OFF FENCE: an installation at the 17th Venice Biennale

MOLO architekti, SKULL studio,

BoysPlayNice ,

Forte Marghera, Venice,

Biennale di Venezia, Installation,

Venice Biennale,

Sculptor Matěj Hájek and architect Tereza Kučerová were invited as the sole representatives of the Czech Republic to the 17th International Architecture Exhibition - La Biennale di Venezia, curated by Hashim Sarkis. In the ‘How will we play together?’ section, in the freely accessible Forte Marghera, they are presenting OFF FENCE, an installation which investigates the theme of the fence or, more broadly, of separation.

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OFF FENCE: an installation at the 17th Venice Biennale
The theme of the 17th International Architecture Exhibition - La Biennale di Venezia, curated by Hashim Sarkis, ‘How will we live together?’, has been tackled by young creatives Matěj Hájek and Tereza Kučerová with their installation, OFF FENCE. Because fences as a symbol of separation have always played an important role in the way we have lived together, and with all the barriers and walls being put up nowadays, there is little doubt that they will maintain this prevalence in future. As such, in order to answer the question of how we are going to live together, we must first take stock of what divides us.
The OFF FENCE installation, set up in the Forte Marghera, aims to transform the obstacle into an impulse for change. With this in mind, the four ‘fences’ made from larch wood profiles, each of which progressively inclines from the vertical axis, abruptly cut across a gravel path, interrupting the visitor’s route through the installation. The ‘fences’ are all mutually interconnected with sloping platforms, which enable movement along the play element. Access to the installation is possible along the sloping platforms, and from the sides on steel ladders.
If the visitors wish to continue on their way, they are forced to address the situation created by OFF FENCE, the title of which suggests a not coincidental play on words (i.e. ‘offence’).
Visitors have three options: giving up and turning back, walking around the obstacle, or engaging with the installation by going through it.
In the context formulated by the two young creatives, this physical act takes on a symbolic meaning: it enables visitors to enter the obstacle, and thereby to enter the problem. “Through the medium of play we take a bold step. We drive the dynamo of change through our own initiative. The game is an initiation of change. By entering the physical body of the obstacle, visitors overcome themselves,” says Hájek, describing the installation.
Tereza Kučerová adds: “In cities there aren’t enough opportunities for the free movement of children. Playgrounds are often designed as the only places for playing. For us, the fence demarcating children’s playgrounds is a symbol of this deficiency. It separates children from the remainder of the urban environment. In cities designed with the needs of children taken into account, such fences aren’t necessary”.
This brings up an interesting point, namely that our cities are not yet well-suited to their weaker users. This is true for children - who, paradoxically, can only truly be free within the confines of these fences - but also for cyclists, who can only truly feel safe when in their own dedicated cycle lanes.
The creators of the piece have also explained the reasons behind the spatial composition of OFF FENCE as an element of play. This is based on the application of knowledge from the field of neuroscience, according to which moving along the inclined surfaces of the platforms brings about a stimulation of the physical apparatus, and thereby also an increase in the educational potential of the game.
In short, OFF FENCE throws down a playful challenge against the imperfections of our cities, but also against the nonsensical nature of borders. Because after all, any obstacle can be circumvented with just a little intelligence and a pinch of imagination.

Christiane Bürklen

OFF FENCE, installation for the 17th International Architecture Exhibition - Venice Biennale
How will we play together, Forte Marghera, Italy
from 22 May to 21 November 2021
Project: Matěj Hájek [SKULL studio], Tereza Kučerová [MOLO architekti] 
Images; Ben Norten, Boys Play Nice


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