The Swamp School and The Swamp Observatory
2018 Mellon Faculty Grant & 2022 International Exhibition Grant
A project of imagination and non-material architecture
The Swamp Observatory, supported by a CAST International Exhibition and Performance Fund Grant
The Swamp Observatory is an experimental form of public art that engages the community in environmental pedagogy and probes new perspectives in urban planning. The project uses AR to unveil imaginative ecosystems of planned stormwater ponds in a future city district of Visby, Sweden. The stormwater ponds land in the middle of the debate on environmental sustainability and constitute a model for how to reintroduce wetlands on Gotland island in the Baltic Sea (arguably the most polluted sea in the world), where water shortage is already a condition of daily life. The AR app enables community members to experience a future in the making and to practice adaptive technologies in support of community resiliency at a local level.
The Swamp Observatory builds on the network of a fictional society—The Society of Forgotten Futures—that is an assembly of experts who have contributed their local knowledges of flora and fauna, history, and mythology to the visualization of the digital instruments.
This hybrid reality project proposes a new model for public art that sensorially engages communities and facilitates their bonds with the environment. The Swamp Observatory supports environmental citizenship in Visborg through a new climate commons created and maintained by local stakeholders and users.
The Swamp School, supported by a CAST Mellon Faculty Grant
For the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale, Gediminas and Nomeda Urbonas curated the Swamp Pavilion, representing their native Lithuania. The Swamp Pavilion was a networked effort to create new imaginary spaces for exercises in architectural and artistic practices, theory, and pedagogy through public interventions, field trips, workshops, lectures, discussions, and printed publications.
The Swamp Pavilion hosted the Swamp School, which focused on future learning environments, informed by and informing the architecture and installations within it. The Swamp School comprised three chapters: Swamp Radio: On transmitting; Futurity Island: On sympoietics; and Commonism: On cohabitation.
In a time marked by existential threats of war and climate change, the Swamp School set up a cross-disciplinary dialogue to challenge conventional concepts of territory. It aimed to reorganize identities and realities, and to envision the role of the immaterial in architecture, art, and nature.
More at the project website: The Swamp
The Swamp Observatory at the Children’s Forest Pavilion
May 20 – November 26, 2023
Lithuanian Pavilion, 18th International Architecture Exhibition
La Biennale di Venezia, Venice, Italy
The Swamp Observatory uses Augmented Reality to unveil invisible and imaginative ecosystems of the planned stormwater ponds for the future city district of Visborg in Visby, Gotland Island, Sweden, in the Baltic Sea.
For several years, Nomeda & Gediminas Urbonas have been obsessed with the concept of the swamp, investigating it as a biosphere, and as metaphor that often signifies unorganized mud. For them, the swamp unfolds as a library of cultural, historic, and cybernetic knowledges. Learning from the swamp’s intelligence is here translated into organizational aesthetics that grapples with the mess of the new climatic regime.
Commissioned by Ines Weizman and curated by Jurga Daubaraitė, Egija Inzule & Jonas Žukauskas.
More information: Art, Culture and Technology Program at MIT and Neringa Forest Architecture
The Swamp Observatory features in multiple exhibitions and presentations in 2023:
Eco-Vision Plan, CAFA museum, Beijing, China, 2023
State of the Arts, Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, DC, 2023
Urbonas Studio retrospective, National Gallery, Vilnius, Lithuania, 2023
Commonism: On cohabitation
September 24-29, 2018
Futurity Island: On symbio-poetics
June 26-30, 2018
Swamp Radio: On transmitting
May 23-27, 2018
Gediminas Urbonas, Associate Professor of Art, Culture, and Technology at MIT, is an artist, educator, researcher, and co-founder of US: Urbonas Studio (together with Nomeda Urbonas), an interdisciplinary research practice that facilitates exchange amongst diverse nodes of knowledge production and artistic practice in pursuit of projects that transform civic spaces and collective imaginaries. Urbonas also collaborate with experts in different cultural fields to develop practice-based artistic research models that allow participants – including their students – to pursue projects that merge urbanism, new media, social sciences, and pedagogy to critically address the transformation of civic space and ecology.
Biography: Art, Culture, and Technology Program at MIT
Nomeda Urbonas, MIT Affiliate, is a Lithuanian artist and educator who has a joint artistic practice, Urbonas Studio, with Gediminas Urbonas. Urbonas Studio is the interdisciplinary research program that advocates for the reclamation of public culture in the face of overwhelming privatization, stimulating cultural and political imagination as tools for social change. Often beginning with archival research, Urbonas Studio methodology unfolds complex participatory works investigating the urban environment, architectural developments, and cultural and technological heritage.
Biography: Art, Culture, and Technology Program at MIT
A project by Urbonas Studio: Nomeda & Gediminas Urbonas (concept and development) in collaboration with pupils from Atheneskolan Gotland (drawings and sounds), Indrė Umbrasaitė (3D modeling), Kristupas Sabolius (script), Mouse on Mars (sound compositions), and Terry T Kang and Thomas Harriett (programming). Powered by Hoverlay AR platform.
The Swamp Observatory is part of the Region of Gotland’s Art in Urban Development Project Visborg led by the Baltic Art Center in collaboration with Public Art Agency Sweden. Supported by the Baltic Art Center (BAC), the Lithuanian Council for Culture, and the MIT Center for Art, Science & Technology (CAST).
The Swamp School
The Lithuanian pavilion at the 16th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia was commissioned by Pippo Ciorra, produced by the Architecture Fund and presented by the Lithuanian Council for Culture with support from the MIT School of Architecture and Planning, MIT Program in Art, Culture and Technology, MIT Center for Art, Science & Technology (CAST), and the Nordic Culture Fund, OCA – Office for Contemporary Art Norway.
View the full Swamp Pavilion team on the project website: The Swamp
In the Media
Ord&Bild: The Swamp Observatory, January 2023 (in Swedish)
Archinect: The Venice Biennale Swamp Pavilion, Part I: Swamp Radio
Archinect: The Venice Biennale Swamp Pavilion, Part II: Futurity Island
e-flux Architecture: The Swamp School
e-flux Architecture: Commonism at The Swamp School
Artribune: The Swamp Pavilion. L’esordio della Lituania alla Biennale di Architettura di Venezia
Art in America: Other Voices, Other Worlds
MIT News: MIT returns to the Venice Biennale