Venice Biennale closing event: two conversations with Rem Koolhaas

Ending with a high note, the day before Biennale final closing, Saturday 22nd, two public events were organized with the attendance of the director of this year, Rem Koolhaas.

The 14th International Architecture Exhibition – Fundamentals – came to a close on Sunday 23 November 2014. The show, organized by the Biennale di Venezia presided over by Paolo Baratta and curated by Rem Koolhaas, has become the most controversial architecture iteration of the festival in recent memory — and the most popular, according to statistics released by the Biennale over the weekend, attracting 228,000 visitors  during the 6 months aperture period (7.06-23.11) according with the official data provided by the organization, in addition to the 12,214 visitors who attended the preview. These figures cannot be compared with the 178,000 visitors in 2012 (10,408 during the preview) due to the three-month opening period that year.

Ⓒ Gilbert McCarragher

Ⓒ Gilbert McCarragher

Ending with a high note, the day before Biennale’s final closing, Saturday 22nd, two public events were organized with the attendance of this year’s director, Rem Koolhaas, as well as some of the national pavilions’ curators, some participants in the exhibition and different people from the architecture world.

At 14.00 pm in Arsenale´s stage F the informal conversation with national pavilions curators took place, moderated by Ole Bouman, focusing the debate on the subject that Koolhaas himself had proposed to the participating countries: Absorbing Modernity 1914-2014. Nations were asked to look back at the past 100 years of architecture in their country and focus on a period “where the process of modernisation was at its most acute”. In words of Koolhaas himself:

Ideally, we would want the represented countries to engage a single theme – Absorbing Modernity: 1914-2014 – and to show, each in their own way, the process of the erasure of national characteristics in favour of the almost universal adoption of a single modern language in a single repertoire of typologies.

Ⓒ Gilbert McCarragher

Ⓒ Gilbert McCarragher

The result of this proposal, difficult to interpret, was quite diverse among the different pavilions. The jury of the International Architecture Exhibition of the 14th Venice Biennale composed by Francesco Bandarin (President of Italy), Kunle Adeyemi (Nigeria), van der Haak Bregtje (Netherlands), Hou Hanru (China) and Mitra Khoubrou (Emirates Arab Emirates) awarded the Golden Lion for Best National Participation to Korea, Crow’s Eye View: The Korean Peninsula, praising the political compromise of the content shown and the message encouraging the interaction between the two Koreas.

The Silver Lion was for the Chilean pavillion, Monolith Controversies, quite political as well, and skeptical with modernity itself -introducing an interesting subject of debate, because the other three pavillions the jury also decided to award with special mentions were somehow critic with the idea of modernity, and in some way, questioning Koolhaas’  theme proposal.

Canada ´s Arctic adaptations: nunavut­ talked about small communities and the importance of the place, France’s Modernity: promise or menace? addreses the successes and the traumas embedded in its utopian visions of modernity,  and finally Russia with Fair enough: russia’s past, our present, maybe the most corrosive national entry. By being ironical with the idea of modernity that Koolhaas evoqued, it showcasedg the contemporary language of commercialization of architecture, building a fake fair of good “new ideas” that we buy in this capitalist world today, but  Russia had experienced before.

Among the non-awarded national pavilions, one of the most relevant was the one by the host country, Italy, this year organized by the Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali, presenting an exhibition titled  Innesti / Grafting, curated by Cino Zucchi.

Ⓒ OMA

Ⓒ OMA

Ⓒ Gilbert McCarragher

Ⓒ Gilbert McCarragher

In the second event, also in Stage F Arsenale, Koolhaas met with some of the participants in the exhibition Monditalia and Elements of Architecture. This year the Monditalia exhibition proposed a scan of Italy, established by 82 films, 41 architectural projects, and a mixture of architecture with the biennale’s dance, music, theater, and film sections for the first time. Each project in Monditalia Concerns unique and specific conditions, together forming a comprehensive portrait of the host country. In the words of Koolhaas, about Monditalia:

In a moment of crucial political change, we decided to look at Italy as a “fundamental” country, completely unique but also emblematic of a global situation where many countries are balancing between chaos and a realization of their full potential. The Arsenale presents a scan of Italy, established by 82 films, 41 architectural projects, and a merger of architecture with la biennale’s dance, music, theatre, and film sections. Each project in Monditalia concerns unique and specific conditions but together form a comprehensive portrait of the host country.

Ⓒ Gilbert McCarragher

Ⓒ Gilbert McCarragher

The  Elements of Architecture theme proposed, in contrast to former Biennales, to give an overall picture of architecture, always considering the context and the politics surrounding the development of the discipline. Koolhaas proposed an exhibition of micro-narratives that emerged by following the fragmentation of architecture elements and the detailed analysis of them. Not a unified architectural history, but a multiple timeline of the evolution of each element due to various factors. According to Koolhaas:

Elements of Architecture looks under a microscope at the fundamentals of our buildings, used by any architect, anywhere, anytime: the floor, the wall, the ceiling, the roof, the door, the window, the façade, the balcony, the corridor, the fireplace, the toilet, the stair, the escalator, the elevator, the ramp. The exhibition is a selection of the most revealing, surprising, and unknown moments from a new book, Elements of Architecture, that reconstructs the global history of each element. It brings together ancient, past, current, and future versions of the elements in rooms that are each dedicated to a single element. To create diverse experiences, we have recreated a number of very different environments – archive, museum, factory, laboratory, mock-up, simulation…”

The Silver Lion for best research project in Monditalia section was for Sales Oddity. Milano 2 and the Politics of Direct-to-home TV Urbanism by Andrés Jaque / Office for Political Innovation, exhibited at Corderie, Arsenale. The project presents a video projection on a textile model of the Milano 2 complex. It is focused on a fundamental aspect of modern societies: how the power of the media occupies other social spaces, both physically and politically. It is based on an innovative research combination of surveys and interviews with planners and residents, trying to make a re-appropriation of audiovisual media language. Although based on an Italian case, this issue is present in many international contexts dominated by technological and neoliberal contemporary cultures.

Ⓒ Gilbert McCarragher

Ⓒ Gilbert McCarragher