4 November 2018 — Writing

Reflections on The Happenstance

by Peter McCaughey

During the opening week of The  Happenstance, lead artist Peter McCaughey, of WAVEparticle, recorded his impressions in short blogs. Here are some of his reflections from the opening week of The Happenstance (May 2018).


Wednesday 23 May 2018, 8.00 am

I think there is something special in this garden at Palazzo Zenobio. We got really lucky with the space. At the heart of Happenstance is that expectation to get lucky. We have found just the perfect venue for this project, and in the garden itself the past ten  days have been pretty  utopianistic – I like the word  utopianistic which you will not find in any dictionary. It suggests that something could approach Utopia without it being immediately a pejorative term. I think when you use the term Utopia these days it is almost a pejorative term, it’s like ‘it has immediately failed’, whereas  Utopianistic  is a qualification that I’ve invented that suggests we might approach certain values or certain ideas of a perfect society, or a kind of perfect way of being.

In this garden, over the past ten days, we’ve had editors editing, builders building, designers designing, connectors connecting, players playing and cookers cooking. The cooking has been a great part of it – one meal a day. We made a decision that the main meal each day should be lunch, so at the table I am sitting at just now, we feed ourselves every lunch time. We have a wee ‘how is everyone doing’ debrief and we just really feel like a really effective unit, and this is people who don’t know each other particularly well.

It’s also been a wee bit of a love-in – people realising the capacity in each other. A lot of people falling in love with Alberto (Lago – a Venice-based designer and a key contributor to The Happenstance project). That is all kind of magic, because of course that would be the wish of The Happenstance that the garden is an engine, a catalyst for great relationships, consolidation catalysing and generating great relationships.

I follow the method of the serendipitor – we really have been getting lucky with our relationships here. What we have here in the garden are good props for that process – the chairs, the structure, and the programme of events, the reference to past projects, are all here as resource.

I keep saying we are not doing an exhibition, we are providing a resource which is just a beginning point. The idea is that this will grow exponentially through the presence of whoever turns up.


Thursday 24 May 2018 13:00 pm

Evolving Space

Where The Happenstance becomes interesting is that when people become very, very fond of what we’ve made – they’ve obviously invested a lot of labour and time in it and there is a preciousness about that. There will be questions, like what if it is colonised by something that doesn’t fit with someone’s aesthetic, or somebody’s politics? It will be interesting to see if the structure and the garden can hold that? We have interesting conundrums ahead, and if we don’t raise those we will have completely failed.

When you address freespace, of course you have to think about censorship, you have to think about your own parameters, in terms of what you accept or permission, and you think about how much are you really prepared to give away, so these are the really interesting discussions that I know we are going to be having.

I know that I am here until the end of June, but I think the best reflection I can give in one sentence is that – despite how hard all the team has worked on The Happensatnce to date, everyone wants to stay longer. Everyone is coming up to me to say ‘is there any way you can help us stay longer– it’s a feeling for the project, the space, the Armenian way of hosting us, what’s available in broader Venice and what is at stake. That is going to be one of my jobs, to work out how we can do that.


Friday 25 May 2018, 11:00 am

I came in to the garden yesterday to find the rather remarkable Bruno juggling five hula hoops in a rather extravagant fashion – it really was an incredible act.

Bruno had taken the stage because he’d taken a bet, from his friend Octavio, that he couldn’t twirl a hula hoop around his waist. He could do that, and then some! Bruno and Octavio are from Mexico – they’re on a bit of a world tour and they found themselves in our garden.

They said a number of things that are key to what we’ve been hoping to achieve, and given that yesterday was our day one, it was rather remarkable that those things were said. The principal thing Octavio told us was that Bruno hadn’t performed with the hula hoops for ten years. He’d been a professional dancer but had suffered a serious knee injury and had stopped dancing.

Yesterday, in the chaotic ambience of the playful, energetic activity in our garden at Zenobio, he’d simply taken the stage and done it again. Octavio said he’d never seen this side of Bruno and loved seeing this remarkable skill of his friend. Bruno himself was visibly moved by this exchange and by the fact that he’d reconnected with a skill he felt had been lost.

In that same way, I think that many of us abandon our skills or our inclinations as we grow up. Bruno kept repeating this mantra, “we need to keep playing, we need to keep playing“. I said, “we’re going to have to record you saying this – it is exactly on point with regard to what we wish to cultivate in the garden”.

This project is not about children per se. It is about the child in all of us. That’s the thing we want to get to.

For Bruno there was something in the ambience of the space that encouraged a reconnection to what was in him – the performer, the player, the dancer. It was a real epiphany.

We discussed how, perhaps once a day, such a thing might happen and how our garden might become a ‘garden of epiphanies’ and what a value that would be – we set up the conditions where the epiphanies can happen.

Imagine you had an engine that served to deliver the thing we’ve been critiquing –  that we lose touch with our playful childhood  – that we lose the creativity, the inventiveness and the freedom of that in our professional practices. Our wish is to help everyone remember the way that we did things when we were a lot freer.


The Happenstance was a collateral event of the 16th Architecture Exhibition at La Biennale di Venezia, promoted by the Scotland + Venice partnership: Scottish Government, Architecture and Design Scotland, Creative Scotland and British Council.

The Happenstance Team  included artists:  Brian Hartley, Ruby Pester & Nadia Rossi, Tassy Thompson, Emily Speed, Francis Thorburn, Daniele Sambo, Hannah Brackston; Architects Fergus Purdie, (Fergus Purdie Architects), Lee Ivett & Ambrose Gillick (Baxendale – lead architects), Graham Ross (Austin-Smith:Lord), Paul Stallan & Keri Monaghan (Stallan-Brand); designers: Alberto Lago and Neil McGuire;  Film Maker Basharat Khan.

WAVEparticle:  Lead artist Peter McCaughey, Team: Harald Turek, Judit Bodor, Lizzy O’Brien and Elizabeth Murphy.