A hidden and very authentic place, almost a dying example. The Bowls Club of San Sebastiano is one of the last active bocce societies based in Venice. For the fourth edition of the Venice Design Biennial, to exemplify the theme of the edition of the Auto-Exotic, one of the three bocce courts was transformed into an exhibition space, hosting a series of works by designers from all over the world.

< Bocciofila di San Sebastiano.
Ph. Giacomo Gandola

The history of the place is very old, as it was a convent space of the Sisters of the Philippine Order. They were self-sufficient with the help of deaf-mute girls, they had several animals, silkworms and a huge vegetable garden (400 meters long by about 50 meters wide). They left in 1957, leaving the space abandoned until 1982, when the club was built, and then inaugurated in July 1984.

Founded between 1899 and 1900, the society is one of the longest established in Italy. The original location was in San Pantalon, later it moved to Calle dell'Avogaria at the osteria “Da Carmela”, when the osteria's habitués asked the owners to create courts for playing, in fact at that time the bowls club was an after-work meeting place. From the 1980s, they were forced to move, and then from 1982 the municipality gave them a proper space. The members of the bowls club got together to fix up for free an old, abandoned landfill site in Fondamenta Briati.

From the 1980s archive photo of the bowls club

With great speed, a bowls club was established with three courts, unfortunately unsuitable for participation in national competitions that required heated and covered spaces.

Above: pictures of the bowls club from the 1980s archive
On the right: today's bowls club fields

So, in 2002 the structure was sold to the municipality and an indoor bowling club was built with the revenue raised. Many trophies are proudly displayed on the walls.

From left to right: Lele, Carletto, Andrea and Toto

The club now has around 20 players, those who can take part in competitions, and around 170 supporting members who can enjoy the tranquility of the place, play cards and bowls, or sip a drink in company of friendly Venetian storytellers.

Between canals and calli, the visitor enters in the bowls club with a certain insecurity, later discovering with great surprise the uniqueness of the place, but above all the hospitality of the gentlemen who liven up the space with the aim of keeping it alive and active. Unfortunately, the sport of bowls in Venice is now falling into disuse; there used to be 13 clubs, of which only two remain today.

Thanks to a small bar self-managed by members surrounded by historical mulberry trees and vegetable gardens, it is possible to sit and enjoy the authentic history of those who live Venice and its uniqueness. Hospitality is the watchword, in fact whenever they organize an Italian “spaghettata” between friends, any visitor who wants can join the friendly company under the shade of majestic trees.

Bowls club garden
Ph. Giacomo Gandola

An unusual landscape for non-residents of Venice has become for the fourth edition of the Venice Design Biennial a truly original stage on which to admire a series of design works. In this venue there several pieces created by around twenty designers, all of them in a continuous dialogue with the theme of Auto-Exotic.

Ph. Giacomo Gandola

The distinction between art and design in these unique pieces is very light, you can admire small tables, chandeliers, vases, but also more conceptual objects, such as Trees of Otherness by Tadeáš Podracký, Inter-Organism Transceiver by Anna Resei, Serpentlime by Steven K. Tucker.

< Ph. Veronika Motulko

A work that represents the particularity of the lagoon is Stravedamento by Aina Kari, a vase with a Palissandro marble base and a blue Murano glass bowl. The work's title refers to the local fishermen's terminology for the moment when the horizon is so clear and well-defined that you can see the Dolomites in the background. The monumentality of the marble contrasts with the fragility of the glass. Both materials represent the city of Venice, always divided between the magnificence of its past and the desire to look at the future.

"Stravedamento" by Aina Kari, 2023
Ph. Veronika Motulko

A design that often relates to the history of Venice, Really Rococo II by Ebba Lindgren, consisting of a vase and table made of pink textile fiber from textile industry waste and industrial laundry. Asymmetrical shapes interlocked in unique expressive forms.

"Really Rococo II" (Vase & table) by Ebba Lindgren, 2023
Ph. Veronika Motulko

Not only Rococo, but also Baroque can be found in the Vidilav lamp by the Polymorf duo. A fusion of craftsmanship and technology explodes in a dynamic form as a perfect union between the precision of digital fabrication and the traditional beauty of porcelain.

"Vidilav lamp" by Polymorf, 2023
Ph. Veronika Motulko

Again, Alves Ludovico, whose sculptures of found objects covered in a sugar-based polymer retrace the Venetian fortunes of centuries past. With Spaceways to Earthly III, Vanity Corallius and Fin Fun Corallius he takes up alien shapes covered by the material most consumed by humans, sugar. During the Renaissance, sugar was a very expensive product, only the very wealthy could afford it. Venetians, for example, created sugar sculptures to emphasize their wealth, as a way of showing off among Venetian nobility.

From top to bottom: "Vanity Corallius" (2021), "Spaceways to Earthly III" (2022), "Fin Fun Corallius" (2021)
by Alves Ludovico
Ph. Veronika Motulko
"Vanity Corallius" by Alves Ludovico, 2023
Ph. Veronika Motulko

Venice Design Biennial chose the bowling club as the location because this old, disused game, is now slowly being rediscovered. The authenticity of its atmosphere and the encounter with locals, represent one of the cornerstones of the auto-exotic theme.

The fourth edition of the Biennial invites all the visitors to reflect on the basic values and lost simplicity of our everyday life, trying to appreciate the exotic as an element of proximity and not of distance.

Ph. Giacomo Gandola