Yabu Pushelberg and others use hospitality houses to profile national identities at Rio 2016
RIO DE JANEIRO – Rio 2016: an event riddled by the complexities of social injustice, tourism, security issues, traffic chaos, virus fears and doping scandals, not to mention sports achievements, celebration, national pride and – hospitality. Making a positive contribution to the Olympic Games with a compass of cultural activities, over 30 hospitality houses opened their doors in Rio de Janeiro. Designed with a diversity of intentions in mind, blurring the lines between national identities and branding strategies, a few stood out not only in content, but also in form.
The bold though predictable formula behind Canada House had the nation’s flag as its main visual reference, a display of red and white and the country’s familiar maple leaves. The space, which provided comfort to Olympians and their kin, was the work of Yabu Pushelberg. Furnished with straightforward pieces supplied by department store Canadian Tire, the clean though cosy design transformed a swimming club into a thoughtfully composed arena of Olympic celebration. Sculptural installations by Moss & Lam revealed a fragmented depiction of the Canadian flag in hanging red and white ribbons and a floating arrangement of hand-painted paddles embellished with maple leaves.
In contrast, Italy’s Casa Italia implemented a rather abstract concept. Beatrice Bertini and Benedetta Acciari developed and curated a spatial idea that brought an array of critical pieces of art into a gemlike 1960s residential building rising from a solitary rock on the shore not far from the beach at Ipanema. The previously abandoned modernist villa, designed by architect Ricardo Menescal, featured Horiz-ontal, a site-specific intervention by Davide D’Elia. The work is reminiscent of the artist’s Antivegetativa (Frame 97, p. 58), which took over Rome’s Galleria Ex Elettrofonica in 2014. Compared with the vastness of the building’s interior, D’Elia’s installation was rather small, yet powerfully hypnotic in its simplicity. A gloss of intense blue submerged Italian and Brazilian cultural artefacts within the depths of matte-white walls. A short meandering corridor connecting the foyer and the dining hall embraced guests walking through, granting them a transformative experience.
Horiz-ontal’s overpowering blueness referenced the colours of the surroundings – blue sea and sky – as well as the villa’s luxurious swimming pool. Davide D’Elia chose an antifouling paint normally used to coat ships’ hulls. According to the artist, the thick sealant ‘erases everything, including space, time and life’. Spatially, the installation allowed visitors to sink into a timeless bath that ‘halted nature’s physicality’. D’Elia understood the work as ‘a kind of kaleidoscope of perpetual return between the two countries’. As an implicit political gesture, it addressed the dissolution of cultural borders between Brazil and Italy, and the emergence of their similarities and collaborative potential: ‘a new cultural identity called italobrasiliana’.
Another abstractly immersive venue was Omega House’s Space Room, with its atmospheric lunar environment. Based on a visual concept that paired classical elegance with minimalist clarity throughout the building’s interiors, Space Room focused on the relationship between watchmaker and space exploration. Placed against a backdrop of midnight blue, white lamps mimicking planetary constellations formed celestial references, while rows of gleaming white ceramic spheres presented Omega’s vintage series of Moonwatches. Not only the official timekeeper of the Olympic Games since 1932, Omega also made the first watch to reach the moon in 1969 and remains the only manufacturer of timepieces approved for NASA’s space missions – facts the Moonwatch exhibition sought to reinforce.
Following a more literal translation of a sensorial plunge into space, the multidisciplinary team at Atelier Marko Brajovic designed Parada Coca-Cola, located on Pier Mauá, Rio de Janeiro’s newly gentrified cultural boulevard. In collaboration with creative studio SuperUber, they came up with a multisensory attraction that invited guests to take a dip in Coca-Cola’s most popular product. As a scaled-up representation of the soft drink, the design combined dark colours, warm light and a sea of floating acrylic-resin orbs simulating sparkling bubbles. A 7-m-wide golden bar marked the centre of the installation and the point of release of over 500 transparent globes of different sizes. Interactively programmed lighting enhanced the sense of movement. Digital experiences provided playful interaction with the brand. Marko Brajovic called the design ‘an augmented physical real-time hub’ that relied on ‘interactive technologies to extend the digital space’.
The 2016 Olympic Games were beset by polarities. Expressing a buoyant facet of the event were hospitality venues with compelling designs that let visitors escape into extraordinary worlds of colour, architecture, art and branding.