Jeanne Gang's Venice Biennale Installation Confronts the Infrastructure of Slavery

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The Stone Stories installation at the U.S. Pavilion; this wall image features a plan of the Memphis with the landing rendered in dark brown. Photo © Tom Harris, courtesy of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the University of Chicago

Metropolis covered Studio Gang’s installation Stone Stories, helmed by Jeanne Gang (HON 2013) for the upcoming Venice Architecture Biennale’s US Pavilion exhibition Dimensions of Citizenship. It will be installed in the William Adams Delano and Chester Holmes Aldrich’s neoclassical pavilion in the Giardini della Biennale. Gang's installation, which includes a video component by architectural filmographers Spirit of Space, delves into how “infrastructural seeds that grew into great metropolises were sown by slavery.” 

There are 500 augmented cobblestones of nine types, sourced from “the best-preserved cobblestone river landing in the nation,” Memphis Landing, or Cobblestone Landing, on the banks of the Mississippi. These cobblestones were used to make the riverfront which transformed Memphis “into the epicenter of the American inland cotton trade and a nexus of the slave economy.” Gang calls the installation the “antithesis of a man on a horse up on a pedestal.”

The cobblestone riverfront along the Mississippi itself has a fraught history. In an attempt to combat the muddy water of rain-fed floods, a public promenade was proposed in what was “the largest public works project in the antebellum era.” Construction began in 1859 and completed in 1888, interrupted by the Civil War and was built on slave labor. “Civic monuments are charged sites,” says Ann Lui, one of the curators of the US Pavilion. 

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