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Wednesday, 15 October 2014

A Clockwork Venice - Life at the 2014 Venice Biennale

By: Eve Russell (PLACE - Invigilator, Venice Biennale 2014)


A Clockwork Venice – Life at the Venice Biennale 2014
By: Eve Russell (PLACE - Invigilator, Venice Biennale 2014)

Venice City  - A wannabe Venetian
image credit: Eve Russell
Spending a month in Venice working at the Venice Biennale was an exciting, educative and vibrant experience! While tarmac roads and cars dominate the urban form of most cities, green sea water filled canals and boats dominate Venice. Residents live under the magical spell of silence each night, as the noise curfew is enforced, giving the city a movie-set like atmosphere, as the dimly lit narrow stone streets float in silence until the burning red suns rises in the morning to spring life onto the streets once again.
While Venice is populated with just over 60,000 residents, the tourism culture is immensely evident from its streets. Along with the 7 other fellows working at the British Pavilion, I dodged my way through thousands of tourists while crossing over the Venetian bridges on route to work each morning. People are curious about Venice, its architecture, its geography and its charm. It is through getting lost in the narrow, shoulder-width streets of Venice that you truly learn what is so charming about the city, you see how residents live. School playgrounds are elevated above street level, bordered with colourful fencing and the buildings are reusable, adaptable and often have had more than one function in their lifetime.

“Fundamentals” – The 14th Architecture Venice Biennale 2014
Before embarking on the journey from Dublin to Venice, I found it difficult to imagine what the Biennale would be like. Upon our first day of collecting our steward passes we entered into this garden of architecture - The Giardini, where we worked at the British Pavilion for a month. The main pavilion directed by Rem Koolhaas, explores the 16 ”Elements of Architecture”, looking at key moments in history that each element has featured; showing how architectural elements often provide a platform for political proclamation, royal and religious moments and everyday life. The Arsenale hosts the other portion of countries participating in the Architecture Biennale. The “Monditalia” exhibition explores architecture across Italy, through architectural designs and the visual arts such as film and dance, using the elements such as the ceiling, wall, door and stair to display them.




“A Clockwork Jerusalem” – The British Pavilion 
The British Pavilion responded to the theme set by Rem Koolhaas “Absorbing Modernity”. Entitled “A Clockwork Jerusalem” the exhibition made reference to the movie “A Clockwork Orange”  and William Blake’ s poem, “Jerusalem”. The Modern Movement within Britain between 1914 and 2014 is explored, referencing the cause of Modernism within Britain and the journey taken until 2014. The post-war state of Britain left a lot of destruction, poverty and homelessness. This needed to be addressed and in order to move forward, people looked to new ways of designing architecture, housing and urban form. 

The introduction of Modern social housing such as Robin Hood Gardens, Hulme Housing Development and Thamesmead (which featured in the movie A Clockwork Orange) all proposed an alternative way of living. Cars and the mechanisation of buildings became a key feature in many of these new housing developments, incorporating central communal green spaces to be used by the residents, improving their quality of life and utilising the ruins of the destroyed terraced housing. Satellite towns such as Milton Keynes were developed and used to move people from the city centres, hoping to reduce poverty and provide new starts, while being connected by the “concrete” motorways.

Finding Jerusalem – what happens after Modernism?
After many of the new housing developments failed to function for their original use, because of poor building standards, health and safety issues, industrialisation and post-industrialisation, the people that inhabited them were left once again without a home, with depleting standards of living and little hope for the future in a recession. However, as Modernism in Britain grew from the ruins of a broken Britain, the ruins of Modernism can be used to construct a new future for Britain, a new hope, a New Jerusalem.


For more information on PLACE's involvement with this year's Venice Biennale, search the Absorbing Modernity programme at the Belfast Festival at Queens





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