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Thursday, September 21, 2006
David at the Venice Biennale
Now that the British Pavilion has run out of 'Pride of Sheffield' real ale, the Japanese pavilion has run out of its exquisite catalogues, and most of the original builders/occupants of the French Pavilion have packed their bags and left, it seems like a good time to ponder the highlights and low-points of this year's Venice Architecture Biennale.

I was there last weekend. I missed the Japanese catalogue, drank the last of Britain's real ale supply, and had dinner with the French. I imagine that the various pavilions and exhibitions are seen in a rather different light after the superstars and the press have decamped than how they are seen during the frenzy of the opening weekend: The AF/MoMa's 'venice super blog' http://www.venicesuperblog.net would have us believe that the festival of celebrating white-haired men and getting sloshed whilst talking in very serious tones about population destiny continues apace, but the truth is that the two sites, Arsenale and Giardini, have become quiet, contemplative places where it is possible to spend a whole afternoon in one of the more hidden away pavilions without any disturbance whatsoever. So- highlights...

I very much enjoyed the Cities, Architecture, Society exhibit in the Corderia, the centrepiece of the event directed by our very own Ricky Burdett. The popular argument (see Ellis Woodman in BD, for example) that this material would be better read in the sunshine in the pages of a book misses the point; I have both a professional and personal interest in the material presented there and even I would flinch at wading properly through a book filled with the hard data and assembled material shown. The exhibition has been designed to induce a sense of urgency and calm, perhaps best exemplified by the free Illy coffee stall halfway through, and once I had entered, I felt that I couldn't leave until I had done the material justice and drawn my own conclusions. It's a real injection in the arm of contemporary information, and I came away feeling informed and rejuvenated (after another coffee). I can't agree with another popular criticism, that the exhibition offers little critique of which of the cities presented are good or bad, either. What we are shown is facts, and context, in a 'state of the world' way which leads us to our own conclusions. Stimulating.

The Romanian Pavilion is exemplary in its absolute honesty about Romania's urban context. Attendees are invited to play a fun game (with big soft cubes on a grid) wherein they decide their lifestyle, home, and urbanism priorities, only to be handed a print out which states what 'a future Romania' would be if founded upon their chosen principles. Holistic and thought provoking. The Hungarian Pavilion offers a series of installations based around mass-produced chinese toys and artefacts, and forms a witty and playful critique of international trade, the migration of objects and materials. I'm not quite sure what I was supposed to conclude from it, however. The traditional Italian pavlion was this year packed to the roof with a variety of research projects from the likes of OMA/AMO, the RCA and MIT. The RCA's Babylon:don exhibit showed more technical, intellectual, and humane qualities than most, and as a result perhaps the most realistic, yet ambitious, presentation of any one city across the exhibition. The usual trappings of sex'n'politics'n'neon colours were here in full abundance but freed from the usual end-of-year show setting it was all rather refreshing. Meanwhile, the Spanish Pavilionpresented urban projects by, for, and used by women, accompanied by audiovisual recordings of women across the same spectrum. I imagine that this show was drowned out during the opening weekend but on a quiet Monday morning it seemed humble and genuine- and displayed some very pretty, if de-contextualised, models. Much has been written about the situationist/Paris '68 occupation of the French Pavilion so I'll just add that their wine supply was terrific, as were the quiches.

I came away feeling that the data is there for meaningful change, that no two countries can quite agree on a consensus of what to do with it, and that some are not that interested in the first place. Interesting times are on the way, and this year's Biennale gives a stimulating, though not always successful, overview on how the world might deal with them.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find your comments quite hard to digest about the British Pavilion. As an inhabitant of Sheffield, and someone who knows non-sheffielders who have seen the exhibition and now want to travel to see the oddity that is Sheffield. I think you have not looked hard enough, or perhaps you have not thought hard enough. Perhaps if Jeremy Till set up a little tent in the corner and slept over you might appreciate the British Pavilion more. Time will tell with the British Pavilions significance, unfortunately you have missed its point.

4:37 pm  
Blogger HL said...

I think David has reflected a commn view of Till's pavilion that I've heard from many media sources, which found it underwhelming. I'm off this weekend, so I'll see if I disagree.

9:43 am  
Blogger David said...

I am very glad that there are people who now want to experience Sheffield on the basis of the exhibit, and also that Sheffield residents such as yourself found it a useful and engaging representation of the city. I have thought quite hard about the exhibit and read the accompanying publication - and I'm afraid that it simply didn't have the same effect on me, despite the fact that I desperately wanted to like it.

And I'm not sure that Jeremy camping out in the Pavilion would have improved things, really!

12:13 pm  

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