project. Fergus has contributed a lot towards reviving British food culture, and he’s opened a hotel, so he explores important ideas of hospitality that are to do with conviviality (literally, living together) and shared space.

We also feel that the exhibition should engage as broad a cross-section of the public as possible, rather than speaking exclusively to a professional audience. So we approached financial institutions to give gravity to those vital economic concerns, and artistic practice to look at how these issues are being commented on more broadly. This variety hopefully gives weight to the propositions, whilst ensuring that the ideas are accessible to people outside of the field of expertise.

What would you like visitors to take away from the show?

Not solutions, but perhaps questions about how it is that we actually live our lives and how we occupy our homes. Perhaps to be challenged to some degree to think about what they expect from a home, what they want from a home. I’d like people to feel empowered to look at their own lives and to push back against the systems that are already in place.

Secondly – probably more immediately – we’d really like them to have a nice time in there. It was very important for us to produce an exhibition that is immersive, one where people can challenge their thinking by actually inhabiting an idea, rather than being kept at a distance in a formal gallery context.

We've used just a few furnishings and everyday objects in the rooms as cues or props, which hopefully give a degree of familiarity to viewers. Our thinking was that this will help people to see how they might fit into these new propositions for life, and to ask themselves: what does that mean for me, for us, for my children? 

Home Economics is on show at the British Pavilion for the Venice Architecture Biennale 28 May - 27 November 2016. To find out more click here.