Installations at this year's Venice Architecture Biennale strive for societal relevance

Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena, curator of the 2016 biennale, used the waste generated from last year’s Art Biennale to construct the entrance halls

VENICE – Any form of art is at its most powerful when fighting against societal injustices and thus actively looking for change. Under the theme Reporting from the Front, the Venice Architecture Biennale makes a discernible effort to move in such a direction. A visit to the event reveals many examples of denunciatory design, all part of an intriguing collage of topics.

Entrance halls at the event are constructed with the waste generated from last year’s Art Biennale. A formidable 90 tonnes of leftovers – more than 11,000 m of metal and 10,000 sq-m of plasterboard – served as the raw materials for the lobby, which was designed by Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena, curator of the 2016 biennale. Plasterboard walls bring lightness to a space in which huge shards of scrap metal hang from the ceiling. A threatening sky spiked with weighty materials imbues the surroundings with an inescapable, menacing quality.

Set in a room bathed in red light, Andes Shadow by Elton Léniz is a video installation highlighting outdoor activities designed for schools in the Andes Mountains. Defining the work are display screens propped on easels as if they were canvases, transforming the educational projects into art. The installation forges a clear link that connects nature, schools and the necessity for protection against urban violence.

Curated by TAMassociati as part of the Italian pavilion, a section entitled 'Meeting. 20 Examples of Outer City Living' features a photographic collection of projects by a number of the nation’s architects. As part of the pavilion’s broader theme (Taking Care. Designing for the Common Good), the images cover a range of issues, from health and housing to education and culture.

Awarded the Golden Lion for best national pavilion, Spain shows the response of architects Carlos Quintáns Eiras and Iñaqui Carnicero to the economic crisis. The pair collected a series of photographs depicting constructions that were abandoned owing to a lack of economic resources. The images are suspended from the ceiling and framed by a structure that creates the illusion of corridors when viewed from certain angles. The architects speak of the intellectual acuity required during times of economic struggle and describe the images on display as visions of ‘contemporary ruins’.

Losing Myself – an installation by Níall McLaughlin and Yeoryia Manolopoulou at the Irish pavilion – deals with the incomplete and broken spatial experiences that Alzheimer’s patients live with on a daily basis. Sketches and digital imagery – visitors view a 16-minute loop generated by 16 projectors – contribute to a constantly evolving pastiche on the floor, while Kevin Pollard’s sound design paints an audial picture of fragmentation and lost moments.

Peter Zumthor’s piece, a scale model of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), includes a soundtrack by Walter de Maria and a textile installation by Christina Kim. Racks of clothing from Kim – the founder of Dosa, an LA-based eco fashion line – represent how paintings at the LACMA relate to the greyness of the building itself. Architecture moves into second place as the colourful, brightly lit fabrics take centre stage. Even though the work doesn’t shout ‘protest’ as loud as many others do – and despite the absence of explanatory information – Zumthor makes a coherent statement about the roles of museums, architecture and art in today’s society.

From the ruins of buildings left in disrepair to the ruins of what is ‘human’ when our consciousness fades, concepts at the Venice Architecture Biennale strive for relevance by strengthening the ties that bind art and social change.

The Venice Architecture Biennale runs until 27 November 2016.

This project was featured in Frame 112. Find your copy in the Frame Store.  

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