Thursday, 16 September 2010

Serbian see-saws and Dutch pretentions: architecture in Venice

You'd think the opening salvo "Architects, we who change the world" was a tongue-in-cheek introduction. Not at Venice’s La Biennale, though: a festival of contemporary art and architecture as rich in booming pomposity as it is inspiration and creativity.

The Dutch installation, ‘Where Architecture Meets Ideas’, was the most impressive show of self-aggrandisement. A call for architecture which “comes up with solutions for the major issues of our time” was one of its more memorable soundbites – perhaps a little optimistic for what is essentially a blue-foam cityscape (above).

The ‘ideas web’ (below) was similarly, er, ambitious – the sort of diagram that would not be out of place on the office walls of SugarApe magazine from an episode of Nathan Barley. It was, like, totally profound and shit.

Pretentiousness is by no means, however, an exclusively off-putting quality of this exhibition. Quite to the contrary, there was much to enjoy about indulging in one’s own wafty self-importance.

The sight of Belgium’s snappily-titled ‘Polyester and Fibreglass Seats from a Metro Station' was as visually arresting as the name suggests. Not exceedingly so. Yet it instilled in me a sense of double reality; simultaneously indulging in the gallery’s warmth yet also arrested by the chill of bus and train stations where I had spent countless, desolate hours of my life.

Having guffawed at the lofty ambitions of the Dutch installation, I now found myself thinking twice about my own decadent reflections. There I was pontificating about Jean Baudrillard and ideas of hyper-realities, the simulacrum – from the sight of a shabby seat from a train station. Pretentious? Me?

La Biennale is a feast of art and architecture, ranging from the self-satisfied Australian 3D vision of the future (complete with ‘edgy’ title, ‘Now and When’), to the enchanting ‘hylozoic’ (the belief that all matter is alive) fusion of technology and nature from Canada, manifest in thousands of digitally-fabricated components glittering and breathing like plants in a darkened room (below).

Few installations, however, were as much fun as Serbia’s, which, either through a distinct lack of ideas or an admirable commitment to childish enjoyment, turned out to be a room packed with see-saws. And not even the architects at La Biennale could muster something pretentious to say about a see-saw.

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