Laurence Lord, the Co-Commissioner/Curator for Free Market, the Irish entry at this year's Venice architecture biennale, sends a postcard to Culture about the launch of the Irish National Pavilion.

It has been an epic week here in Venice. Crammed in the middle of the three-day press preview, we launched Free Market, the Irish National Pavilion at La Biennale di Venezia, last Thursday. It was the anxious day before the referendum, as we hoped that Ireland would vote to take a giant leap forward, but still had niggling worries.

We knew early on that the launch for our Free Market pavilion was going to be packed. There is a much larger Irish involvement this year at La Biennale than ever before. The Irish curators of the overall Biennale, Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, selected four Irish offices for the main exhibition - Niall McLaughlin Architects, Hall McKnight, de Blacam and Meagher and O’Donnell + Tuomey. There are also 16 Irish architecture practices participating in the exhibition Close Encounter. So consequently our limited invitation number of a couple of hundred had to be doubled.

As the time of the launch approached, our exhibition ‘market square’ was buzzing with anticipation. Just like in the photographs we had found in the National Archives of fair days in towns like Macroom, Mountmellick and Kilrush, our market square was rammed. There were as many people outside as there were inside. The atmosphere held all the energy that we talk about and propose in the project: people back living on and in the market squares; close together, jostling, meeting, sitting, talking, perching on window sills. Our little Venetian square reclaimed the freespace at the core of Free Market.

Ireland’s Ambassador to Italy, Colm Ó’Floinn, opened the exhibition for us, speaking warmly about the value of the small market town. Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara very kindly came to speak and were greeted with thunderous applause.

We had designed the space with gatherings and rousing speeches like this is mind. Speakers stood up onto the ‘town hall steps’ and faced diagonally back across the central market clearing, now packed with warm, familiar, smiling and supportive faces. The charged emotion as we took to our own stage to speak was very memorable. In that moment, all the Irish architects, planners, designers, writers, family and friends present got an opportunity to raucously cheer, clap and whistle their support for the phenomenal achievement of Yvonne, Shelley and their talented team. I will never forget that moment.

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Later that evening, in a less formal environment, we caught up with new and old friends and colleagues at the Campo Santa Maria Formosa. The square was completely overrun with the Irish party. All those months of hard work for all of us in Free Market, all that anxiety and stress, lifted and we knew it had all been worth it.

We have been honoured and slightly embarrassed by the many kind and supportive words we have received from visitors and press to the pavilion. We fully believe in the importance of the subject matter and hope that we have handled it in a clear and engaging way. This is not an exclusive exhibition for architects and designers alone and we hope that we can bring it to as many people back home as possible. We see this exhibition as part of a larger international discourse about Ireland’s towns - a call to work that we hope will grow and grow.

Laurence Lord is a Co-Commissioner/Curator for Free Market, together with Jeffrey Bolhuis, Jo Anne Butler, Miriam Delaney, Tara Kennedy and Orla Murphy. Ireland at Venice is an initiative of Culture Ireland in collaboration with the Arts Council and the Department of Heritage, Culture and the Gaeltacht. The curators are very grateful for the support of the Project Partners: RIAI, Cement Manufacturers Ireland, TileStyle and Topcer, and all of the other organisations and individuals who have sponsored and supported Free Market.

La Biennale di Venezia is open from the 26th of May until 25th of November 2018. Free Market will return to Ireland in 2019 to tour some of the towns featured in the exhibition - follow its progress on Twitter and Instagram.