JEPPE HEIN | MODIFIED SOCIAL BENCHES FOR VENICE

1 MAY – 24 NOVEMBER 2019
LA BIENNALE DI VENEZIA

Not long ago, benches were to be found everywhere in our cities and people used them to meet and talk about their life, the weather and the latest gossip. I notice that benches are removed from our cities more and more. In general, free, creative spaces and areas designed to enable interaction and involve people in a dialogue with the surroundings and others – are absent from most contemporary cities.I don’t declare myself a political artist in the narrower sense, but the social impact of my artworks is of utmost import- ance to me and I am trying to create such places again with my public installations. Because I think that people need to start a joint dialogue again and reach out to others with their hearts. I consider this dialogue very important. Even more today, where we seem to communicate a lot through social media, but in fact talk less to each other directly, face to face while looking each other into our eyes. This is so- mething I want to change and this can be understood as a political message too.

My Modified Social Benches offer an excellent opportunity for social interaction, for playfulness, laughter and commu- nication. That is why I would love to be able to place a coup- le of newly designed and coloured Modified Social Benches in Venice during the Biennial in 2019.Based on a long-term research on the topic of proxemics and distance and inspired by traditional as well as modern benches to be found worldwide, I created my series of Modi- fied Social Benches. As daily life furniture in urban architec- ture, benches can be public space and place of private rest. On the one hand benches provide an excellent opportunity for communication and social exchange. On the other hand they offer moments of respite. Thus their design has an in- fluence on people’s behaviour in public, by giving them the opportunity to place themselves in order to discourage or encourage others to take a seat next to them. My Modified Social Benches borrow their basic form from ubiquitous park or garden benches, but their design is altered to vari- ous degrees to make the act of sitting a conscious physical process. Thus, the benches question the spatial separations in social situations and challenge the amount of space that people feel necessary to set between themselves and others. Distance between people is a kind of non-verbal communi- cation that underlies cultural and social imprints and varies depending on the context. There’s less distance in personal situations among close family and a greater distance in public space where strangers surround us. My benches are in- tended to break with those behavioural patterns in public space, since even contact-avoiding people allow bodily clo- seness in limited space. With its modifications, the benches transform its surroundings into places of social activity and foster dialogue between the users and the passers-by. Peop- le are invited to play an active role by not only »using« the benches as seating but enlarging the opportunities of social practice offered by a bench.For Venice, I would like to propose a continuing bench, al- though it will only be visible in certain places. A series of different bench designs will be connected in a continuous imaginary line. In some places the bench sinks into the ground gently ascending elsewhere, thus creating the im- pression of running underground. In a figurative sense, the benches seem to grow out of the Giardini and connect the individual pavilions and the exhibition hall. Due to the high recognition value of the single benches, visitors will be gi- ven a feel for the area allowing orientation when exploring the site and serving as a guideline making them smile at the same time.

In my view my Modified Social Benches for Venice can be a sign for understanding and dialogue, for empathy and love – a tool that is needed in times like these.

© Images Andrea Rosetti

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