Jo Noero of Noero Architects was the only African invited to exhibit at the 13th International Architecture Exhibition la Biennale di Venezia, which runs until 25 November 2012 in Venice, Italy.
Renowned architect Sir David Chipperfield, the director of the exhibition, personally invited Noero to exhibit alongside some of the world’s top architects, including Zaha Hadid, Norman Foster, and Herzog & de Meuron.
Noero’s exhibition was titled Common Ground / Different Worlds. “Common ground is almost always necessary for transformation, translation and expression in art and architecture,” he says.
The exhibition included a 9.4×3.5m hand-drawn plan and a 7.8×3.5m tapestry. Reviewing the Biennale, The Guardian’s Rowan Moore spoke about the return of “patience and care, exemplified by the returning popularity of crafted and handmade objects, such as a very large city plan hand drawn by the South African Jo Noero.”
The hand-drawn plan of Red Location Precinct, a historic shack settlement in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, illustrates a new cultural centre in a part of the city that was devastated by Apartheid spatial planning.
“Culture and its manifestations of production, performance and exchange were selected as the core development ideas for the Precinct. In doing so, new ways of thinking about city making and architecture in South Africa have been opened up,” says Noero. “The drawing examines the various components of the Precinct and traces the movements of people over time. The plan elucidates common ground in city making and architecture, despite the differences in terms of site and context – Red Location is a shack settlement and is largely occupied by very poor people.”
The tapestry was made by a co-operative of 50 women from the Eastern Cape of South Africa. “It is based on and is the same size as Picasso’s Guernica but the theme is different – the tackles AIDS/HIV and its impact on South Africa. The work shows that good art can achieve common ground between different cultures. It also shows how an idea can survive translation and become a potent expression in a different context,” Noero says.
The exhibition finds a connection between the plan drawing and the tapestry. “Architects and artists employ similar strategies and points of reference – the difference between good and bad work lies in an understanding of that which is shared and common and the ability to transform these ideas into forms and spaces which are both useful and satisfying within the community in which the work is located,” says Noero.
Red Location Museum has won a number of architectural awards, including The Lubetkin Prize from the Royal Institute of British Architects in 2006 for the best building in the world outside the UK; an Award of Excellence from The Institute of South African Architects in 2008; and The University of Cape Town Creative Award in 2011.
As a spinoff from exhibiting at the Biennale, Noero has been invited to exhibit at MAXXI – The National Museum of the 21st Century Arts – in Rome, Italy. The MAXXI, opened in 2010, was designed by Zaha Hadid and features works by top architects like Carlo Scarpa, Aldo Rossi and Pier Luigi Nervi, as well as South African artists William Kentridge and Marlene Dumas.
Watch and embed The Red Location Film, directed by Stephen Hitchcock and David Long: