Inuit carvings head to Venice Biennale in Architecture

Fifteen Nunavut carvers have been hard at work recreating some of Nunavut's iconic buildings in soapstone as part of Canada's first northern-themed entry to the 2014 Venice Biennale in Architecture.
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      Last week in Arviat, Nunavut a group of carvers got together to work on their contribution to this summer's Venice Biennale in Architecture. 

      Lew Phillip of Iqaluit poses with his carving of the city's St. Jude's Anglican Cathedral. (Pascale Arpin/Nunavut Arts & Crafts Association )
      They were making scaled down models of well-known buildings in the territory, which will be on display as part of "Arctic Adaptations: Nunavut at 15." It’s the first time Canada’s display at the event will highlight the North, and it will align with the territory’s 15th anniversary.

      The carvings include familiar landmarks such as Iqaluit's Nakasuk School, the Hall Beach DEW line site, the Igloolik Research Station and the old blubber station in Pangnirtung.

      "It's raising the profile of the arts sector overall and Inuit art internationally," says Rowena House, executive director of the Nunavut Arts and Crafts Association. "But it also helps develop these guys' profiles in working with different types of architecture and being able to reproduce a building instead of only working on animals or different spiritual objects."

      Fifteen small buildings made of stone came out of the workshop held in Arviat, and another one held in Pangnirtung earlier this year. Lew Philip of Iqaluit contributed a model of St. Jude's Anglican cathedral.

      Each building is about the size of a loaf of bread.

      Mason White, Lola Sheppard and Matthew Spremulli are the people behind Lateral Office, which will present 'Arctic Adaptations: Nunavut at 15' at the Venice Biennale in Architecture this summer. (Bob Gundu)
      Most of the carvers have never actually seen the buildings they crafted. Instead they worked from blueprints and photographs.

      Mason White is one of the organizers of Arctic Adaptations, which has been working with Nunavut hamlets to produce the carvings. 

      "They're amazing and I love the diversity of them,” he says. “They're all so challenging in so many different ways.

      White says the carvings showcase the talent of the artists. "The challenges of dealing with straight edges, which is understandable because the tools and even the common subjects of carving as objects are much more organic and architecture has frustrating rigid geometry to it often."

      The carvings will be on display in Italy for six months.

      The models will then be part of a touring show that will travel across Canada in 2015.