Lisbon Triennale Shows Curators' Push Toward Tactical Engagement

Lisbon Triennale Shows Curators' Push Toward Tactical Engagement

(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.