Review: La Biennale di Venezia

This year’s Venice Biennale of Architecture marked the first time that a female Director was elected to take the reins and organize the pavilions. The theme of the show: people meet in architecture is best summarized by the Director Kazuyo Sejima:

The 2010 Architecture Biennale should be a reflection on architecture. The twenty-first century has just started. Many radical changes are taking place. In such a rapid-changing context, can architecture clarify new values and a new lifestyle for the present? Hopefully, this show will be a chance to experience the manifold possibilities of architecture, as well as to account for its plurality of approaches, each one of them being a different way of living.

In this clip, Director Kazuyo Sejima gives a brief tour of the Arsenale a few days before the show opened this past summer.

As I do with most exhibitions, prior to heading the Venice I scoured the website for any and all information about the shows, looked for names I may recognize, read reviews from critics and the general public. With an organized and fully functioning website (a rarity in this part of the world), I was pumped but also weary that in not having any a strong background in the architecture field, I would feel intimidated but the heady jargon and bloated egos that are often prevalent at international art shows.

Additionally, my friend Elyse and I were heading up from Florence to meet Robert and his two other friends: all (German), graduate architecture students. If that’s not intimidating then I don’t know what is.

My fears were relieved by the fact that it being the middle of November and by now most people interested had already visited the show (probably back in the summer when Venice was glowing, as opposed to now, when it felt more like walking through a misty swamp land), the exhibition spaces were comfortable and we could take our time exploring each pavilion. I have to admit though, in the end I much prefered the grey, oppressive November skies and murky waters over the summer months when Venice could nearly choke a person to death with its claustrophobic alleyways, low tide smelling canals, and pigeon infested piazzas (no wait, the pigeons were still around but the tourists had definitely left).

The Arsenale is a huge space with each room dedicated to a different architectural team. The first mind-blowing exhibition was created by Transsolar & Tetsuo Kondo Architects, a German and Japanese firm, respectively. Their project, entitled cloudscapes literally created a cloudlike atmosphere that changed depending on your elevation in the room. The beautiful circular ramps led visitors up to varying degrees of the climate controlled room, allowing participants to literally walk through the clouds. The exhibition was dreamy and hypnotic and we lingered here for over a 1/2 hour.

An image from the design boom website. I love the way the ramps wrap around the brick columns of the Arsenale. The old and new forms sort of dance harmoniously around one another.

More images from design boom.

Elyse and Sarah heading down the ramp.

Another stunning exhibition was by Danish architect, Olafur Eliasson. New Yorkers out there may remember Eliasson’s project with the Public Art Fund, New York City Waterfalls where enormous, man-made waterfalls were installed along water ways of the five boroughs.

For the Biennale, Eliasson again used water, this time in a much more frenetic way. Unlike the controlled, repetition of a flowing waterfall, here in a long dark exhibition hall covered with black rubber floor mats, water spouts erratically out of long rubber tubes. Bright flashing white lights offer glimpses of the water spraying about. Visitors could choose to avoid the hoses and observe from a safe (dry) distance or as I witnessed, some chose to frolic down the center line getting drenched along the way. Also notable was the sound in this exhibition space created as the water continuously smacked against the rubber floors. As is typical of Eliasson’s style, entering this exhibition space, the audience is fully enraptured in the sights, sounds and space of the fictive world the architect puts forth.

In this YouTube clip, Eliasson is interviewed by Hans Ulrich Obrist. The architect and art critic chat about Eliasson’s project and what inspires him.

The final work I would like to share is by Canadian installation artist, Janet Cardiff. Cardiff’s work at the Biennale uses sound to construct a space, in her words much like the physicality of architecture. At the Arsenale, for her work entitled 40 Parts Motet, she set up 40 speakers in an oval shape. Each speaker projected a different singer’s voice that all united harmoniously when visitors stood in the center of the installation. While the voices emanated towards the center, the participatory aspect of the installation was to move towards a microphone and listen to the voice of an individual singer. Cardiff explains that in her sound installations such as 40 Parts Motet, she wants the audience to freely move about the space and explore the intimacy of individual singers among the choir. While visiting the space and myself included, people were jumping from speaker to speaker choosing their favorites and observing the diversity of sounds emitted depending on where you were standing in the installation.

image credit:

I thought Cardiff’s installation was both meditative and thought-provoking. As it was near the end of the Arsenale, it provided a chance for us to slow down, close our eyes, listen to some beautiful voices. Not simply relying on our visual senses, I felt refreshed by the music and the slow pace required to appreciate the artist’s work.

In this interview between Cardiff and Obrist, the artist talks about her transition into sound installation and what inspires her to use sound as medium of choice.


I left the Biennale feeling lucky to have experienced such a moving show and was equally happy to be sharing it with Elyse, my new dear friend in Florence, and Robert and his two wonderful friends. It was a special weekend for us as Robert and I usually travel alone and this was the first time we were bringing our respective friends together to get to know one another. Here are some highlights from our epic Venetian weekend:




Elyse, Sarah David and I grabbing a drink before dinner.

Elyse getting to know the pigeons a little too well for my liking in Piazza San Marco.

The ladies.

Group shot by the water.

Elyse and I getting tangled in the (slightly bizarre-cool-obnoxious) exterior of the U.S. pavilion.

Me being a little bored and definitely delirious in the German Pavilion.

Sarah’s stunning picture of the Renzo Piano poster boards. Notice Robert, Elyse and I checking them out.

If all goes according to plan and I am not drowning in my thesis next summer, I hope to make it to the Art Biennale.

For now, I should probably get to work as final papers and presentations are looming overhead.

Ciao a tutti!


About Lauren Raffaela

Ciao ragazzi, mi chiamo Lauren. I am writing from Florence, Italy where I am in school for a Masters in Museum Studies. When not in school I spend my days strolling the streets, trying to look like a local. I love to people watch, go jogging before the city is awake, have small talk with old ladies and am constantly stopping to read menus in restaurant and cafe windows just to see what they're up to. My favorite gelato flavor is noccioloso and I try to control my intake to one (or two...) a week. My blog focuses on my adventures and discoveries - both about this beautiful city (and country) and about myself. If you would like to touch base or have any questions please feel free to leave a comment on my posts and I'll be sure to get in touch. Grazie and ciao!
This entry was posted in Italian Contemporary Art, Italian culture, Living abroad in Italy, Travel, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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