Introduction by Paolo Baratta
President of la Biennale di Venezia
With Rem Koolhaas our aim is to create an exceptional, research-centered Architecture Biennale. There are many new features, thanks in part to the fact that Rem has planned an event that involves all of la Biennale’s sectors.
A new role for the pavilions of participating countries
Let’s begin with the part of the exhibition represented by the pavilions administered independently by the participating countries—whose presence is a unique prerogative of the Venice Biennale. This time, the various commissioners and curators have not been simply informed of the theme adopted by la Biennale curator for “his/her” exhibition. The curator has instead set aside a specific argument for the contribution of all the pavilions (Absorbing Modernity 1914–2014); the suggestion was generally accepted and thus the national pavilions will themselves contribute to and be involved with the overall exhibition theme, entitled Fundamentals, and this will constitute a sizeable part of the overall work. With this initiative, we aim also to give renewed impetus to the relationship between pavilions and the main exhibition. The presence of the national pavilions in our exhibition has over the years resulted alternatively in aspirations to display the specific features of national identity or, on the contrary, to show the country’s ability to be a protagonist in the cosmopolitan world of art and architecture. With the formula adopted this year, the two possible aspirations—one’s own history and participation in modern society—combine, imparting new energy to the pluralism typical of the Biennale. Perhaps for this reason too, the number of participating countries has risen from 55 to 65.
La Biennale Exhibition
The history of the past one hundred years and the various ways adopted in different countries to absorb the modern constitutes the prelude to the Elements of Architecture section hosted in the Central Pavilion, where the curator offers the contemporary world those elements that should represent the reference points for the discipline, and its dialogue with clients and society. The involvement has been truly bold and innovative. To this must be added the special involvement of the curator in the separate Monditalia section in the Corderie, where some aspects of the situation in Italy are collected and shown through forty research projects conducted ad hoc under the guidance of Rem, to remind us of the complexity of this reality without complacency or prejudice, which is paradigmatic of what happens elsewhere in the world; a reality in which correlated problems not only must not be denied or concealed, but must be deliberately experienced as sources of regeneration and hence also as points of reference for architecture.
A research-based Exhibition
The role and task the curator has assumed differ profoundly to that of an arranger of distinct presences, of architects invited to talk about themselves, their work or their thinking, as occurred in past years. This time, the exhibition is the result of research effected under the guidance of the curator. There are some historic precedents to this in some of the early Architecture Biennales, but nothing comparable. The spirit of research is always something with which la Biennale concerns itself; but here it is la Biennale itself that is doing the research. And we are convinced of the importance of this development and this extraordinary opportunity Rem has offered us.
The participation of the Dance, Music, Theatre and Cinema sectors
It is well known that la Biennale operates in different sectors, not just in Art and Architecture (and in particular in Dance, Music, Theatre, and Cinema). And here too, Koolhaas has left nothing to chance. The Exhibition will include (in the Monditalia section) the presence of activities from these different Biennale sectors. Here, Dance, Music, Theatre, and Cinema will have dedicated spaces in which to present elements of complex life and spaces in which architecture may be imagined or planned. Our Directors of Dance, Music, Theatre, and Cinema have accepted the challenge and will be developing most of their programs (Festival and College) within the Corderie dell’Arsenale in the Architecture Exhibition. Never has all the Biennale been in the one exhibition so much as this year.
Why research exhibitions?
Why the need to undertake some in-depth research rather than offer a simple up-to-date portrayal of architects’ work? This is a need already felt in the field of art, and now in architecture too. Last year, la Biennale Arte was founded more than usual on a commitment to direct research by the curator. We said that this was useful for la Biennale so it could measure up with developments under way in the field of contemporary art. Contemporary art, which from avant-garde has become habitual, steered by the market and drowned in the unstoppable and pervasive distribution of images all around us, runs the risk of drifting towards conformity, with a dilution and trivialization of the relationship between the works and the observer, to the point of generating lack of interest. And in this context, the Art Exhibition, the Biennale of Massimiliano Gioni, reaffirmed and documented the need for man to create images free of practical intent, impelled by the urgency of his obsessions and utopias. And in architecture? For years, we have stressed the gap between architecture and civil society (individuals and institutions), which should instead express a demand for architecture; we note the dualism between excess and indifference in recent developments and here too, we see a danger of conformity, favored by economy and technology. For architecture, as for art, any developments should instead be guided by the conscious ability to express needs and desires. Here, with great courage and ambition, Koolhaas has reviewed the history of modernity in the past hundred years, and offers a new perspective of those “elements” that should constitute the points of reference for a regenerated and topical relationship between ourselves, our civilization, and architecture (Elements of Architecture).
La Biennale as “machine of desires”
We have stated the reasons urging us to look to research rather than a simple updating of what is going on. While information gains new tools and updating becomes simpler, it is those dangers of conformity and indifference that preoccupy us; indifference and conformity lead to passiveness and even extinguish the desire for art and architecture. A Biennale exhibition has the duty to oppose this; it has to know how to trip up this move towards conformity and revitalize those desires. Rediscovering “points” of reference to better express those desires is one of the ambitions of the present research, which is of course addressed to the professionals but looks to the general public above all.
A festival on display
On top of the presence of Dance, Music, Theatre, and Cinema, the Architecture Biennale will be enriched with discussions, meetings, debates (Weekend Specials) throughout the duration of the Exhibition which, given the special commitments made, has been extended to six months. The “Biennale Sessions” project, aimed at Universities, and Architecture Faculties around the world in particular, will be active again this year, as in every Biennale. And as in every Biennale, an important “educational” system aimed above all at the new generations will also be active.
I wish to thank our partner, Rolex, and all the other companies that have generously assisted and helped us. I also wish to thank all the international public institutions and the many donors who have been of the greatest importance in the realization of the 14th International Architecture Exhibition.
My thanks to the Ministry for Cultural Affairs, which maintains its firm support at a time that is not easy for the public finances, together with the local institutions that support la Biennale in various ways: the City of Venice and the Veneto Region.
I extend my thanks to the Authorities who are variously involved and have an interest in the structures in which we work, and to the Venetian Soprintendenze.
My warm thanks also to Rem and all his collaborators, the numerous researchers involved in putting together this Exhibition. I thank, too, the directors of the Dance, Music, Theatre, and Cinema sectors: Virgilio Sieni, Ivan Fedele, Àlex Rigola, and Alberto Barbera.
My final thanks go to the staff of la Biennale who have worked with their usual professionalism in realizing this Exhibition.