Thursday, August 26, 2010

If Buildings Could Talk - The Architects are Here! - Venice Biennale 2010

(Venice, Italy) That outer-space object you see is a contemporary piece of functioning art, otherwise known as a "building." It is an enormous structure, the new Rolex Learning Center, which opened in February 2010, and was built on the campus of EPFL, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, in Switzerland.  Designed by the Japanese architects, SANAA, it is the subject of a 3D 12-minute film, "If Buildings Could Talk," by the German director Wim Wenders, which I saw yesterday at the preview for La Biennale's 12th International Architecture Festival, "People Meet in Architecture." Actually, the building herself is the star of the film, speaking English with a sensual female voice, a wonderful narrative about how a building is a living thing. I watched the film a couple of times before I realized that the architect who designed this leap into the future was this year's Director of Architecture herself, Kazuyo Sejima, together with Ryue Nishizawa -- they are the founders of the architectural studio known as SANAA. 

I had seen Kazuyo Sejima earlier at the press conference with Paolo Baratta, and she did not speak much. I wondered if it was because English was not her first language, or whether she did not communicate verbally with words. I later watched a video interview of Sejima and Nishizawa, and that is how she is, using her hands to write in the air, and trailing off in the middle of a sentence. But if she can manifest a building like the Rolex Learning Center into reality, I think Sejima can communicate with us Earthlings in whatever way she wants to. 

The first time I saw the film, I felt a powerful emotion. I felt... peace. I felt the tension slip out of me. I exhaled deeply, and felt my eyes grow moist. The knot I have been holding inside for far too long gently untangled. I must have watched the film four times, lulled by Megan Gay's voice and Thom Hanreich's music as the camera traveled slowly up and down, inside and out of the enormous continuous three-dimensional space. I was excited because one of the first stories I'd ever written as a child was about a house that could talk, and here was the concept on film -- except this structure was endless, more like a enclosed park than a building. The building was alive, and speaking. Wim Wenders had captured its soul. She (the building) said things like:

"One of my favorite things is to catch the light and help you feel it better. Make it more...visible... to you? I love the light, and forgive me if I sound immodest, but the light loves me, too."

"I am an intimate public space, and that's not a contradiction."

"You might think of the slopes that I have as waves -- waves frozen in time."

"I love books. I love to be a place for reading... to indulge in reading and forget about everything else around you..."

From Wim Wenders:

If Buildings Could Talk...
... some of them would sound like Shakespeare.
Others would speak like the Financial Times,
yet others would praise God, or Allah.
Some would just whisper,
some would loudly sing their own praises,
while others would modestly mumble a few words
and really have nothing to say.
Some are plain dead and don’t speak anymore...

Click HERE to read the rest of Wender's description.

I finally pulled myself away and went through the rest of Arsenale, and then went back and watched the film some more. I felt like I was witnessing something extraordinary; that some kind of breakthrough had been achieved. (That image is from Rolex's High Class Watch, which has a good article about the building.)

Then this morning I went to the press conference held by Wim Wenders, Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, and listened to their creative process. They all seemed just as surprised by the result. Wenders said that he was pleased when he got the invitation to do an installation several months ago. He went to the building in Lausanne and got lost for about four days. (When you see the film, you will understand how it is possible to get lost for four days in that particular structure.) Wenders said it was more like a landscape than a building, with hills and valleys. One journalist asked if the building felt Japanese, and Wenders said, yes, speaking as a European, the building feels Japanese. That its utter simplicity leads to the greatest complexity. When he said that, I thought -- that's what I'm feeling. That beautiful, particular kind of floating Japanese energy, so serene and peaceful, a contemporary structure that can only be produced by a culture whose foundation stretches back to antiquity. It is as if SANAA lifted up an enormous cloud composed of the finest elements of Japan and placed it gently into Switzerland. And that Rolex sponsored such an innovative learning center exemplifies the highest level of cultural exchange between business and humanity, and makes me want to start wearing a watch. To see a short two-dimensional film from The Rolex Center website, click here:

Wim Wenders said if it were up to him, he would still be in there shooting different angles. He said that it has always been difficult to figure out a way for architecture to be placed into a narrative. As a novelist, I found that problem fascinating -- I had never thought about it before. After seeing Wender's film, I think it would be really exciting to experiment in more collaborations between architects and storytellers.

Wenders said that he should change the title of the installation from "If Buildings Could Talk" to "Now that Buildings Can Talk."

Ciao from the 12th Mostra Internazionale di Architettura,
Venetian Cat - Venice Blog

P.S. This year there is even an app for your iPad called iBiennale, which I think is a very cool idea:

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Frank O. Gehry in the Hall of Columns (Sala delle Colonne)

Photo: LUMA/Parc des Ateliers, copyright Frank Gehry and Gehry Partners LLP, 2010
(Venice, Italy) There was a full house this morning for the inauguration of the newly renovated Sala delle Colonne, or Hall of Columns, over at Ca' Giustinian, the headquarters of La Biennale -- they were still putting the finishing touches on the great hall just before people arrived.  The crowd was drawn not only by the chance to see the Sala, but also by the opportunity to view the LUMA Foundation's architectural model for LUMA/Parc des Ateliers. The model was designed by Frank O. Gehry, who was present, as was Maja Hoffman, founder of the LUMA Foundation. Paolo Baratta, the President of La Biennale, called Frank Gehry a lion, and said that he will always be a lion. I was surprised to discover that Frank Gehry is 81-years-old because his energy vibes so much younger. 

Frank Gehry commented about Maja Hoffman: "In my world, she's a very rare bird." I think Maja Hoffman is a very rare bird in anyone's world these days, but we must be grateful that she does, really, exist -- in fact, was actually here in the flesh -- and Venice was honored by her presence. From a press release:

"More than ever, in this current era of globalization, there are direct relationships between art and culture, human rights, environmentalprotection, education and
Maja Hoffmann, Founder of the LUMA Foundation

The Parc des Ateliers in Arles is a model and a master plan for a new type of cultural utopia. 
Imagined, invented and designed as the ultimate cultural destination by artists, architects, art professionals and intellectuals, in accordance with local inhabitants who have an intimate knowledge of the town of Arles, it is an open campus for creative production, display, study and preservation. Photography and the moving image are its central force and innovative research and exchange are its ongoing mission.
Aligned with the aims of the LUMA Foundation, its founding body, the Parc des Ateliers unites culture, education and the environment, and encourages a fruitful dialogue between disciplines and visions rich in contrast as vital elements of a forward-looking society.
Located in the heart of the city of Arles and surrounded by the unique environment of the Camargue, it acts as a bridge between the industrial heritage and the UNESCO-protected historical core of this multifaceted city. It also recreates the public park that was once the meeting place of every layer of its population, and thus becomes a project for and with the people of Arles.

Gehry stressed that the project was still a work in progress. He said he was working with a new material that came from the military -- very light; used to disperse the blast from weapons; Humvees have this material in their doors -- and he didn't know what would happen in the future, if some micro-organisms might move in and turn everything green. 

Paolo Baratta expressed his gratitude to the Comune of Venice, represented by Mayor Giorgio Orsoni, for its generosity toward the Biennale in general. Baratta envisions the Sala delle Colonne as an elegant conference hall, meeting room and performance space. The hall was originally built back in the 1930s to house a casinò, but protests by a religious organization that was training young priests nearby deemed its close proximity inappropriate. 

Hhhmmm... When I first entered the hall today, it took my breath away. The garden of glass flowers on the ceiling above lit the hall below with a magical light; the columns raised the room to a majestic height.  Even though the hall is young compared to other structures in Venice, it has weight. I thought it was wonderful, and beyond reproach by the religious organization that did not approve of the Sala's geographical location long ago. So, finally, we have a compromise, and it is a good one. 

From La Biennale:

"An important restoration for the Biennale was that of the Sala delle Colonne, which dates back to the 1930’s and features spatial and architectural characteristics that makes it a unique venue, which will serve as a flexible space for lectures, meetings, workshops and exhibitions, in particular for live performances. Ca' Giustinian now becomes a complete multi-purpose centre that can host permanent activities."

When I first started working with La Biennale years ago, Ca' Giustinian was in a state of disrepair. To see it restored back to life, alive and thriving, full of creative people, right in the center of Venice, right on the Grand Canal -- to see a palazzo reborn whose raison d'etre is not just another hotel  -- well, I can understand why Paolo Baratta expressed his gratitude to the Comune. It is proof that Venice need not only depend on mass, mindless tourism, but is capable of creating, once again, an oasis of intelligence and innovation, combining ancient venues with contemporary thought. 

Ciao from Venice,
Venetian Cat - Venice Blog

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Venice Film Festival & The American

(Venice, Italy) For those of you who haven't been reading the Venetian Cat sidebar, the 67th Venice International Film Festival takes place this year from September 1 to September 11, 2010. The opening and closing films are American bookends -- on September 1st, Darren Aronofsky's dramatic thriller, "Black Swan," starring Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis will open the festival, and Julie Taymor's adaptation of Shakespeare's "The Tempest," starring Oscar winners Helen Mirren and Chris Cooper will close it on September 11th. (You can read what I wrote about The Wrestler, Aronofsky's offering at the festival in 2008, if you click here.)

Some of you might not know that the Venice Film Festival was the very first film festival on the entire planet.

From Wikipedia:

The Venice Film Festival (Italian Mostra Internazionale d'Arte Cinematografica) is the oldest film festival in the world. Founded by Count Giuseppe Volpi in 1932 as the "Esposizione Internazionale d'Arte Cinematografica", the festival has since taken place every year in late August or early September on the island of the LidoVeniceItaly. Screenings take place in the historic Palazzo del Cinema on the Lungomare Marconi. It is one of the world's most prestigious film festivals and is part of the Venice Biennale, a major biennial exhibition and festival for contemporary art.

It looks like Marco Mueller, the Director of the film festival, has rounded up some impressive folks this year to serve on the international jury. The President is none other than Mr. Inglorious Bastards himself, Quentin Tarantino. Also on the jury is the Latin American writer Guillermo Arriaga, who wrote and directed one of my favorite films in 2008, The Burning Plain (click here to read that Venetian Cat blog); Lithuanian actress Ingeborga Dapkunaite, "one of the most talented actresses of the Soviet Union;" French director and screenwriter Arnaud Desplechin; Italian director and screenwriter Luca Guadagnino; Italian director and screenwriter Gabriele Salvatores, who won an Oscar for Mediterraneo; and American musician and composer Danny Elfman, someone whose scores have always transported me right into the film. Now, that sounds like an extremely interesting mixture of personalities, talents and countries, and should create some fascinating dynamics. Click here for more details:

This year, the Orrizonti section has been revamped and is sure to hold some surprises. "Orrizonti" means "Horizons," and if Paolo Baratta, the President of La Biennale, and Marco Mueller manifest their vision, in the future the word "orrizonti" will need no translation. Let's let Paolo Baratta explain:

An introduction by the President of La Biennale di Venezia
Paolo Baratta
An important innovation at the 67th Venice International Film Festival is the strengthening of the “Orizzonti” section.
Created in 2004 and dedicated from the very start to “new trends” in international film, this section is now reinforced and open to “custom-format” works – and thus to short films too – to provide a wider and more dynamic outlook on new trends in the various languages that converge in film.
“Orizzonti” therefore pays particular attention to the experience of directors who were trained in different areas of expression.
With this change, it comes to occupy a new space, and becomes a “laboratory” for new artistic languages within the wider “laboratory” of la Biennale di Venezia.
The Venice International Film Festival thus confirms its role as a centre of reference for knowledge and research into trends in the art of filmmaking

The Orrizonti section of the festival will be co-chaired by Iranian filmmaker Shiran Neshat (Women Without Men) and German director (of Turkish origin) Faith Akin (Soul Kitchen). Soul Kitchen was one of my favorite films last year, but unfortunately I didn't get a chance to write about it. If the Orrizonti section uncovers the next evolution of Bill Viola, my favorite contemporary artist, that would be exciting indeed. 

Also on opening night, September 1st, Robert Rodriguez's Machete will have its world premiere at midnight. So we will have Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino together on the Island of Lido at the same time! 

Over on the other side of the world, George Clooney's latest film, The American, is also opening on September 1st, so he won't be here that night, even though the film is set in Italy. However, I was pleased when Focus Films, the distribution company, asked me to come up with a list of five films that summed up Italian life. Since Venetian life skews reality in its own unique way, I focused on Venice:


Everyone - from spy writers to spry stylemakers - has opinions 
about film, culture, and art. 
Check out the top - five lists of our favorite cultural trendsetters.


By administrator August 06, 2010

Cat Bauer
Cat Bauer

Cat Bauer has lived in Venice, Italy since 1998. She is the award-winning author of contemporary novels featuring the young protagonist, Harley Columba, (Harley, Like a Person and Harley's Ninth) and was a regular contributor to the International Herald Tribune's Italian supplement, Italy Daily, scoping out the art, history and culture of Venice. Her blog, Venetian Cat -Venice Blog shares an insider's view to cultural events around town, and has been featured in the Financial Times Weekend Magazine
As someone with an eye for detail and a way with words, we asked novelist and blogger Cat Bauer to pick the films that she thought best summed up Italian life. The movies she chose, incidentally, are all related to Venice and the Veneto, the area she lives in.

Click here to read the entire article:

Monday, August 2, 2010

EMERGENCY! Patti Smith in Piazza San Marco

(Venice, Italy)  The first time I saw Patti Smith perform was a bit more than 35 years ago, just when she was becoming Patti Smith. I was in my late teens and it was in New Jersey, at a college like William Paterson or Fairleigh Dickerson. Her energy gave me such a buzz that I wanted to jump on stage and invite her home with me. Horses was the most brilliant album by a female I had ever heard, and she became my hero. Back then, she and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe were the daredevils of New York, leaving a trail of broken rules and codes of conduct behind them. It was a time when artists were allowed to do their jobs and force the population, by shock if necessary, to WAKE UP.

From Wikipedia:

Patricia Lee "Patti" Smith (born December 30, 1946) is an American singer-songwriter, poet and visual artist, who became a highly influential component of the New York Citypunk rock movement with her 1975 début album Horses.[1] Called the "Godmother of Punk",[2] she integrated the beat poetry performance style with three-chord rock. Smith's most widely known song is "Because the Night", which was co-written with Bruce Springsteen and reached number 13 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1978.[1] In 2005, Patti Smith was named a Commander of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Minister of Culture,[3] and in 2007, she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.[4]

Now Patti Smith is 63-years-old, and her energy remains the same, only more refined. Last night in Piazza San Marco she was the High Priestess leading her people in song. I was surprised to see how many young Italian fans she had, both male and female, and how they knew all the words! Young Italians, filled with emotion, singing along to the words of an American poetess. She wore a tee-shirt with the image of a skull under her traditional jacket, and started off with some good ones -- "Redondo Beach," "Money." The energy level was high quality, and a clump of kids from the audience in the back ran up to be close to the stage, and I went with them.

The stage at Piazza San Marco is set way back from the first row of seats, so that the performer is not close to the audience. (Last week Norah Jones kept saying, "You're so far away! You're so far away!") But Patti Smith is an old pro and knows how to use her magic to move her people. At first security would not let anyone get close, but then during "Dancing Barefoot" Patti signalled deftly, subtly with her hands, and everyone moved in, so close that she could touch her fans if she wanted to, and she did. She balanced the night perfectly, with old and new, spoken word and song.

She indicated the Basilica at the other end of the square, and dedicated a song to Papa Luciano, or Pope John Paul I, who was the Patriarch of Venice before he became Pope and died after only 33 days -- and then she kicked right into "Gloria."
Since this was a concert for EMERGENCY, just what is the emergency? From Emergency's website:

In today’s conflicts 90% of victims are civilians.
Every year war destroys the lives of millions of people around the world.
Emergency is an independent and neutral Italian organization founded in order to provide free, high quality medical and surgical treatment to the civilian victims of war, landmines and poverty.
Emergency promotes a culture of solidarity, peace and respect for human rights.
The work of Emergency around the world is possible thanks to the help of thousands of volunteers and supporters.

That is a very scary statistic. NINETY PERCENT OF THE VICTIMS IN TODAY'S CONFLICTS ARE CIVILIANS??? That sounds like some mighty sloppy shooting! Click here to go to Emergency's website:

Patti Smith put on one of the best concerts I have been to in years. It felt like no time had passed since the first time I saw her 35 years ago, and it made me long to be surrounded once again by kindred spirits.

And I am homesick

After mine own kind that know, and feel
And have some breath for beauty and the arts.
---Ezra Pound

Ciao from Venice,