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The Mexican Institute of Fine Arts (INBA) has appointed Pablo Landa, who defended his PhD in Anthropology last month and is currently a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Woodrow Wilson School, as curator of the Mexican Pavilion in the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennial.
Landa's doctoral research considers the relationship among built forms and social relations in a Mexico City housing project, where he conducted ethnographic fieldwork between 2011 and 2012. In 2014, Landa curated a retrospective for the Monterrey Museum of Contemporary Art on Mario Pani, a modernist architect who designed the project where he did research. The show offered an anthropological perspective of architecture by considering the social context from which Pani's buildings emerged and their transformations over decades alongside economic and social policies, family configurations, and personal histories.
In the words of Dolores Martinez, director of architecture at the INBA, "Alejandro Aravena, the artistic director of the Venice Biennial, wants to hear stories about the social dimensions of architecture. As a country, we have to present a nation-wide perspective. Mexico has a lot to offer. Events such as the 1985 earthquake, and everyday social problems we face, have led us to find creative solutions through architecture. We invited Pablo to work with us because as an anthropologist he can show a different perspective, one that considers the social context of buildings and their effects."
According to Landa, "Since the nineteen-fifties, Mexican architects have had a close relationship with communities they work for. They have, for example, written manuals to assist self-construction, offered creative solutions for reconstruction after natural disasters, and come up with materials and construction processes that have transformed how people build and live. Alongside these actions, communities have worked together to shape the spaces they inhabit. For example, some have built parks and community centers, or have constructed infrastructure to have access to water. We want to put these experiences side by side to reflect on what architecture can offer the users of buildings and urban spaces, and what architecture as a profession can learn from the work of organized communities."
The team working on the Mexican pavilion made an open call for projects or experiences. Close to three hundred individuals, universities and organizations have registered. "We decided to adopt an anthropological approach," Landa explained, "instead of starting from a story we want to tell and then finding examples to substantiate it, we have begun by collecting experiences and projects, which we will now use to figure out what stories we can tell that reflect what is going in in Mexico. The users of buildings and neighborhoods, the people who have built them over time will be the show's protagonists. We intend to tell stories from their perspective."
The Biennial will open in May 2016 and run through November. "We plan to do simultaneous activities in Mexico and Venice, to generate a national conversation on the role of architecture in addressing social problems. Our goal is not only to show what Mexicans have done over the past decades, but also to invite reflections. We have also started talking about bringing some of these conversations to Princeton."