Strong currents beneath Venice calm

Paul Pholeros explains the Healthabitat exhibition at the Venice Biennale.

This is a short story about the forces at work around the Venice Biennale.

Healthabitat was invited to represent Australia in the Australian pavilion.

For the first time at any Architectural Biennale, funding was offered from Australia Unlimited, the trade promotions arm of the Australian government.

A journalist was engaged to write short stories about each of the 6 exhibitors in the Australian Pavilion.

The original story, written about HH in May 2012, was not accepted. The original version with edited sections noted is attached.

HH was asked to accept the edited version. Whilst disagreeing with the removal of both the proven results of the work and recent history that would directly influence the future of the work in Australia, we accepted the right of Australia Unlimited to publish the story.

In October 2012, Australia Unlimited produced a new, ‘non-political’ version of the story. This version, also attached for your interest, has now been posted on-line. It contains minor typographical and factual errors and several quotes by one HH director who cannot remember being interviewed for the story. But of most concern is the omission of the simple fact that the national Housing for Health program was stopped in mid 2011.

The Directors of HH could no longer support the poor quality of Indigenous housing work being implemented by the Australian government and the Australian government were not enthused about the data regularly being produced by HH showing Indigenous housing failure. The national Housing for Health program, running continuously since 1999 and fixing over 7,500 houses in 180 communities, was stopped in mid 2011. No new contract was offered by the Australian government and none would have been accepted by HH.

HH is keen to promote the principles of our work overseas and is spending time, money and effort doing just that – we are not opposed to the promotional aims of Australia Unlimited. The Venice Biennale has provided a great international stage for the work.

HH accepts that Australia Unlimited can write whatever they chose about our work. But we also reserve the right to comment on their stories, their approach, their content and perhaps most importantly their omissions.

The omission of the recent political history does not diminish the achievements of the work, but it obscures the national policies and actions that have currently stopped the very work chosen to represent Australia in Venice. The same work that won the international, UN Habitat World Habitat Awards in 2011.

The intrigue and to and fro of who did what to whom with the Australia Unlimited promotion, Healthabitat and the Venice Biennale are really not that important.

Action that focuses on improving the quality of Indigenous housing in Australia, and consequently health, is the BIG ISSUE.