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Monolith Controversies: The Chilean Pavilion

Winner of the Silver Lion, the Chilean pavilion, featuring a ceiling panel produced in a Soviet factory, is a brilliant demonstration of the political implications of modernity

Not surprisingly, concrete featured strongly in this year’s national pavilions, including in particular France, awarded a special mention by Biennale judges. Most strikingly, it informed the Chilean Pavilion, curated by Pedro Alonso (a teacher at London’s Architectural Association) and Hugo Palmarola. It forms part of a clutch of national pavilions providing an alternative to the Italy-heavy main Corderie show.

A small entrance space, a semi-kitsch interior of an ordinary Chilean home, gives scant clue to the drama of the main space, a large volume featuring a series of concrete panel system walls, modelled at small scale and wall-hung. They provide a neat encapsulation of the history of concrete development and construction over many decades. (A version of the show is currently on display at the AA.)

The show-stopper element is lifesize, however: a huge ceiling-hung panel produced in a factory donated to the country in 1972 by the then Soviet Union. Signed by the subsequently deposed President Allende, the panel was later marked by the Pinochet regime with images of Virgin and Child. Political implications of architecture, materials and modernity could scarcely be better demonstrated. Not surprisingly, the pavilion won the Silver Lion award.

Monolith Controversies

Curated by Pedro Alonso and Hugo Palmarola

Photographs by Nico Saieh

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