Exculpatio by Nomad Studio and Global R&D Cemex is a silent demonstration and sculptural space that explores the lack of substantial action on climate change. Hosted in Venice and Switzerland, it’s part of the exhibition called PERSONAL STRUCTURES curated by the European Cultural Centre during the Venice Biennale 2022. The project looks at speech surrounding sustainability through concrete as a creative counterpart. The design morphs and adapts to its environment, and now stands in Switzerland in the form of two rectangular monoliths.
A void was created by the imprint of a tree trunk fossilized within two upright concrete blocks fractured into eighty pieces. In Italy, Exculpatio presents these “pixels” in an always changing arrangement of the shape, which invites the public to join the conversation.
The project shifted over the last three years. Initially, Exculpatio looked at empathizing with the need for “a profound understanding of nature as the operating system of the planet,” according to a press release. The idea: nature is not a space, which means you can neither be in nor out of it. This concept treats nature as the foundation humanity depends on in an integrated living system, rather than a resource to be exploited or a space to live within.
Furthermore, the designers wanted to get away from the word “sustainable.” They believed it has an implicit meaning of redeeming our lifestyle on the planet. It allows us to ignore the deeper issues of how we live on the planet and see the world.
In the 2020 iteration of Exculpatio, the project changed shape to explore how the ways of nature have always unsettled humans. We lean on an illusion of permanence, while natural systems work through change, adaptation, disruption and impermanence as the tools of self-preservation.
Then in 2021, Exculpatio evolved to look at the urgency of the climate crisis. “Without nature, what is left?” the space asks us to consider. Moreover, empty discourse won’t solve the problem or let us off the hook. A lack of life on Earth is the ultimate answer to decades of indecision, lack of action and a fundamental misunderstanding of our role on Earth.
Exculpatio created a performance element of the exhibit called “The 80 Pixels’ Performance” to create a tribute to adaptation. It aimed to bring awareness to the lack of substantial action against climate change through crowdsourcing transportation. Individuals carried ultralight concrete pieces in a pilgrimage across Venice from April 14 to 17. As the people who carried the blocks across Venice created their first impromptu pixel arrangement in Venice, the same pieces were virtually assembled into the two rectangular monoliths in Switzerland.
The final message of the exhibit is “We belong here, let’s take action.” And in this final iteration, the art installation takes a deeper look at the possible avenues for solutions than simply resorting to knee-jerk outrage with little results. It asks us to explore the possibility of nothingness that could result from climate change. However, it also looks at digitization as a barrier between us and our natural essence.
Images via Almudena Cadalso, Global R and D Cemex and Nomad Studio