Events elsewhere (3): Biennale

2022 Biennale Arte: DK (more; event); Ukraine (more; yet more; again); UK and more; Gdn tag; UK virtual exhibition; Artnet; Kunsten.nu; CAFx’s Josephine Michau to curate the Danish paviliion for 2023, centred around fremtidens kystlandskaber

2021 update: no 2020 Biennale, but all stops pulled out for 2021:


Third post (EdFoc | ArchiFringe) in a series of posts on events #nothere, looking at the 2018 Venice Biennale.

Visiting the Biennale Architettura was one of the highlights of my trip to Venice in 2014. I checked in virtually in 2016, and this year again. It’s a good way of getting out of the Danish bubble, not least to see what the increasing band of ‘my’ countries is up to.

Politiken gave the main exhibition, with the theme of Freespace and curated by Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara of Grafton Architects, five stars, hailing a women’s takeover, a discreet and peaceful experience in full daylight rather than the usual dramatic theatre-lit conditions, the radical and new put to one side in favour of looking back, using old techniques in new ways in the name of beauty…it does sound their sort of thing, as reflected in the curators’ manifesto, which emphasises the capacity of architecture to find “additional and unexpected generosity” in each project, stressing the architect’s obligation to provide “gifts” to the wider public beyond the confines of the client’s brief alone (Olly Wainwright).

This year’s Danish national contribution, Possible spaces: sustainable development through collaborative innovation (English | KADK), showcased four projects, curated by Natalie Mossin (KADK; FB), framed by BLOX itself (press release | English).

The UK’s, Island (again), curated by Caruso St John Architects with artist Marcus Taylor, consisted of a new public space on the roof of the pavilion drawing inspiration from the landscape of Venice and the issue of climate change; “the peak of the pavilion’s roof protrudes up through the floor, suggesting both an island and a sunken world beneath, but the building is empty of exhibits”. This feels rather more creative and challenging. One might ask if Island is an appropriate concept for a UK contribution in 2018, and Frieze calls it “the most problematic and provocative to feature in Venice this year”. Island was awarded Special Mention, behind the Swiss crazy house (all three). Others less impressed (tweet).

Of the 65 “ever more impenetrable” national participations, the architectural equivalent of the Eurovision song contest (we know, Olly Wainwright), here’s four + four, largely culled from the Gdn and Frieze:

  • Czech and Slovak Republics (sic?): has a similar feel to Russia 2014 (this year doing stations), plus more great wordplay
  • Finland’s Mind-Building: a micro-museum of library design, celebrating past and future buildings, a “rich, focused curatorial paean to the transformative power of public libraries, both on the individual imagination and on the wider society”; libraries are certainly my idea of freespace
  • France’s Infinite Places: celebrates an “unfinished architecture in perpetual motion”, displaying ten adaptive reuse projects transformed into cultural centres, homeless shelters and residential complexes (The Spaces)
  • Ireland’s Free Market: with its great play on words
  • Canada | Germany | Korea

Off to Kosovo and Macedonia shortly, so it’s interesting to note I picked up on Kosovo in 2014 – the links are now dead, but the Shkami tower, made up of 720 wooden stools (pic), and the postcard wall (720 images of Kosovo “showing slow but absolute erasure of regional identity”) made an impression. (The postcard I chose, nr. 145 of an office building from 1977 on Bulevardi Bill Clinton by Invest Biro, has been chewed by our forever young beagle.)

As far as Macedonia is concerned – can’t wait!

As promised, a chunk of Robin Hood Gardens duly turned up (pic), despite criticisms of poverty tourism.

Scotland’s collateral event, The Happenstance (A&DS | coverage | report | Glasgow | Embra | tweet), curated by WAVEparticle (interview), consisted of a ‘freespace’ in the garden of the Palazzo Zenobio, exploring young people in Scotland’s response to the Biennale theme and inviting all-comers “to build new possibilities together for the freedoms we urgently need to claim”. Involving play as an ‘active agent’ and a Living Library of Ideas (The Spaces), sounds all a bit too eagerly cute for me.

Freespace is open to interpretation, a good in itself, and like conference themes can attract some contributions that might have been made to fit whatever, and/or veering towards the arty, or somewhere inbetween (see Chile).

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