Lost in the Giardini

Thursday, September 11, 2008

An installation by Ai Wei Wei and Herzog & de Meuron in the Italian pavilion

An installation by Ai Wei Wei and Herzog & de Meuron in the Italian pavilion

The maze-like Italian Pavillion hold the work of more than two dozen architects from all over the world, and while the vast majority of it was not produced for the Biennale, it is well worth tasking the time to get lost inside. It starts out impressively: The grand entrance hall, wallpapered in a dense hot orange-and-white graphic print, frames a spare and enigmatic installation by Ai Wei Wei and Herzog & de Meuron.A framework of massive bamboo poles supports a series of tiny bamboo chairs that are seemingly strapped into place. When I wandered through, it was still very much in progress—stacks of raw material were piled on one side of the room, and while a few assistants had knocked off work to check out something on the computer, the three artists were taking a walk-through to check it.

In a preliminary walkthrough—and believe, there will have to be many more before before I’ve seen it all—I was struck by how many of the architects hewed to Biennale curator Aaron Betsky’s idea of looking beyond architecture, and outside building. One firm, Ecosistema Urbano of Madrid, developed a massive wall graphic with a few nuggets they’ve picked up over the years. 10 Things We Have Learned from the City is deceptively straightforward – top-down, formally-based planning is probably bot a great idea, and the like—but smart, since not all of their colleagues have managed to do the same. They also know their audience, because it looks good: the graphics are in larger-than-life 3D, and a series of blue-and-red paper glasses hang on string from the ceiling.

One of the most provocative installations there was at the philosophical heart of the pavilion (and I think the physical heart, too, but I was pretty turned around by then). Upload City, organized by Saskia van Stein, presents 100 videos culled from the web, each of which somehow depicts space. These are made by civilians (or non-architects, more precisely) for the most part, so range from a happy-go-lucky YouTube-esque mash-up of cute animals in their habitats to what looked a heck of a lot like a promotional product of the Hawaii Chamber of Commerce. Each of these is shown on a small screen strapped to one of the massive concrete columns in the cavernous space; visitors plunk down on massive silver pillows and settle in for a watch. It’s a really interesting idea, but I had trouble getting more than a few videos up on my screen, so for me at least, footage of hula skirts and turquoise water is going to have to do until I can get back there. (Which I may soon – it looks like a fantastic place to sneak off for a catnap.)

Where to find your exhausted interns

Where to find your exhausted interns

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