Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Venice Biennale is a Machine of Desire - Architecture 2016 - Reporting from the Front

Playing in Transolar Light Beams at Architecture Biennale - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) Alejandro Aravena, the Director of the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale, seems to be practically perfect: intelligent, creative, courageous, compassionate, articulate in several languages and easy on the eyes. He won this year's Pritzker Architecture Prize, the Nobel Prize of architecture. The 48-year-old Chilean architect is here in Venice with his wife and kids, so in addition to curating the most prestigious architecture event in the world, he is also a family man.

I was chatting with a couple of female architects, who agreed that Aravena seemed to be a fine male specimen. One said, "There's got to be something wrong with him." I winked. "I'm sure he's human, but he is proof that if he can do it, they can all do it."

Paolo Baratta & Alejandro Aravena before Architecture Biennale Press Conference
Having a common theme for the Architecture Biennale and a Director who behaves like a Curator is an idea whose time has come. The title of this year's Biennale is REPORTING FROM THE FRONT. Aravena said that it's difficult to produce a quality-built environment. As soon as you step one millimeter beyond doing business as usual, you encounter a lot of resistance from the different forces at play, whether it be the situation itself, or greed, or the laziness of bureaucracy. It's like a battle, and this Biennale addresses the tools we can use to find solutions to the urgent problems facing the built environment today.

At the press conference on Thursday, Paolo Baratta, President of La Biennale, said that together we have taken a trip to bring architecture back to society. The main concern was the increasing divide between civilized society and architecture. This exhibition is dedicated to the discovery that architecture is a tool in the hands of all of us, and not just a tool in the hands of architects living on a holy mountain somewhere in the world at an unreachable height.

Architecture is the art by which we build our world. It is a tool like a Constitution is the tool to build our society, to organize our will and our destiny. Architecture is a tool to organize our common space.

Baratta said with this Architecture Biennale, we have taken a step forward in confirming the Biennale as a machine of desire that we want her to be. Rediscovering the desire for Art, as well as for Architecture, is the aim. The Biennale is not here to give recipes. It is here to provoke questions, to provoke demand, and to induce desire. The curator has to speak to our imagination, passion and mind, and the mind has to digest and develop consciousness about the problems. This seems to be a Biennale that speaks the language of urgency and hope, to acknowledge that we do possess tools to change the situation, and do not have to be prisoners of an imposed business-as-usual ideology. We have tools of giving hope to those that need it. 

Alejandro Aravena - Photo: Cat Bauer
Alejandro Aravena said that he said what he had to say out there, in the exhibition, and tried to do it in the simplest, clearest way without losing depth. More than the quantity of visitors, he is interested in the quality of the visit. He hopes that visitors gather knowledge while they travel through the exhibition.

As curator, he asked each participant in REPORTING FROM THE FRONT, "What is your battle?" He asked them to explain it in the simplest way. How did they plan to communicate their battle to the public? He said that he made some rules, and that some participants complied, and some didn't.

Aravena said that Biennale was only one step. It synthesizes all the information. But complaining is not enough; raising awareness is not enough; we must actually do something. We will be required to change business as usual. We must start with the problems of society, not just architecture.

The exhibition is aimed at three different groups of people:

1.  The practitioners -- the architects, etc.

2.  The decision makers -- the politicians, etc.

3.  The users -- the citizens.

Aravena hopes that after visiting the exhibition, the architects will go back to work with less excuses. He hopes that the decision makers will understand that we need to improve the quality of life, not just make a profit. And he hopes that the users will learn how to demand quality.

This is how the Architecture Biennale 2016 begins:


Here is Alejandro Aravena in his own words:

There were more than 500 people crammed into first Meeting on Architecture yesterday; the topic was INFRASTRUCTURE. It was fascinating to hear from the practitioners themselves about the challenges the world faces when it comes to building the environment, and some creative solutions they have found. Aravena asked, "Why should we care about your project?"

Very, very briefly, to sum up: Norman Foster spoke about building a drone port in Africa out of compressed earth, or sort of like a brick made out of mud. The drones could bring medical supplies and other necessities to people where no infrastructure exists at all, and the mud bricks were easy to make out of the existing environment.

Andrew Makin spoke about completing a freeway built by the apartheid government, also in Africa, that had been left dangling in the air due to a design error. By building a bridge linking a major city market to the community, it was like opening an artery, and allowed the native people go back to their normal lives, doing things like dispensing traditional medicine, cooking bovine heads (a delicacy), boiling and selling maize (corn), or sewing and selling religious garments.

Grupo EPM, from Columbia, spoke about how they used to be the murder capital of the world -- there were 50 thousand murders in 10 years -- but now have a 95% lower murder rate. They work for the mayor, and this was achieved by expanding, connecting and improving public space.

Rem Koolhaas said he had been to Nevada, and companies like Telsa and Amazon were building enormous structures out in the countryside where few human beings worked, and everything was automated. Should we continue to ignore this? We will need to establish a relationship with robots. Do robots need to play?

Joan Clos, Executive Director of the United Nations Settlements Program, said that we are growing our footprint with less planning than 20 years ago, and all sorts of spontaneous urbanization is springing up because NO ONE is in charge of public space, and private companies are doing whatever they want. Quality urbanization is a gated community these days; we are building interior walls, which is very sad.

Meetings on Architecture - Photo courtesy La Biennale
My biggest quibble, as illustrated by the photo above, is that there was not one woman up on the stage; there seems to be a dearth of female energy in the world of architecture in general. In fact, when the discussion was opened up to the audience, a female architect from Egypt commented that she disagreed with some of the points made, but that her voice was not being heard. Personally, I think adding more female energy to the world of architecture would be a positive step towards solving many of the problems that had been brought up, simply because women tend to look at the world from a Mother Nature point of view.

Paolo Baratta & Alejandro Aravena - Photo courtesy La Biennale
Aravena said that this was only the start of the conversation. After living in Venice for 18 years, and being isolated from what has been going on out there in the world, I came away thinking it is a conversation that is long overdue.

REPORTING FROM THE FRONT opened to the public on May 28 and runs through November 27. Go to Biennale for more information.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Reporting from the Front
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Alchemy Meets Politics - Sigmar Polke Exhibition at Palazzo Grassi in Venice

Strahlen Sehen 5
Sigmar Polke, Strahlen Sehen, 2007
The Lambrecht-Schadeberg Collection /
Winners of the Rubens Prize of the City of Siegen
Museum für Gegenwartskunst Siegen
© The Estate of Sigmar Polke by SIAE 2016
(Venice, Italy) The German artist Sigmar Polke (1941-2010) fills the entire cavernous Palazzo Grassi with his mystical magical art, leaving his distinct fingerprints all over the decades from the 1960s through the 2000s.

The solo exhibition contains nearly 90 works from the Pinault Collection and other public and private collections, and is the first retrospective show in Italy dedicated to the artist who was known for not answering the phone or giving interviews. His obituary in the New York Times labeled him a "quixotic pop artist who used ordinary materials to create the extraordinary."

Die Schere (The Scissors)
Sigmar Polke, Die Schere, 1982
Private collection
Ph: Wolfgang Morell
© The Estate of Sigmar Polke by SIAE 2016
Sigmar Polke was born in Oels, in the Central European region of Lower Silesia, which, after everything got divvied up after WWII, morphed into what is now Poland. He was the seventh out of eight kids, and fled with his family to Thuringia in 1945 when they tossed the Germans out after war.

Thuringia then fell under Communist rule, and off the refugee family went again, this time escaping to West Berlin, and settling in Dusseldorf, where the German artist grew up -- Polke would have been 20-years-old when the Berlin Wall was constructed by East Germany, and nearly 50 when the wall came down. Polke was based in Cologne from 1978 until he died on June 10, 2010. So, he had a front row seat in the battle between Capitalism and Communism.

Junge mit Zahnbürste (Boy with Toothbrush)
Sigmar Polke, Junge mit Zahnbürste, 1964
Kunsthaus NRW, Kornelimünster
Ph: Anne Gold
© The Estate of Sigmar Polke by SIAE 2016
Polke worked at a stained glass factory, and studied at the Dusseldorf State Art Academy. As the Cold War swirled around him, he hooked up with fellow East German artist Gerhard Richter, and in 1963 co-founded the movement "Capitalist Realism," which parodied western commercialism, while playing on the official "Socialist Realism" term imposed on artists in the east by the Soviets.

According to the exhibition catalogue, Richter (who set an auction record price for a painting by a living artist when his Abstraktes Bild sold for $44.52 million in February 2015) said, "We thought everything was so stupid and we refused to participate. That was the basis of our understanding."

Sigmar Polke, Alice im Wunderland, 1972
Private collection
Ph: Wolfgang Morell
© The Estate of Sigmar Polke by SIAE 2016
Polke journeyed to Pakistan and Afghanistan, and, like an alchemist, played with different substances to create his art, such as fruit juices and beeswax, or grains of meteorites and arsenic sprinkled over canvas covered with resin. He used painting, drawing, photography, Xerox, film and installation. He wondered about paint and pigment, and how different cultures used and created their colors.

IndianerMitAdler (Indian with Eagle)
Sigmar Polke, Indianer mit Adler, 1975
Pinault Collection
© The Estate of Sigmar Polke by SIAE 2016
Co-curator Guy Tosatto, Director of the Museum of Grenoble, and who knew Polke, says in the catalogue, 'Sigmar Polke never loses a certain light-heartedness, a mix of humor and casualness that saves him from becoming too serious, aware that art is not about definitive truths, but rather about an incessant metamorphosis, and one which turns out to be rather like life, "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."' (That last bit is Tosatto quoting Shakespeare's Macbeth.)

Sigmar Polke, Axial Age, 2005-2007
Pinault Collection
Installation view in the exhibition “Mapping The Studio” at Punta della Dogana, 2009-2011
© Palazzo Grassi, ph: ORCH orsenigo_chemollo
© The Estate of Sigmar Polke by SIAE 2016
The exhibition opens with Axial Age (2005-2007) inside the atrium of Palazzo Grassi. Originally exhibited in the central pavilion at the 2007 Venice Biennale, it refers to Karl Jasper's Axial Age theory. From Wikipedia:

Jaspers argued that during the Axial Age "the spiritual foundations of humanity were laid simultaneously and independently in China, India, Persia, Judea, and Greece. And these are the foundations upon which humanity still subsists today." These foundations were laid by individual thinkers within a framework of a changing social environment.

Sigmar Polke, Zirkusfiguren, 2005
Pinault Collection
Ph: Matteo De Fina
© The Estate of Sigmar Polke by SIAE 2016
With all the political talk about building new walls these days, and millions of new refugees trying to find a home, wandering around Palazzo Grassi surrounded by the images created by Sigmar Polke uplifts the soul to another dimension, where the whole muddling mess down below on earth seems like a challenge to be surmounted with a nod and a wink.

Sigmar Polke runs through November 6, 2016. Go to Palazzo Grassi for more information.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

New Bistrot in Venice - The Egg Nicola Batavia @ Hotel Danieli

The Egg Nicola Batavia @ Hotel Danieli - Photo: Laura La Monaca
(Venice, Italy) Nicola Batavia is a passionate, internationally-acclaimed chef who has performed his art on five continents, from Italy to the Netherlands, England, Thailand, Morocco, China, Qatar and Korea.

Nicola Batavia - Photo: Laura La Monaca
Nicola was the official chef of the Winter Olympic games in his hometown of Torino in 2006, then chosen by Nike to be the official chef of the Olympic games in Beijing in 2008, and the official chef of the Olympic games in London in 2012.

Fried quail eggs with spinach & licorice (Signature dish) - Photo: Mirco Toffolo
Nicola won a Michelin star in 2006, but refused it because he felt it was more about the appearance of the restaurant, rather than the quality of the food. This bold move did not hurt his career.

Nicola Batavia & Alessandra Pagano (center) - Photo: Mirco Toffolo
A couple of years ago, Nicola decide to create a baby. When his son, Vittorio, arrived on the scene, it transformed Nicola's life, and his way of thinking. Inspired by the miracle of creating a new human being, Nicola opened a new gourmet bistro in Torino called "The Egg," based on this simple form of life.

And now The Egg Nicola Batavia has arrived here in Venice at the Hotel Danieli.

The Egg bistro is located on the top floor of Palazzo Dandolo, down a short flight of stairs off the main dining room. The room is casual and romantic, with the same spectacular view of the island of San Giorgio that the Restaurant Terrazza Danieli enjoys, framed like a painting by the bistro's windows.

The Egg @ Hotel Danieli - Photo: Laura La Monaca
Together with Dario Parascandolo, Executive Chef of the Hotel Danieli, Nicola Batavia has recreated the menu of his triumphant The Egg bistro in Torino, turning the simple egg into a variety of yummy and creative dishes, a balance between traditional Italian cuisine enhanced with international flavors, with premium ingredients from Venice and the Mediterranean. The emphasis is on cicchetti, a Venetian tradition, bite-sized appetizers usually accompanied by a glass of wine.

There are also some surprises on the menu. The two chefs whipped up Asian Pad-Thai rice noodles with egg, vegetables and chicken in front of our eyes.

Nicola Batavia & Dario Parascandolo - Photo: Mirco Toffolo
The Egg hopes to attract both a local and international clientele, offering a unique dining experience in a casual, intimate setting perched high above the Venice lagoon.

I've posted the menu, together with the wine, beer and cocktail list, below.

The Venice Insider
Cat Bauer - Inauguration of The Egg Nicola Batavia @ Hotel Danieli
Go to The Egg Nicola Batavia @ Hotel Danieli for reservations and more information.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Vogalonga International Rowing Race in Venice 2016 - The 42nd Edition

(Venice, Italy) Vogalonga, the world's most pleasant boat race, takes place in Venice this year on Sunday, May 15, 2016, since many of you have asked. The online deadline to register is May 12. Go to the official website for more information.

Philip Plisson, the renowned French maritime photographer, has designed the poster for the 42nd Vogalonga.

UPDATE MAY 15, 2016: Here are some photos from today, Vogalonga 2016. 

Vogalonga 2016 - Photo: Cat Bauer

Vogalonga 2016 - Photo: Cat Bauer

Vogalonga 2016 - Photo: Cat Bauer

Vogalonga 2016 - Photo: Cat Bauer

Vogalonga is much the same every year, peaceful, tranquil, and full of goodwill, with rowers arriving from all over the world to participate in the beauty of the race. For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, or for those who need a refresher, here's the Vogalonga post from last year:

Vogalonga 2015

(Venice, Italy) The Vogalonga or "long row" has evolved into an international rowing event, with people who have a passion for boats that are propelled only by oars or paddles arriving in Venice from all over the world. It is one of the most beautiful days to be in Venice because there are no motorboats allowed -- not even the vaporettos run on the Grand Canal.

Vogalonga 2015

Rowing clubs from the Veneto and beyond fill the lagoon with the sweet sound of oars gliding into the water. Even though there are no cars in Venice, the noise the motor boats make with their grinding engines sometimes sounds as bad as the Los Angeles freeway. On Vogalonga, the loudest noises are made by human voices and the pounding drums that keep the dragon boats on track. The silence is awesome... and inspiring.

Vogalonga 2015

The Vogalonga began 41 years ago, back in 1974. A group of Venetians who were rowing enthusiasts wanted to draw attention to how motor boats run by fossil fuel were damaging the Grand Canal and lagoon by the violent waves they made -- something that Venetians still fight to bring to the world's attention today. They decided to have a long, non-competitive race, starting in the Bacino of San Marco in front of Palazzo Ducale.

Vogalonga 2015

The route is about 30 kilometers long (about 19 miles), winds out past the islands, and ends up on the Grand Canal -- really one of the most fantastic routes on the planet that a rower could hope to enjoy. It takes anywhere from 2 hours (if you're very fast) to 6 hours (if you want to kick back and see the scenery) to complete the race.

The event is entirely self-funded -- no sponsors, no government support -- just the €20 entry fee each rower pays to participate. These days there are thousands of participants; each year seems to set a new record.

Vogalonga 2015

For a few hours, on the day of the Vogalonga, it is easy to see how Venice came to be called La Serenissima -- the Most Serene Republic. How peaceful and serene the world seems without gasoline motors!

CLICK to go to the official Vogalonga website.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog