Friday, September 12, 2008

Live! From the 11th International Architecture Festival in Venice, Italy

(Venice, Italy) Another little miracle – I am writing to you from inside the press room at Arsenale from the next section of La Biennale: Architecture. This morning, Paolo Baratta, the President of La Biennale, spoke at the press conference, together with a dynamic American, Aaron Betsky, who is the Director of the 11th International Exhibition of Architecture. Entitled, OUT THERE: Architecture Beyond Building, the festival opens on September 14th, and runs through November 23, 2008. I have just viewed the portion inside the Arsenale, and report that if you are in Venice during this time, YOU HAVE GOT TO COME! Do you see that image up there? That is the first thing you see when you walk into Arsenale. You can make all the points of light connect and change and move if you dance around and flash your energy up at the screen through your fingertips, just like a god. Any architecture exhibit that opens with something like that has got to be a window into the big brain, n'est pas?

Paolo Baratta said he was pleased that attendance is growing rapidly for the Architecture Biennale, both with the architects, and the journalists. Aaron Betsky confirmed that when it comes to cutting edge architecture that Venice is the place to be -- for the vehement criticisms. For the uncanny ability to debate. Betsky said, “You have to come to Venice.” The reknown architect Frank Gehry will be honored with the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement, and he has an installation here.

Aaron Betsky, who was born in Missoula, Montana in 1958 is feisty and outspoken, and, again, I am so happy to see Americans arriving here with this kind of energy. He began by thanking the staff at La Biennale for making his job easier, and said he was flabbergasted by the ability of the team here in Venice who worked to make these architectural concepts a reality. He said these were not final products, but catalysts.

He made a provocative statement: “The road to Utopia leads to the gas chamber.” He elaborated by saying that a totalitarian regime which uses technology and industrialization to control the environment can only hope to create a perfect static state. He said his idea of a beautiful city is one that is continually changing, both growing and shrinking. There was a lot of talk about pixels and molecules, which is right up my alley.

For example, I chatted with a young architect from Guallart Architects, "MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms," from Catalunya. I said, "So, tell me what this is." He said, "Tell me what you think it is." I said, "I think we are finally physically manifesting the unseen connections in the universe." He said, "On the planet." I said, "Okay, the planet, but, to me, the planet is part of the universe."

He said, "We want to show how that chair can also be the same as a table, and the same as a theater. That it is made up of the same corners, the same molecules." I said, "Very good, but I like that pineapple thingy you've got over there. I can't wait until architects incorporate even more fractal geometry. Mandelbrot discovered the formula for a tree, for the coastline. I'd like to see more of that -- not just in the movies."

Another one of my favorites was Diller Scofidio + Renfro, who are based in NYC. Their project was a two-screen film from the point of view of a passenger inside a gondola, with swiveling stools so you could look forward and back. The scene was the original Grand Canal (with a nice view of my apartment:), and the same scene from copies of Venice in Las Vegas, Macau, Doha, Nagoya and Tokyo -- I did not know we had so many Venices these days. In every city, there was a voice-over. Now, what, you might ask, does that have to do with architecture? Everything. When you see it, you will understand. Betsky said, "We are not proposing solutions. These are not final products." He used the word "catalyst" many times.

In any event, as I keep saying, I am totally in love with La Biennale, the organization. Perhaps it can only exist inside Venice, inside our "as it was, where it was" mentality. Perhaps the ancient, dusty energy of the past is a balance for the dynamic, creative energy of the future.

Ciao from Venice,

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