Metropolis — “At the Venice Biennale, Jeanne Gang Uses Memphis’s Cobblestones to Reflect on Monuments and Messy Civic Histories”

May 23, 2018

“‘How do you make the stones talk?’ asks the architect Jeanne Gang. It’s not a philosophical posture, but an earnest question and one at the center of Studio Gang’s soon-to-open 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale installation at the U.S. Pavilion.

The stones Gang refers to were plucked out of storage, but they were originally lodged at Memphis Landing, also called Cobblestone Landing, on the banks of the Mississippi. Famed but now underused, the site is the best-preserved cobblestone river landing in the nation (similar specimens found in Cincinnati and St. Louis aren’t nearly as intact) and features in Studio Gang’s conceptual regenerative plan for the Memphis, Tennessee, riverfront. Despite their dislocation, the now-twice-orphaned stones should have lots to say: First installed in the mid-19th century, they helped turn Memphis into the epicenter of the American inland cotton trade and a nexus of the slave economy. It could be said that the entire city and its oppressive racial hierarchies grew out of this entry to the river.

Gang’s Stone Stories coaxes out this history through a combination of material experimentation and narrative drawn from grassroots community engagement. It asks questions about the nature of monuments, and how ambiguous histories become inscribed in the fabric of cities. And the Memphis cobblestones, a very prosaic sort of monument, are the medium for answering these questions.”

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Photo courtesy Studio Gang

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Studio Gang’s Stone Stories installation is profiled along with the six other projects that make up Dimensions of Citizenship, this year’s US Pavilion exhibition at the 16th International Architecture Biennale in Venice.