Venice 2018 – Curators Yvonne Farrell and Shelly McNamara said that the 16th International Architecture Exhibition would have been about “the generosity of architecture”. They invited National pavilions to showcase how architects can contribute to tackle nowadays challenges through free and public spaces. But looking at the facts, it seems like the best gift architects can give is an Instagram-friendly void space. Long story short, emptiness reigns in Venice.
Most of the participants proposed exhibitions focusing on social, religious or sustainable projects while Switzerland and Great Britain filled their pavilions with good a looking emptiness where we are free to reflect, ponder or despair. As a result, the Swiss brought home the Golden Lion, the Brits got an honorable mention.
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Switzerland presents Svizzera 240: Home Tour, an exhibition focused on the most anonymous and average interior design we generally visit with a real estate agent: an empty apartment ready to be inhabited. All over the world all new flats look like the same: 240 cm in height, dressed with white walls, parquet or tile flooring, and off-the-shelf fittings.
To compensate such bareness, the pavilion was transformed into a maze of out-of-scale void interiors you can explore like Alice in the White Rabbit hole. Take a selfie while you sneak through minuscule corridors, sit on a huge windowsill or try to reach a massive door handle.
Visitors are invited to meander like tourists through void and intentionally banal rooms and “end up gazing at what we all already know.” Say Swiss Pavilion curators Alessandro Bosshard, Li Tavor, Matthew van Der Ploeg and Aki Vihervaara. “[In the Swiss Pavilion] the magic stupidity of the tourist opens the doors to erroneous interpretations.”
The British pavilion reflects on climate change, colonialism and Brexit… and it’s hollow inside too. What about the future of the UK once it will leave the European Union? The Island exhibition kind of agrees with you whether you think Brexit will damage or benefit the country.
The entirely scaffolded building at Giardini nests a splendidly – or utterly – isolated island on its roof. From here visitors can either look from above other European pavilions such as Germany, France, Denmark and Czech Republic, or feel separated from their neighbours; they can enjoy a lovely view on the Mediterranean Sea from a distance or simply get sunburn on a terrace without shade.
Inside, the pavilion is completely empty… But ready to host a rich program of talks. “There are many ways to interpret the experience of visiting it: an island can be a place of both refuge and exile.” say curators Caruso St. John and Marcus Taylor. Very politically correct. Quite blank, indeed.
UK and Switzerland at not the only two bare pavilions at Venice Biennale. Curated by Traumnovelle & Roxane Le Grelle, the Belgian Pavilion presents the Eurotopie exhibition. A central EU-blue arena and out-of-scale doors leading to empty meditative alcoves on the sides.
The result is a bare space where European citizens can think through their political aspirations. The pavilion is empty but – just like the central space of the British pavilion – it is ready to be filled with immaterial contents such as the thoughts, hopes, and reflections of the visitors.
Photos: courtesty of La Biennale di Venezia, The British Pavilion and the Swiss Pavilion.