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Čatnosat: The Sámi Pavilion at the Venice Art biennial 2022

Constitutions around the world are being rewritten. From Chile to Turkey, Lapland to Uganda, there has been a wave of attempted constitutional reforms, which are sometimes driven by an authoritarian urge to retain and concentrate power, or with the democratic intent of distributing it to a wider and more representative network of human and other-than-human constituents.

In the UK, faith in the 'unwritten' constitution – whose principles are distributed across archaic conventions, Acts of Parliament, embodied rituals, norms, court judgements and beliefs – has been eroded by the abuses of the current government. Whether defending against abuse, or advocating for social and environmental justice, a series of constitutional questions surround us.

Gaps in written constitutions are often revealing. Like many European constitutions, the Danish constitution has a striking omission – there is not a single mention of the word ‘Nature’. While the constitution has translated into several European languages, the mother tongue of one country within the Kingdom of Denmark has simply been left out.

This year, ADS3 will explore how a constitution can be embodied, performed, contested, developed and rebuilt in spaces beyond the written legal text. We will look at the gaps between the letter of the law and how it is lived out, asking what roles can institutional critique, civil disobedience and drag play in facing the urgencies of climate crisis, mass extinction, social exclusion and political mischief.


From Institutional Critique to Constitutional Critique

Students will begin by choosing a specific constitution to work with. This constitution could be national, sub- or supra- national, corporate or cooperative. We will encourage a process of excavating the spatial conditions that shaped this constitution, while also discovering how these conditions affected its script. As part of this process, we will examine the history of institutional critique – including the works of Andrea Fraser and Jonas Staal – as a way of uncovering hidden power structures.

In ‘Museum Highlights: A Gallery Talk,’ the American artist Andrea Fraser led a tour of the Philadelphia Museum of Art while in the fictional persona of the museum guide Jane Castleton. she sometimes fulfilled her role as expected, at others she passionately raged against the way "slovenly and destructive occupants” used the museum toilets, or waxed lyrical about the qualities of grace and dignity that gallery visitors “who are clean and careful and prompt" embody, Fraser parodied the unwritten rules, exclusions and prejudices of the institution.

Jonas Staal’s large-scale installation ‘The Court for Intergenerational Climate Crimes (CICC),’ took the form of a tribunal for the prosecution of intergenerational climate crimes. The tribunal held hearings against Airbus, Unilever and the Dutch State, critiquing neoliberal legal institutions by offering an alternatively–constituted model of court. One in which extinct animals, plants and ammonite fossils were present amongst the judges, prosecutors, witnesses and public.


From Critique to Civil Disobedience

Constitutional conservatives in the UK argue against the codification of the nation’s ‘Unwritten Constitution’ by using the argument of residual freedom. That is, we should be free to do anything not explicitly proscribed by law and the state can only intervene when the law explicitly prescribes it to do so. ADS3 will look at the way practices of civil disobedience skirt the space of residual freedoms to find creative, political potential in the barely legal. As part of a shift from constitutional critique to spatial proposition, we will examine examples where subtle subversion, activism and ecotage have shifted the boundaries of what is expected and permissible.

This year, the pavilion formerly known as the Nordic Pavilion at the Venice Art Biennial has become the Sámi Pavilion. Where the words ‘FINLAND, NORWAY, SWEDEN’ are mounted in large brass letters on the pavilion’s wall, a delicately bound birch bark sculpture now hangs, gently obscuring the names of the nation states. This is one small act in a comprehensive programme the organisers have described as “the indigenisation of the Nordic pavilion.”

On September 2, 2022, four members of the environmental activist group Extinction Rebellion (XR) glued themselves in a human chain around the Speaker’s Chair inside the House of Commons. They wore t-shirts reading ‘Let the People Decide’ and were flanked by banners with ‘Citizens Assembly Now’ printed on them. Our Live Project partner will be Extinction Rebellion UK’s Citizens Assembly Team. This group are focused on helping ‘the true diversity of the country to be represented’ through hosting People’s Assemblies across the country. (XR has been criticised for the lack of diversity within its own organisation.) The People’s Assemblies are part of an ongoing collaborative lobby for the UK government to create a Citizens’ Assembly on Climate and Ecological Justice. ADS3 will use the Live Project as a way of exploring the potential of including other–than–human constituents in the discussion. This exploration will be in dialogue with Moa de Lucia Dahlbeck’s legal scholarship on greening constitutions.


From Disobedience to Drag

Could the gravity of climate change and environmental catastrophe – reflected in the earnestness of the advocacy around them – be a stumbling block for thinking creatively? Especially when considering something as serious as the architecture of constitutions?

We will look at the constitutional potential of drag through examples that include the work of Dr. Vaginal Davis and Fehras Publishing Practices. The interdisciplinary practice of Vaginal Creme Davis, who also calls herself Dr. Davis, emerged in the context of the increasingly normative Los Angeles punk and gay scenes of the late 1980s.  In Dr. Davis’s work, drag, ‘nonidentity’ and ‘tactical misrecognition’ become political strategies that challenge normative categorisations about who constituents are, and what they want. Fehras Publishing Practices address the political agency and gender politics of colonial, Cold War era publishing structures in the Eastern Mediterranean and North Africa by revisiting them in drag.

By looking at these examples, we will ask whether drag holds the potential of reimagining the straight spaces of constitutional architecture? Of redressing assumptions about the constituents to be built for? And of addressing the righteousness of environmental design with humour?


Learning Outcomes

By asking questions like the following examples, we will use ‘the unwritten constitution’ as a tool for thinking:

  • Three Sámi parliaments currently exist in three separate nation states. What would it mean for them to merge at the place where the Finish, Swedish and Norwegian borders meet?
  • How can the embodied performance of institutionalised acts, such as ‘beating the bounds’ – a ritual of thrashing buildings, landmarks, gate posts, trees, wells and fences with canes that is still practised in the UK as way of reasserting parish boundaries – affect our understanding of how political entities are constituted?
  • How would parliamentary sessions be affected if their architecture was porous to floodwater and other extreme weather phenomena? Or if other-than-humans were accommodated, as well as represented, in constitutional court hearings?

We will be looking at the potential in histories of institutional critique, civil disobedience and drag in helping to reconstitute subjects, institutions, and nation-states in spaces beyond the legal text. We will develop knowledge about a set of constitutions chosen by individual members of the studio, addressing questions related to their rituals, spatiality, haptics and constituents.

With all of this in mind, ADS3 looks forward to spatial design propositions that are concrete, crafted, humorous, performative and inherently political.



Ben Clement and Sebastian de la Cour have been working together as benandsebastian since 2006. benandsebastian’s artworks have taken the form of a series of parasitical departments installed in host institutions, including the Department of Voids at the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa and at Den Frie Centre of Contemporary Art in Copenhagen. The duo’s latest public artworks have focused on the role of other–than–humans in legal history, including a recently completed commission for the Court of Aarhus, Silent Parties, which revolves around eight historic legal cases concerning animals that were put on trial and robots that have been at the centre of legal disputes.

Ben Clement studied architecture at Cambridge (BA) and the Bartlett, UCL (Diploma & MArch).

Sebastian de la Cour studied architecture at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts and the Bartlett, UCL (Diploma).