Have you ever tried seeing the Venice Biennale in just a day?
I have, so I’m sharing my experience here.
The first piece of advice I’d give is that if, like me, you want to visit both the Arsenale and the Giardini areas in the same day, you need to make an early start. You also need to begin at the Arsenale, being careful to enter where indicated on the map. That might not seem important, but it will save you time if you’re unfamiliar with the event.
Starting from the Arsenale will mean that you’ll be able to just keep going straight to the end and you’ll see all the installations. Although it’s easy enough to get a sense of the sequence of the halls, it isn’t easy to properly take in the many fascinating exhibits.
Among Diverse Beings, As New Households, and As Emerging Communities are the titles of the halls hosting the installations. A day isn’t enough to really understand each exhibit because each one summarizes, visually and materially, a whole series of concepts and thoughts triggered by the question behind 2021’s Biennale: How will we live together?
One look just isn’t enough!
So, if you don’t have a lot of time, I’d suggest that you gravitate towards whatever attracts you most along the way and let yourself get immersed in it. If a first glance sparks your interest, read the short – but effective – infographics, because they’ll make your second glance all the more enlightening.
In this summary, I’ve previewed some of the exhibits that most sparked my interest. But I’m very aware that I’ve left out an awful lot. I’ll leave it up to you to get to know the rest.
Starting from the Corderie, right near the entrance, it’s impossible not to be impressed by Peju Alatise’s sculptures.
Peju Alatise – Peju Alatise, from Nigeria, uses a Yoruba proverb as the starting point for his work: “Every person is a door. Opening that door means becoming part of their secret.” From here, he creates a pathway, made of numerous materials, that centers on human vulnerability, modernity, and tradition.
I was attracted by an insistent chirping coming from a series of very special bird cages. Don’t miss the dovecote tower in the extraordinary Giardino delle Virgine!
Studio Ossidiana – Variations on a Birdcage sets out to deepen the relationship between humans and the world of birds. An architectural exploration of open and accessible built forms, the installation translates the actions of retreating, taming, feeding, and playing into a series of objects and spaces. The installation rethinks the archetypal birdcage from a linguistic perspective and not as a space of confinement. An open place in which to live together.
Ancient Egypt is always intriguing – especially when it’s been built by bees!
Studio Libertiny – Beehive Architecture is a rediscovery of the psychological and physical relationship between humans and nature through an ongoing exchange of information. These beeswax sculptures maintain a balance between nature and technology. Cloud engineers, bees can inspire the architecture of the future through their organic structures with their strong aesthetic appeal and functional impact.
Make sure you go right around this installation! But is it just an accident that it’s located right near the hall exit? Grove is a surreal forest that draws you in both visually and audibly.
Philip Beesley & Living Architecture Systems Group – A forest of columns and floating clouds, Grove is a physical and digital space. Speakers fixed to a forest of posts create this 3D pathway created by Salvador Breed. A circular screen shows a film by Warren du Preez and Nick Thornton Jones about the creation of worlds. The installation creates an immersive, borderless environment and an evocative place for coming together.
What’s that bubbling away in those test tubes?
ecoLogicStudio – BIT.BIO.BOT answers a question with a question: Why should the “we” of the Biennale’s theme for 2021 only refer to the human realm? This installation broadens the question to the natural world through biological infrastructure that can metabolize pollutants. An intelligent home cultivation experiment, an experimental space to test coexistence between human and non-human organisms in the post-pandemic “urbanosphere.”
A majestic post-apocalyptic table that seats around fourteen. A simple meal, wonderful cutlery made with found materials, nests, and birds to keep us company in this banquet of the future. It’s all very evocative!
Superflux – Refuge for Resurgence sets out to bring together different places and different stories. After a precipitous climatic disaster, Earth finds itself hosting a multi-species community that combines the ruins of the past modern world with new ways of living. The installation presents a multi-species banquet set after the end of the world, which brings together people, animals, birds, and plants, all coexisting and sharing a common hope.
Humans learn from nature, so here’s a house made entirely of fiberglass and carbon. Before going in, I wonder how can a few fibers woven together support the weight of all of us? A truly amazing installation! The video showing the robotic construction process was also a hit with all my fellow visitors.
Achim Menges / Icd University of Stuttgart and Jan Knippers / Itke University of Stuttgart – Maison Fiber is a radical model of a new material culture that uses fiber – widely present in nature – to rethink the sustainable architecture of the future. The installation, created especially for the Biennale, is the first multi-story fiber structure made entirely of glass and carbon fiber compounds. The construction process was entirely robotic and no waste was produced.
But what are all those plastic water bottles doing hanging around like that?
History Na Lugar – Hacking (the resort): Water Territories and Imaginaries. Poised between the real and imaginary worlds, water underscores our opportunities and challenges for living together. This installation was inspired by Cape Verde’s all-inclusive resorts, representing them as microcosms of inequalities in search of new opportunities. But the real focus of the project is water, a vital element as well as a source of dispute between local communities and tourism operators.
I wouldn’t mind living this responsibly. Even the model men seem happy!
EFFEKT – Growtable is a table that sets out to answer a few of the urgent questions facing our planet apropos different ways of living, building, producing, and consuming in a fragile ecosystem that needs protection. The installation is an invitation to rethink our lives. It reminds us that our wellbeing hinges on the wellbeing of our planet.
From nature on earth to the deserts of the moon. To infinity and beyond!
Skidmore, Owings & Merril – Life Beyond Earth shows the limitations of architecture beyond our planet. What do we need to live in extraterrestrial environments? Besides the masterplan, the collaboration between SOM and ESA has produced a self-sufficient and sustainable prototype capsule that could be used to live in a moon village of the future.
Next I come to the exhibition by Miralles Tagliabue, a composition of wooden display units that illustrate the future Plateau Central project in Paris. It looks a little like Banksy in Venice, but the displays are a revised edition of a Miralles exhibition from the ’90s.
Miralles Tagliabue EMBT – Using models, drawings, and Instagram photos, Living within a Market examines the future Plateau Central project in Paris. A market on a human scale that breaks down social and identity differences, an essential tool for promoting greater social integration. You can read more about the exhibition here in our interview with the curator, Benedetta Tagliabue.
And the final plot twist: Modulor in a hospital ward with an IV drip...
Hospital of the Future – The pavilion examines a series of questions arising from the current pandemic. Can technology save humans? Will 5G networks revolutionize healthcare? What’s the future role of health facilities? Seeing is believing….
Before leaving the Arsenale, remember that, because of the Covid rules, once you leave, you can’t go back in. So, think twice before crossing that threshold!
Once back out in the open air, you can’t miss the installation by Alejandro Aravena!
Pritzker Prize winner Alejandro Aravena and his Elemental studio have revisited the traditional building that once served as a meeting place between the Mapuche and Chilean people to explore alternative forms of coexistence, on the eve of new conflicts between these two peoples. A parliament from before the term existed.
Continuing outside, you can access other halls, such as the Sale d’Armi, the Padiglione delle Arti Applicate, the Artiglierie, the Isolotto, the Teatro delle Tese, the Tese delle Vergini, and so on, as well as the national pavilions. I took the time to visit the painstakingly prepared and surprising Italian Pavilion inside the Tese delle Vergini, which I say more about here.
It’s now lunchtime, so, after a short break, I rush to the Giardini, a ten-minute walk from the Arsenale exit.
Besides the Padiglione Centrale, which continues on from the Arsenale exhibition, the Giardini area hosts the largest national pavilions. I wasn’t able to visit all of them, though, since many were still being set up during my visit. Anyway, here’s a little taste of what you’ll find.
The installations in the Padiglione Centrale are many and unusual. Future Assembly, for example, is a very interesting teaching experience that repays careful study.
Future Assembly – This is a multilateral design inspired by the United Nations. Reciprocity, collaboration, and coexistence are the values that underscore this search for “possible futures.” On the wall is a timeline that shows all the human attempts to recognize and enforce the rights of the Earth.
While at the Arsenale we visited the hottest areas of our planet, here we visit the coldest climates, starting with the Arctic….
Contested Circumpolar: Domestic Territories – A showcase of the main settlements built by the eight nations that border the Arctic region: Canada, Finland, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the USA. A representation of domestic life that transcends political boundaries.
… and then the Antarctic.
Antarctic Resolution – A high resolution image of the frozen sixth continent, which occupies ten percent of the earth’s land surface: Antarctica.
I stopped at an igloo made of plastic bags. The door was closed, but if you open it, you can go in and experience it from the inside.
Museo Aero Solar – Part of the Musei Fluttuanti (Fluctuating museums) collection, this installation is an invitation to reuse, recycle, and reduce waste. The Museo Aero Solar at the Biennale was built in Buenos Aires. It’s made of recycled plastic bags that have been cut and glued together to create an igloo that shines a light on the ethics of responsibility.
Next, I was intrigued by a series of noises and a sphere that had been split in two….
Geoscope 2 – López-Pérez in collaboration with Jesse Reiser have created a sculptural and immersive video work, inspired by the concept behind R. Buckminster Fuller’s Princeton Geoscope. A sphere split in two, inside, videos of 25 famous designers are projected onto a series of pillows/screens.
Finally, I see two rocks in a glass case. But why?
Resurrecting the Sublime – This installation recreates the scent of mountain hibiscus, an extinct tree that once grew in the Haleakala Mountains in the Hawaiian Islands.
I had just enough time left to visit some of the national pavilions.
It was a fascinating and uncertain experience walking through the suspended sheets of paper in the Spanish Pavilion, intended to symbolize the current climate of uncertainty. The installation asks every visitor the question, “How will we live together?”
You walk through the Danish Pavilion on a walkway suspended over an artificial river. The water descends from the roof and flows beneath the visitors as a reminder that all life depends on water. And they won’t deny you a drink….
The Garden of Privatized Delights is the title of the British Pavilion. The installation poses the question: Can we open private gardens and redefine their use to increase public outdoor space? You can give your answer by visiting the pavilion.
Finally, I climbed to the top of the wood-framed construction that distinguishes the US Pavilion, which this year is more outside than in. I interview the curators here.
But then it got late and I didn’t want to miss the ferry.
Had I seen it all? Is one day enough?
The answer is obviously no!
The 17th International Architecture Exhibition is full of surprises. What I’ve written here is just a tiny preview of what you’ll see when you visit the event in person.