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A Unique Meeting Place for Art
and Conversation

Published: Wednesday, September 2, 2015, 9:20



The Gothenburg International Biennial for Contemporary Art opens its doors on the 12th of September, but at Röda Sten Konsthall preparation is already in full swing. An group of 80 volunteers are building a pavilion together that will function both as an exhibition hall and meeting place. 


A large blue container with building materials has just arrived. It is the third time the material to be used and assembled into something new. But it is the first time this process has taken place outside of Spain - where the architect and activist Santiago Cirugeda, who is leading the process-based art project, comes from.


"Each time these materials are used, the building has a new purpose. Now, we are building a pavilion called the House of Words. This title is a reference to a meeting place in some African cultures where people can go in order to tell either meet and stories or talk about politics or problems in the community that need to be addressed," says Michelle Boynton who is coordinating the project.


House of Words is a collaboration between Göteborg International Biennial for Contemporary Art, GIBCA, which since 2001 has held in Gothenburg every other year, and the Public Art Agency, Sweden.


Several containers are sitting behind the Röda Sten Konsthall. A kitchen has already begun to emerge inside one of the containers. On the as of yet unpainted walls inside the container sit pieces of masking tape that mark what is supposed to be there; a fridge, a sink and a window. Some of the material are recycled from Santiago Cirugeda's previous projects and most other things are purchased second hand in Gothenburg.


Along with Santiago Cirugeda, around 80 volunteers will be working to get the building ready for when the Biennal opens in September. Around 15 people a day are attending, some for the morning session, and some for the afternoon shift and other for the whole day - or several days in a row. 


Interest has been high, according to Michelle Boynton:

"A woman who came the first day decided to come back for the next several days. Another day we had two people pass by and ask if they could come and join us later in the week. We managed to find the maximum number of volunteers we needed and have filled all of the time-slots, but I never want to say no when people come and offer their time to a voluntary project."


Water pitchers are filled, and it's hot to work in the sun, but they are all happy that it's not raining. It would have made construction difficult, especially in this early stage. The volunteers come from all different places and have different levels of experience.


"There are all different types of people who have joined us - ranging from those who have never built before, but who are interested in art, to architecture students who wanted to work on the project to work alongside Santiago", says Michelle Boynton.


"We make a great lunch every day, and always ask the volunteers if there is who is interested in cooking. Today we were lucky enough to have a volunteer who is a chef in London!"


Once the building is complete, the second part of the process begins. It is the artist Loulou Cherinet turn to occupy House of Words. Cherinet will host round table discussions on on the topic of 'outsiderness', where different groups of people will sit in HoW, eat dinner and share share their stories. These sessions will be filmed and displayed in HoW.


Step three is the curated program of 7 evenings of roundtable conversations relating to the curatorial framework of the biennial devised by Elvira Dyangani Ose, GIBCA 2015 curator and Loulou Cherinet. Topics relating to the Biennial's theme, which is about history and the art institution's role in historiography, will be discussed by a selection of hand-picked speakers and be open to the public.


House of Words will remain standing until the Biennial closes at the end of November, then it will be dismantled and the material will be sent off to be used to build something new, somewhere else. But before that Michelle Boynton hopes everyone who has participated has been able to take away something from the process.


"I hope everyone has fun, meets new people and feels proud. I want them to be able to look at the pavilion and feel happy for what they have been a part of and feel a sense of pride for what they have done."



A story within a story ...


The eighth edition of the Göteborg International Biennial for Contemporary Art, GIBCA. Titled A story within a story ...  GIBCA will examine the significance of history and how it is created. Curated by Elvira Dyangani Ose.


When: September 12-November 22


Where: Exhibitions and programs at four locations: the Red Sten Art, Hasselblad Center, Gothenburg Art Gallery and 3rd floor, with a large public program at the venues and in the House of Words.


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