At the end of May, we travelled to Venice to be at the opening of The Pool – Australia’s exhibition at the 2016 Architecture Biennale. The exhibition celebrates the pool in its many natural and man-made forms in Australian life, culture, identity and architecture.
I contributed photos and material to the book and broadsheet accompanying the exhibition and thanks to the three creative directors – Michelle Tabet, Amelia Holliday, Isabelle Toland and the Australian Institute of Architects – we had tickets to the official opening.
We also had tickets to other Biennale events and the night before the opening we went to drinks at the Naranzaria Bar where we chatted with young architects and interior designers and I got a taste for aperol Spritz.
The next morning, we were up early to get the vaporetto to Venice’s Castello area where the Biennale is held.
After a cappuccino at the Paradiso Bar Restaurante we made our way to the Australian pavilion where indigenous elder and poet Aunty Bea Ballagarry was leading a ‘Guunumba Elements’ ceremony for The Pool.
As we gathered by the canal, Aunty Bea explained that the earth invites connection to country, the air is to create clarity, the fire fuses dreams and the water is to carry the message of celebration. The official opening followed with speeches from Ian Thorpe, Janet Holmes a Court AO, the Australian Ambassador to Italy Dr Greg French and creative director Michelle Tabet.
“The exhibition is one of light, scent, sound and reflection and I encourage you to go in with the mindset of having your senses opened,” said Michelle. “Spend time with the eight story-tellers – Ian Thorpe, Shane Gould, Paul Kelly, Hetti Perkins, Anna Funder, Tim Flannery and Romance was Born,” she said. “Sit next to them and they can speak directly to you.”
As we lined up on the walkway leading into the Denton Corker Marshall-designed pavilion, young volunteers in The Pool T-shirts handed out the broadsheet accompanying the exhibition – full of stories and photos of Australian pools including three of my photos and one of the old grandstand at Moree Artesian Baths, which should have had my husband Bruce’s name on it.
There were articles on the health benefits of pools in remote areas, on communities saving their local pools from closure, architecturally striking pools, and on the second last page, my story on McIver’s Ladies Baths at Coogee.
A few minutes later we were inside the pavilion where adults were dangling their legs in the water of the specially-made pool and children were wading in.
On the walls was an introduction to the exhibition, ‘The Pool, Architecture, Culture and Identity in Australia’, translated into several languages and a ladder similar to one at my childhood pool, Northbridge Baths.
Another feature was ‘Danger Deep Water Aqua Profonda’ – the famously misspelt sign at Melbourne’s Fitzroy Baths introduced in the late 1950s to alert young Italian migrants about the deep water.
As I sat on the timber bench around the pool and looked at the installation I wondered if this was what I expected?
The next evening, we went to the Australian High Commissioner’s cocktail party in the garden behind the Fortuny Fabric Factory and Showroom in the Giudecca area of Venice. I drank some more Aperol Spritz in the beautiful surroundings with stunning pool – one of only six in Venice.
We felt very privileged to be part of this event and grateful again to Isabelle, Amelia and Michelle for making it possible for us to attend.
Two days later we returned to the Architecture Biennale to spend more time at The Pool.
On our way we visited some of the other pavilions – Denmark, Great Britain, Germany, Russia, the United States and France and Bruce had fun at the Swiss Pavilion’s Incidental Space.
They were all very interesting but some were full of large panels of academic text that was difficult to penetrate and understand what it meant. So when we walked inside the Australian pavilion and sat by the pool it was a relief to be in a more relaxed, less information dense space.
There were fewer people than on the opening day and we had more time to immerse ourselves in the space.
Around the pool were chairs called Anerle-aneme which translates as ‘sit a little while’ in the Central Australian Arrernte language and that’s exactly what we did.
We sat in each corner and tried to detect the Australian scents created by artists Lyn Balzar and Tony Perkins with French scent artist Elise Pioch – inspired by the smell of the Australian bush, the subtropical rainforest that surrounds a waterfall pool inland of Byron Bay and the sun warming up volcanic black basalt rock pools around Kiama.
I took off my shoes and felt the surfaces, the concrete, timber and steel and watched people smile when they walked through the entrance and saw the pool.
I splashed my feet and followed the light reflecting over the space and thought how refreshing it was to understand something through the senses and to feel the meaning.
As Lithuanian architect Indre said, “it’s nice to have a space where you have your personal space and to stop for a moment and start thinking what you feel – not what is implicated by others but what you as a person or as a professional person react to.
“I guess that’s what it’s about – personal communal,” said Indre. It’s also one of the only national pavilions that strongly draws the connection between what is home for the architect and what is place-making for the architect. It’s truly national this pavilion and a very refreshing space.”
The eight prominent Australians’ stories about their experiences of the pool, have been podcast on ABC Radio National so you can listen to them by clicking here. To buy a copy of the book, The Pool click here: