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Review: Unknown Unknowns. An Introduction to Mysteries
On the occasion of the opening, KoozArch shares a few thoughts on the unknown worlds which unfold within the walls of the 23rd Triennale Milano International Exhibition.

The 23rd Triennale Milano International Exhibition titled Unknown Unknowns. An Introduction to Mysteries questions the mysteries of the known world whilst opening a discourse on that which “we do not know that we don't know”. Conceived as an archipelago of spaces and exhibitions which have engaged a transdisciplinary team of both curators and contributors, this edition of the Triennale in Milan opens on July 15th and will run until December 11th, 2022.

The ‘unknown’ as an engine driving generation of designers to explore the limits and forces of our known world.

By positioning research and exploration at the heart of the artefacts and installations presented, the exhibition reveals the power of the Triennale as a laboratory of ideas where designers, artists, scientists and philosophers bring to the forefront the mysteries of the universe, the wonders which inhabit our planet but also the ‘unknown’ as an engine driving generation of designers to explore the limits and forces of our known world.

La Triennale di Milano, entrance of Unknown Unknowns. ©Delfino Sisto Legnani

“Rather than offering a set of answers and technical solutions, the 23rd Triennale di Milano is centred around a series of questions”, says Stefano Boeri, President of Triennale. The International Exhibition is structured as an “opportunity for investigation: from the furthest universe to dark matter, from the bottom of theoceans to the origin of our conscience.” Within this context the unknown is no longer explored as in opposition to what we do not know, but rather as a dimensionto be experienced and which holds an element of surprise.

The unknown is no longer explored as in opposition to what we do not know, but rather as a dimension to be experienced and which holds an element of surprise.

©Delfino Sisto Legnani

Unknown Unknowns. An Introduction to Mysteries unravels through the space of the Triennale as a true international endeavour which counts more than 400 artists, designers, and architects from more than 40 countries and 22 international participations, which, for the first time, count six national African pavilions including: Burkina Faso, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Rwanda. Articulated on the two floors of the Triennale, it includes the thematic exhibition Unknown Unknowns curated by Ersilia Vaudo, four works by Pritzker Architecture Prize-winner Francis Kéré titled Mondo Reale and curated by Hervé Chandès (Artistic Managing Director of the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain), La Tradizione del Nuovo curated by Marco Sammicheli (Director of Triennale’s Museo del Design Italiano) and 22 national pavilions, invited through official government channels under the auspices of the Bureau International des Expositions.

The main exhibition Unknown Unknowns is a laboratory which puts forward new and diverse perspectives on the topic, “not by means of polarizations – light/dark, full/empty, science/art – but as an opportunity for exploration”.

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The main exhibition Unknown Unknowns – curated by Ersilia Vaudo, an astrophysicist and Chief Diversity Officer at the European Space Agency – is a laboratory which puts forward new and diverse perspectives on the topic, “not by means of polarizations – light/dark, full/empty, science/art – but as an opportunity for exploration”. Articulated through more than 100 works which span from special commissions as those of Yuri Suzuki, Irene Stracuzzi, SOM, Refik Anadol to site specific installations produced by Andrea Galvani, Tomás Saraceno, Bosco Sodi, Protey Temen, Julijonas Urbonas, Marie Velardi and individual contributions by artists, engineers, anthropologists amongst many others, the exhibition’s strength lies in the transdisciplinary pool of contributors engaged and the multitude and diversity of artefacts presented. To this end the themes proposed, which span from “gravity as the ultimate designer”, the potential of architecture beyond Planet Earth and ultimately the mysteries tied to deep space, are here explored at the crossroad between a didactic and an art exhibition through mediums which include paintings, sketches, infographics, prototypes, speculative visualisations, and many others.

The themes proposed, which span from “gravity as the ultimate designer”, the potential of architecture beyond Planet Earth and, ultimately, the mysteries tied to deep space, are here explored at the crossroad between a didactic and an art exhibition

Ironical and fitting is the inclusion of the painting Flight to Egypt by German artist Adam Elsheimer (1609), the first work to ever portray an “accurate” representation of the Milky Way which, until a hundred years ago, right when the Triennale was founded, was our entire representation of the universe. One hundred years on, we are not only aware of the presence of at least another galaxy, Andromeda Nebula, but we are confronted (timely on the day of exhibition’s vernissage) with the deepest and sharpest infrared image of the distant universe so far delivered by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. Showing the galaxy cluster SMACS 0723 as it appeared 4.6 billion years ago, Webb’s NIRCam has brought distant galaxies into sharp focus enabling us to look back in time to within a billion years after the Big Bang.

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In an attempt to approach the inhabitation of planetary unknowns, SOM’s Decalogue for Space Architecture: Ten speculations on design for an interdisciplinary future, is a meditation on a new form of extra-terrestrial architecture identity which “should emerge from a focused exploration of the forces that govern the cosmos and the human experience of these phenomena.” Structured as a set of guiding principles for all who seek to define the next generation of extra-terrestrial architecture the video installation gravitates around notions of gravity, extremes, materials, and ecosystems amongst others, nonetheless foregoing, maybe naively, one of the most relevant and imperative topics which will characterise the discourse and is tied to the geopolitics of a new modern space race.

SOM, "Decalogue for Space Architecture: Ten speculations on design for an interdisciplinary future", 2022, as seen within "Unknown Unknowns". ©Delfino Sisto Legnani

Beyond the realm of the visual and material, Unknown Unknowns directly engages with our other senses highlighting these as one of the biggest limits and traps in our dialogue with the unknown.

Beyond the realm of the visual and material, Unknown Unknowns directly engages with our other senses highlighting these as one of the biggest limits and traps in our dialogue with the unknown considering the notion of space as a mute environment. Our hearing is in fact first teased through the work Sound of the Earth: Chapter 3 by Yuri Suzuki which “brings together the idea of a local and global community that is connected through sound” and is soon followed by the narrations of leading figures from the world of science which include the voices of neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, the theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli, the philosopher of biology Telmo Pievani and theoretical physicist Lisa Randall.

Yuri Suzuki, "Sound of the Earth: Chapter 3", 2022, as seen within "Unknown Unknowns". ©Delfino Sisto Legnani

With the ambition of challenging the known limits of the construction industry unsuited for building on other planets, the installation for the thematic exhibition, devised by Space Caviar and created by Wasp, is entirely created in organic materials printed with a 3D printer. Beyond the intellectual and research laboratory brought forward by the curators and contributors to Unknown Unknowns, the design and production team tested the space of the Triennale as a proper physical laboratory. Beyond the space and timescale of the specific exhibition, we are keen to see which planetary hole can fathom assimilating the compostable material and what new life and crops this can yield.

Beyond the intellectual and research laboratory brought forward by the curators and contributors to Unknown Unknowns, the design and production team tested the space of the Triennale as a proper physical laboratory.

Gazing back to Earth, Mondo Reale by the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain and curated by its Artistic Managing Director Hervé Chandès, explores the unknown as perceived in the world we live in. Through formats which range from films to paintings, photographs, ceramics, installations, and sculptures developed by a selection of artists, mathematicians, poets, physicists and philosophers, the exhibition provokes feelings of amazement, disorientation and ultimately dismay. Visitors are here invited to immerse themselves in texts as The Four Mysteries of the World by Misha Gromov as read by Patti Smith, in intricate mathematics and physicists’ equations as photographed by Jessica Wynne or confronted with the latest film by Artavazd Pelechian Nature 2020 which, through a series of seamlessly mounted internet footage, explores the magnificence and destructive power of nature featuring devastating events as volcanic eruptions, roiling floods, hurricanes and tornadoes.

Conceived by Formafantasma, the exhibition design for Mondo Reale goes beyond the canonical white cube setting. The designer duo in fact took the temporality associated to the very notion of an exhibition as a starting point to propose a gentler and more empathic set-up which, through the deployment of performative barriers made from paper, the re-use of previous gypsum partitions and other found materials, advocated for a more sustainable and respectful exhibition canon.

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On the ground floor, 22 international participations, promoted by renowned institutions and universities, as well as by governmental entities, offer “a vast panorama of practical and theoretical approaches to some of the key questions of our day. ”Defying the present cultural Eurocentrism, the African continent is represented by six states, while Planeta Ukrain offers a much-needed space for reflection and encounter between local artists and cultural figures and the rest of the world. At the centre of this section, Francis Kéré installation entitled Yesterday's Tomorrow examines the vernacular architecture of Burkina Faso, with its practices and representations, to allow it to live again in a new way. In an adjacent room, but geographically 10,000 km south, the ongoing visual research on geopolitics, society and rituals Lesotho Water Realms undertaken by AOUMM architects, observes the country through the bodies of water that cross its soil, considering water as the center of the land’s identity, visible yet not accessible to everyone.

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La Tradizione del Nuovo, or rather the presentation of part of the collection of the Triennale Milano's Museo del Design Italiano, as curated by Marco Sammicheli, highlights a research-oriented attitude of four generations of Italian designers towards the unknown. Research is here in the driving seat and is the lens through which visitors are invited to navigate some of the most noteworthy examples of research presented at the Triennale when the shows in the International Exhibitions posed anticipatory questions that are still relevant today on the human body, the home, the city and our material culture. Following a historical narrative rich with unexpected inserts, the exhibition explores a range of themes that take the form of an archipelago of words, phenomena and actions which characterised ground-breaking exhibitions from the 13th Triennale Tempo Libero (1964) up until the 19th Triennale Identità e differenze (1996). As a collection of works, installations, documents, creative processes and experimental pieces that have contributed to the development of society, touching on sociological, commercial, ecological, technological, and cultural aspects between 1964 and 1996, the exhibition does not limit itself to the presentation of objects but rather wants to weave a larger discourse which also talks about the people whom have nurtured this imaginary.

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Beyond the exhibitions, two publications curated by Emanuele Coccia as well as a series of meetings that are part of the Public Program curated by Damiano Gullì, will provide opportunities for further exploration and discussion.

“If ‘inaugurations’ are only conceived for finished things, this is not an ‘inauguration’, but only an invitation" then we must hope of this as an appetiser of what the unknown might yield whilst continuing to dwell in its mysteries.

It is hard not to feel overwhelmed when trying to navigate the swarm of concepts and artefacts proposed, which at times appear as being many worlds apart and leave us exploring this unknown environment. However, embracing the premise by the Italian artist and designer Amalia Del Ponte that “If ‘inaugurations’ are only conceived for finished things, this is not an ‘inauguration’, but only an invitation" then we must hope of this as an appetiser of what the unknown might yield whilst continuing to dwell in its mysteries.

For more information on the XXIII Triennale di Milano International Exhibition, click here.

Published
15 Jul 2022
Reading time
10 minutes
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