Jo Noero in Venice 2012

Cape Town’s Jo Noero is the only African showing on the main exhibition of this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale. Other South Africans, Johann Slee and Pieter Mathews are also showing on one of the fringe exhibitions.

Curated by architect Sir David Chipperfield, Jo is showing alongside the likes of Zaha Hadid, Norman Foster and Herzog & De Meuron. The 13th biennale runs until 25 November.

Titled Common Ground / Different Worlds, Jo’s work comprises a 9,4 by 3,5m hand-drawn plan of the Red Location Precinct and a 7,8ı by 3,5m tapestry reinterpretation of Picasso’s Guernica by the Keiskamma Trust. 

“Common ground is almost always necessary for transformation, translation and expression in art and architecture,” explains Jo. The hand-drawn plan of Red Location Precinct, a historic shack settlement in Port Elizabeth illustrates a new cultural centre in a part of the city that was devastated by apartheid spatial planning. 

“Culture and its manifestations of production, performance and exchange were selected as the core development ideas for the precinct. In doing so, new ways of thinking about city making and architecture in South Africa have been opened up,” says Jo. “The drawing examines the various components of the precinct and traces the movements of people over time. The plan elucidates common ground in city making and architecture, despite the differences in terms of site and context – Red Location is a shack settlement and is largely occupied by very poor people.”

The Keiskamma Trust that made the tapestry is a cooperative of 50 women from the Eastern Cape of South Africa. The women reinterpreted Picasso’s famous work to express the impact of HIV/Aids on South Africa. “The work shows that good art can achieve common ground between different cultures. It also shows how an idea can survive translation and become a potent expression in a different context,” Jo expounds.

The connection between the drawing and the tapestry is the common ground between architect and artists: making good work.