The bivouac by the sea

Christiane Rekade

Built almost 50 years ago at an altitude of 2510 m in order to provide climbers, rescue teams and ski touring groups with a shelter and accommodation in changing weather conditions. Named after the brother of the famous climber Reinhold Messner, who tragically died on the Nanga Parbat- Himalayas in 1970, the bright 2019 Günther-Messner bivouac has been moved from the Hochferner north face, to the island of San Servolo in Venice.

The orange metal structure in the middle of the Venice lagoon, appears like a UFO. An unknown object in a strange environment, which not only tells stories, adventures, encounters, objects, but also (future) visions, dreams and ideas from the South Tyrolean mountains to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. In this occasion, not climbers, but seven artists, enliven the bivouac in this  unusual location for the summer months.

The bivouac – its name comes from the German term “Beiwache” – which means military and alpine emergency shelter equipped with the essential, a minimal architecture that offers people protection. The typical alpine “bivouac box” consists of a small tin or corrugated iron, wooden or plastic container, which contains as many sleeping places as possible and is visible from far away. It has a small entrance and is only slightly thermally insulated. Usually there are blankets, candles, snow shovels, some emergency supplies and a book, rarely an emergency telephone, a stove or oven. The accommodation has neither running water nor a toilet.

Minimum structure – maximum imagination space

In the high mountains, such bivouac boxes are usually located at mountain saddles and embrasures. Therefore bivouacs are located where the effort and danger are very high, where the destination has still to be reached.

The orange-coloured huts are in the middle of the way, between departure and arrival, always open, offering shelter, retreat, rest and tranquillity.

The Günther Messner Bivouac was transferred to the Venetian lagoon, from the South Tyrolean Alps (those mountains which were defined exactly one hundred years ago in the Treaty of Saint Germain by the winners of the First World War as the border between Italy and Austria and which had such a massive influence on South Tyrolean eventful history).

With the transfer of the bivouac from its place of origin, the potential and current significance, but also the limits of this minimal architecture, become clearer. The exhibition project wants to discuss the bivouac as an architectural structure, but also in its meanings as a space of retreat and as a space of thought.

The artists* are faced with the challenge of dealing with the smallest, minimally equipped exhibition space and its conditions, and at the same time using it as the largest possible space for thought and imagination.