Thursday, 24 May 2018

Live! From La Biennale 16th International Architecture Exhibition in Venice

Dorte Mandrup A/S at La Biennale International Architecture Exhibition - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) With founder Dorte Mandrup at the helm, her self-named Danish architectural firm declares it is a "team of die-hard over-achievers." Their installation, CONDITIONS, for the 2018 Venice Biennale Architecture Exhibition certainly lives up to that claim. The firm won an international competition to design the Ice Fjord Centre in Ilulissat, Greenland, a viewing center in the Artic located at one of the world's most active glaciers. The  Icefjord Centre's goal is to attract responsible tourism. 

For the Architecture Exhibition, Dorte Mandrup created something truly amazing. In addition to a model of the viewing center, they also recreated the extreme Artic environment! Howling wind, blinding white vastness, deep purple darkness. By placing the architectural structure in its natural environment, it brought a whole other perspective to the installation. I have not made it over to the Giardini yet, but of all the installations I have seen on my way to the press room, CONDITIONS is the stand out.

Entrance of rop2e - Photo: Cat Bauer
The other touch I really liked was the hanging cords of rope you had to brush aside to enter the Arsenale. During the Venetian Republic, rope was produced in the Corderie, which today is where the Art and Architectural Exhibitions are held. Curators Yvonne Farrell and Shelly McNamara of Grafton Architects intend to impress upon visitors the "heroic dimension of the Corderie with its repeated brick structure and its moody light."
Paolo Baratta, President of La Biennale - Photo: Cat Bauer
During the press conference this morning, there were a couple of interesting questions, which I will rapidly paraphrase, hoping to capture the gist. One journalist from Spain said, "The theme is FREESPACE. But I think something is missing. You do not address the shootings, the violence that can take place in a public space. What about the dark side of public space?" Shelley McNamara gave a detailed answer about how free space did not necessarily connote public space. Paolo Baratta then said he found the question "fascinating." He said the Biennale should also have a counter-Biennale, but he would need a couple more Arsenales to address the errors -- to make an exhibition of horrors, an exhibition of mistakes. Yvonne McNamara noted it was interesting that the question was asked by someone from Spain.

Then someone from the United States asked the same old headline that we read nearly every month about Venice in the English-language media, which is: "Due to mass tourism, Venice is not free for the Venetians." Or something to that effect. Personally, I am tired of people from the USA who do not live here trying to turn a complex situation into something black and white -- or even worse, trying to control the narrative and foment division on social media -- so I was pleased to hear the answers.

Shelley McNamara responded that they did not feel equipped to answer, and that Paolo Baratta was more qualified. Shelley said that we must also appreciate what Venice IS, and that every time one comes here one learns something. How civilizations can rise and fall and survive. That she finds huge energy in the city.

Paolo Baratta said that the problem of  Venice is not just how to manage tourists and big ships. The problem is what NEW energy to bring. It is useless to complain about tourists unless we can bring something new in its place.

Baratta said he was a great admirer of John Ruskin's Stones of Venice, but prefers the Veins of Venice. We need to find new uses for what has been left by the old Republic, the old, self-sufficient Republic. He said that the Biennale is providing an answer. Veins must be filled with blood, new blood. The Biennale is an example of how it can be done and followed by others. How are we going to FILL the spaces? Why not put a couple of drops of hope in the narrative? Why is the dialogue always conditioned by a desire for pessimism?

Shelly McNamara & Yvonne Farrell - photo courtesy of La Biennale
Another journalist asked about the problem of being female architects in a male-dominated industry. Shelly McNamara said that they were two architects. Not male, not female, just two architects. Maybe it's because they are Irish, but they have never been obstructed or discriminated against (yet). But they are sympathetic to the problem.

Paolo Baratta said he was embarrassed to answer because 75% of the people who work at La Biennale are women, and if he had to comply with a 50-50 quota, he would have to go back decades. 

Yvonne Farrell said, "Unequal pay is disgraceful. But imagination is not a gender issue."

Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara are such a unit that I hope I haven't mixed up who said what. They have a quiet, powerful Irish energy whose subtle influence comes in the form of sunlight and shadows. For a professional point of view, The Architect's Journal is blogging from Biennale.

You can watch the entire unedited press conference on YouTube without all my errors, which I highly recommend:

  La Biennale di Venezia - 16th International Architecture Exhibition opens to the public on May 26, and runs through November 25. Go to La Biennale for more information.

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

1 comment:

  1. For the Architecture Exhibition, Dorte Mandrup created something truly amazing. In addition to a model of the viewing center, they also recreated the extreme Artic environment! Howling wind, blinding white vastness, deep purple darkness.