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Why Not Ask Again / 11th Shanghai Biennale

In the Chinese philosophical system known as feng shui, literally wind and water, qi, the metaphysical force of unity, is carried and dispersed on the wind. Water brings qi to rest. In the 11th Shanghai Biennale there are many such light breezes, enhancing works that play on all the senses.

These include Yin Yi’s Ocean Wave (2016), a tight cluster of electric fans at the entrance that rhythmically switch on and off. The image of water, in the form of the video Flag (Thames) (2016), turns out to be fake; it is a year-long computer simulation in which the artist, John Gerrard, has included a large patch of iridescent oil that smothers the restlessly moving surface.

The notion of agitated movement is in keeping with a remark at the opening reception by Monica Narula of the curatorial team Raqs Media Collective: “The work of art is an antidote to the poison of inevitability.” The suggestion is of an urgent need to administer a cure. Throughout the exhibition, wall texts describe the works in the present tense, as actions. The curators frame the exhibition as a quest “to discover, transmit and learn…” The titular question “Why Not Ask Again” resonates with Vladimir Lenin’s title “What Is To Be Done?” Lenin’s essay outlines a problem and opines a program for change. Nikolay Chernyshevsky’s novel, from which Lenin borrowed his question, fleshes out an ideological way of living. In this exhibition uneasy questions are proffered—but no answers are suggested.

Many works create ambiances with odor, surface texture, motion, illumination or proximity, making these elements just as important as sound and vision. For example, Sun Yuan & Peng Yu’s So Far (2016) presents a whiff of mineral fuel amid two forklifts arranged face-to-face in a tug of war. They are parked close to the entrance of the Power Station of Art, the Biennale’s primary site, so that they obstruct access to the vast atrium. Three sealed eggs, composed of ceramic crocks joined by their rims, are braced in chains between the trucks. The drama implied refers to Otto von Guericke’s experiment demonstrating atmospheric pressure. This was spectacularly performed in 1654 when thirty horses attempted to separate two copper hemispheres with a vacuum inside. The current work is even more elaborate, yet by replacing the hot bodies of sixteen snorting horses with cold machines, and the plasticity of copper with vitrified material and silicone sealant, the awe of grasping the science of air pressure is dissipated. Gone too is the culture of labor that later led the Levi’s jeans brand to use a logo depicting horses pitted against the resilience of the company’s product, likely inspired by an image of the experiment. So Far is a memorial to praxis. But, today visitors cannot enter through the implied arch; they have to go around.

If an ethos of manual work can be evoked by representations of tools, in this case the tools have all been laid down. In As Long as You Work Hard (2013) by Cell Art Group, a dense constellation of hand tools are embedded in a wall of steel; in Susanne Kriemann’s Pechblende (2016), “miner’s objects” lie inert within dim projections; or in Vinu V.V.’s Noon Rest (2014), sickles are impaled in a tree. These are final acts, job done—everyone gone.

Life doesn’t flourish in this exhibition. In Caparazón (2010), Regina José Galindo peacefully curls up in a protective double-skinned plastic bubble, only to be subjected to a percussive assault from a small baton-wielding mob. Spiders and bees endure in the works of Tomás Saraceno and MouSen+MSG, but their citadels are frail and can easily be eradicated by thoughtless fingers or casual boots. Presence is mainly in traces, such as the washing left to dry on a fighter jet, a public monument in Lahore, in Ayesha Jatoi’s Clothes Line (2006); or in Georges Adéagbo’s extensive array of objects and artifacts, “The Revolution and the Revolutions”…! (2016).

“Why Not Ask Again” yearns for the future, but many of the artworks look back quizzically, passively or with humor to show how the past buffets and fractures the present. YoHA (Graham Hardwood & Matsuko Yokokoji) provide a notable exception. Plastic Raft of Lampedusa (2016) is a meticulously dismantled inflatable boat. The fileted rubber craft inevitably speaks of the exhausted desperation of migrants. There is some hope here. It would be an arduous and complex task to put it back together, but not impossible. A few artists try new ways to fit the pieces together, to persevere and to restore balance.

by Andrew Stooke

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Culture in Chaos Unsound Festival / Krakow

There’s more to Unsound Festival’s theme of “Dislocation” than mirroring the name of this year’s controversial Berlin Biennale curators, the collective known as DIS. From the Latin word for “apart,” “asunder,” “away,” the prefix dis now evokes the shattered geographical, political and psychosocial states of a world that has become fragmented by the very global networks paradoxically meant to bring people together.

Having last visited the medieval Polish capital of Krakow for this most progressive cultural program in 2012, the possibility of a British exit from the European Union was a mere fantasy. How things have changed.

In 2016, music and audiovisual event titles like “Turbulence,” “Brace Position” and “Fracture” dominate, while daily talks cover subjects such as “Geographic Blur,” “Authentic Exoticism” and “Brexit Strategies.” The façade of the semi-defunct Soviet-era Brutalist building Hotel Forum — begun under one regime and finished at the dawn of another — is now entirely covered by an English-language start-up recruitment ad that reads “DON’T BE A CORPORATE SLAVE.” The once-shabby and claustrophobic Room 3 of this main Unsound venue is now a trendy bar where young and interesting music crews like London’s Bala Club and the Stockholm-founded collective Staycore perform. The white-tiled walls of the hotel’s former kitchen host the flashing dry ice and so-called “post-genre” club music of Mexico City’s N.A.A.F.I collective and Berlin’s Mobilegirl. Everyone here plays with pop music, whether it’s the standard four-to-the-floor beats from Lao — sampling Usher, Dan Bodan, and Masters at Work — or Berlin-based Ziúr’s manic rhythms and heavy-metal touchstones interrupted by a slowed and pitched-down version of Justin Bieber’s “Sorry” mangled to eerie unrecognizability.

Mostly the other rooms are reserved for the older, more established acts. The epic carpeted ballroom of Room 1 — almost pitch black with an elusive though dazzling light display in its ceiling — features artists like Raime, Demdike Stare and Forest Swords. Once, though, its too-dark ambience for music to be mulled over is shocked through with the Gestapo-like audience-facing spotlights of Dean Blunt’s Babyfather project. The Hackney-born performer, with his cohort of an emcee, DJ and ever-present bouncer-figure, tears through ’90s hip-hop hits like Luniz’s “I Got 5 on It” and shout outs to South London before assailing the crowd with strobes and shrill white noise, booming “Don’t panic!” The modest sound desk stands draped with a Union Jack flag: a somber reminder of the looming prejudices that led to the British vote to leave the EU, and Babyfather’s own thundering “agit-rap” in response.

Identity and how a person plays with it in the face of such monumental shifts in borders and communication becomes a strong driver of this year’s Unsound survey of global art and club music. One example being PC Music–affiliate Felicita’s presentation of an hour of cultural confusion in his “Soft Power” performance in the newly built congress and conference center, called ICE. An attempt by the London-based producer to reconnect with his Polish roots comes in the form of a collaboration with the Śląsk Song and Dance Ensemble. His characteristic conflation of sweet and effeminate melodic motifs with discordant rhythms and malicious drones meets the polarized gender binaries of traditional folk choreography as his dancers perform their assigned roles. The signature whoops and whinnies of Felicita’s girlish sound palette are marked by dissonance, the occasionally empty stage doused by low-lying smoke and Florence To’s pink-hued lighting displays. The clash of identities and representations here is palpable, in an event that raises a pertinent question in these times of rising nationalist sentiment in the UK and elsewhere: “If this culture isn’t mine, then what is?”

Unsound tries to locate — or at least reconfigure — ideas of time and space with its scattered “listening stations” that are dotted across a map of the city into what the program calls “temporary disconnected zones.” Field recordings from Tanzania, New York, Thailand, the Czech Republic, Ukraine and Poland’s primeval Białowieża Forest play from speakers in cafes, restaurants and bars as people consume.

The sense of literal, violent dislocation is also felt back at Hotel Forum, where artists like Kablam, Toxe and Kamixlo sling out sounds and samples that shouldn’t sit together. Brutal mash-ups of metal, melodic rock and electro come hand-in-hand with dismembered pieces of songs by Skrillex, Beyoncé and Britney Spears. Soft and hard sonic possibilities exist momentarily in the same space before shattering completely, generating the kind of bare hedonism that a recently reformed Death Grips unleashes in the outer-suburb venue of Łaźnia Nowa Theatre. There, Bach plays on stage while hooded roadies run a sound check, as the crowd, pregnant with anticipation, surges forward, full cups of beer flying before the show even begins.

As Yves Tumor hangs from the ceiling over the Room 3 sound desk in a butcher’s apron and jockstrap, shout-singing to waves of noise and flinging himself on his audience, one wonders what we are looking for by listening to such music. There’s a sense of frustration, of urgency here that’s electrifying in its hopelessness — where things have gone bad and there’s not much we can do about it.

by Steph Kretowicz

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Le Grand Balcon / La Biennale de Montréal

Montreal, 1967: in celebration of the Canadian Centennial, a world’s fair representing sixty-two nations not only blessed the city with a metro system, but also with some related architectural leftovers. Two years later, Mies van der Rohe’s gas station was completed on Nun’s Island.

On September 21, 2016, one month before its official opening, the ninth Montreal Biennale presented its first event, which took place at this very gas station. It consisted of a sound performance by Joseph Namy involving nine passenger cars. While the opening day of Expo 67 at Parc Jean-Drapeau drew a crowd of more than three hundred thousand visitors, Namy’s 2016 piece was shut down early by the police. However, the Biennale’s official and very well attended opening was successfully held at the Musée d’art contemporain one month later. These complex shifts over time are conditioned by what is both inside and outside the city of Montreal, of Quebec, and of Canada.

What is the purpose and meaning of a Eurocentric world’s fair concept in 2016, when a globalized “world” confronts a reconciliation of colonialism amid an impending New Chapter in Quebec’s fastest gentrifying city?

The Montreal Biennale is well aware of the criticality of this question. Tanya Lukin Linklater’s He was a poet and he taught us how to react and to become this poetry Part 2 (2016) and David Lamelas’s The Desert People (1974) are among the strongest responses to what curator Philippe Pirotte in an exhibition tour described as a “perverse situation.” The Biennale then, in reference to Jean Genet’s The Balcony, intends to offer “a place where representation itself can be perversely troubled.” According to the curatorial statement, it is this perversity that resists universalization and instead enables fantasy as the structuring and strictly individual element of encountering things. Within the Biennale’s exhibitions, this perversity is produced by the physical presence and captivity of many of the works on view, including the falcons in Anne Imhof’s fashion “opera” Angst III (2016), appearing not only in Montreal but frequently on Instagram as well. But the piece that most enables the stated idiosyncrasy of art is perhaps Moyra Davey’s Hemlock Forest (2016), an intimate and gloriously spare homage to Chantal Akerman.

What does this encounter look like when it comes to people rather than things? Marina Rosenfeld’s Free Exercise (2016) is a score for an orchestra made up of military and experimental musicians — a large-scale composition for drummers, percussionists, wind players, and others. It was performed at the opening night of the Biennale at the Armoury of the Fusiliers Mont-Royal by Les Fusiliers alongside Philippe Lauzier, Valérie Lacombe, Adam Kinner, Cléo Palacio-Quintin, Jessica Moss, Kristie Ibrahim and Noam Bierstone — luminaries from Montreal’s contemporary and improvised music scenes. This uncannily magic exercise in the limits of tolerance was monitored by the Maisonneuve Infantry’s motto “Bon coeur et bon bras” (Good heart and strong arm). After seventy minutes of drums and trumpets, the sound of a turntable finally appeared like an amplification of silence. Every presence produces an absence. Candice Hopkins helped me understand how, from an Indigenous perspective, a utopia is necessarily also a dystopia. The utopia of the New World was built upon eliminating the world that was there before. There are different concepts of time at work in the present, which cannot simply be subsumed into a timeless “archaic.”

Every presence produces an absence, and every presence needs to be maintained. Corpus Cleaner by the New York–based research and production collective Thirteen Black Cats, on view at Galérie UQAM, is based on a correspondence between Claude Eatherly, the US Air Force pilot whose “all clear” weather report enabled the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, and Günther Anders, a German philosopher and antinuclear activist. When first immigrating to Los Angeles, Anders worked as a movie prop cleaner in the Hollywood Custom Palace. In the correspondence that appears as voice-over in the film, he tries to prevent Eatherly from agreeing to an offer by a Hollywood producer to make a film about his life because he thinks that the Hollywood apparatus will not be able to process the fatal act of the bomb. “The property man knows where everything is,” writes Eatherly to Anders, “but only the cleaner sees it fully.”

Back to the gas station: During her night shift, gas station keeper Y in Knut Åsdam’s film Egress (2013) thriftlessly uses Norwegian oil to wash off the blood stains of a violent fight. The Montreal Biennale 2016 meets its own presence with a self-criticality that keeps the city’s horizons open. Perhaps, in order to allow for encounters to take place outside of itself, it needs to be handed over from “property men” to cleaners.

by Corinn Gerber

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A Season of Girls / Toronto International Film Festival

People in Toronto are looking at girls. The girls are being digitally projected onto giant screens, where they walk around in different outfits and time periods. It’s the Toronto International Film Festival and it’s unseasonably warm.

In the rising heat, the festival looks more like Los Angeles than ever: outside the Princess of Wales Theatre, pedestrians are herded in lanes of traffic, and La La Land, a Los Angeles–set musical nostalgic for old Hollywood, is going to be the People’s Choice Award winner. For the largely male press corps, the festival this year has the suspiciously engineered taste of a finishing school: every press bag comes with a canister of Axe body spray, and the escalators within the festival’s central megaplex are broken, forcing bedheaded, unexercised reporters up six flights of steps before they can reach the majority of press screenings.

Onscreen the women are in crisis. It’s the year of the actress. Rebecca Hall stalks the halls of a 1970s newsroom in Christine while Sonia Braga whips her hair to the drumbeat of Brazilian moral collapse in Aquarius. Sigourney Weaver, playing a genius surgeon gone rogue, gives Michelle Rodriguez a forced sex change operation in (re)ASSIGNMENT, the only time the Avatar franchise has gotten one over on The Fast and the Furious. Hong Sang-soo’s Yourself and Yours confronts a series of forgettable men with a female protagonist — or is it two or three? Either way, a woman whose identity is mobile. We’re meant to lose track. Confusion, too, can be savored.

So many of this year’s festival favorites are tooled toward earnest political ends that one cherishes the playful moments when movies are about, simply, themselves. During one sequence in Things to Come, French film star Isabelle Huppert’s character goes to a cinema to see the 2010 movie Certified Copy, where she stares up from the audience — at Juliette Binoche. The years coalesce. At the press conference for American Pastoral, a reporter looks straight ahead at Jennifer Connelly while lowering a vape from his mouth and exhaling a cloud of wet.

*  *  *

The night before the festival I get my hair cut by a twentysomething at a barbershop named after the Kanye West/Jay-Z collaboration album. The barber says he’s Filipino, and he asks if there are a lot of movies playing and if any of them are supposed to be good. “I don’t like to watch the ones with subtitles,” he clarifies, “and no horror.”

Mostly he wants to know about the parties. Any given night of the festival there are the parties. They exist to make credible the one essential party where everyone wishes to be, and where a female editor might now be standing with a foreign director many years her senior. The drunken court. The actresses have already left. The director’s broken English is further broken by the dinning crowd, his sentences limping to their finish. He is reassuring her that several of his films have shown here, elsewhere too, does she need another drink? Has she seen anything that struck her?

She is still young, she thinks. There are things about his life that would surprise or even disgust her. Tonight she is the only one watching as, on his way out of the party, he trips over a rumpled mat and through the revolving door.

*  *  *

In Personal Shopper, the celebrity Kristen Stewart plays Maureen, the assistant to a celebrity. Like Bella Swan, Maureen is a mortal girl with immortal desire: in this case, to communicate with her recently deceased twin brother. Stewart’s background in Twilight is enriching; Personal Shopper is an afterimage held up to the familiar one, certain key but subtle elements erased. It’s a magnificent performance. It reminds us that every movie screen is a palimpsest at the center of its own world. Today’s Sully will be tomorrow’s Storks.

Elsewhere, Natalie Portman-as-Jackie Kennedy teeters around the White House in 1963 with gin splashing in a cut-glass tumbler. The theater for Jackie is packed and reverent; days into the festival, word is already circulating that she’ll be nominated for another Oscar. Jackie cannily analogizes our experience of Natalie Portman performing Jackie Onassis to the real Jackie’s performance of First Lady in Mourning. Jackie’s veiled funeral march down Pennsylvania Avenue becomes Natalie’s march to the podium after winning Best Actress for Black Swan, and vice versa. “When men see me now, what do you think they feel?” Natalie-as-Jackie asks, knowing that she’s about to find out.

Arrival doesn’t wonder at all what a man feels: imagine your dad renting Independence Day and discovering that it was made for your mom. Director Denis Villeneuve’s last two, Prisoners and Sicario, also played at Toronto, and together with Arrival form an unofficial moral trilogy: Moral Anger, Moral Confusion, and now, Moral Love. The kind of movie Arrival seems to be is carefully stripped away in the third act, until all we’re left with is Amy Adams herself, suspended in an amniotic voiceover. The subtraction is staggering. We’re surprised to still be in the room with her.

And then we’re not. Arrival ends and the audience spills directly into the street, where anti-pipeline protesters have gathered to picket the world premiere of Deepwater Horizon. The two crowds merge into a gauntlet of limbs, pushing toward an unseen escape route. When I’m released I notice that I still haven’t caught my breath. I’ll need it back, but I’m in no rush.

by Mike Spreter

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Incerteza Viva / 32nd Bienal de São Paulo

I’d seen the artist list, read the press release and scribbled a couple questions on the outbound flight. It was a given that the 32nd Bienal de São Paulo would reflect the recent turmoil in Brazil. But I was completely unprepared for Hotel Unique.

A nautical-themed design curio, Unique was housing a bunch of us in town for the biennial. The building sits to the back of an empty private plaza on the congested Avenida Brigadeiro Luís Antônio. It presents the approaching guest a vast semicircular façade — round on the bottom, flat on top — tiled viridian and covered in portholes. Apparently moored upon a low-lying structure of bent steel and glass, the ship is further secured by a wall that connects at the tip of the stern and another at the bow, and which together give the impression of a kind of scaffolding. This isn’t just some boat. Hotel Unique is the ark, awaiting cleansing rains, the rising waters that will carry away the design aficionados within.

A shroud of gray clouds covered São Paulo, and through my porthole window I watched clusters of people mill about the sidewalk across the plaza. Facing the ark expectantly, even menacingly it seemed, they were held off, for now, only by the armed guards. I’ve seen a lot of zombie movies.

And glimpsed from afar, the succession of scandals and crises unfolding in Brazil in recent months played like scenes out of a tropical apocalypse: a public health emergency; the forced removal of poor urban communities; a costly and mismanaged Olympic extravaganza; and, most importantly, the parliamentary pageantry of the soft coup. And all of this, of course, has unfolded against the backdrop of an economy, once celebrated as a neoliberal success story, in contraction since 2014.

If the biennial is something of a subdued affair, it is so only by comparison to this spectacle of calamity and political reaction. It’s not for want of trying. The curators, in fact, made catastrophe an organizing principle. “In order to objectively confront the big questions of our time,” the exhibition statement reads, “such as global warming and its impact on our habitats, the extinction of species and the loss of biological and cultural diversity, economic and political instability, injustice in the distribution of the Earth’s natural resources and global migration, among others, perhaps it’s necessary to detach uncertainty from fear.”

Perhaps. But the way this suggested detaching seems most commonly to work is through a set of archaizing styles, practices and themes: handicrafts, myth, indigenism and dirt. There is a profusion of natural materials. Frans Krajcberg’s sculptures open the show with a totemic grove of burnt Amazonian trees, whittled and painted (Gordinhos, Bailarinas and Coqueiros). Dineo Seshee Bopape’s :indeed it may very well be the ____________ itself (2016) consists of a series of platforms made of compacted soil, from which holes have been dug out and filled with “emotive objects” — herbs, minerals, bits of clay.

Even works employing industrial materials often seem to suggest — either through context or intention — runic antiquities: vegetable gardens planted in concrete containers and truck tires (Carla Filipe, Migração, exclusão e resistência [Migration, Exclusion and Resistance], 2016); and a pair of towering columns — the largest works in the show — one constructed of stacked logs and straw, the other of bricks, cement and steel (Lais Myrrha, Dois pesos, duas medidas [Double Standard], 2016).

On the ground floor, Bené Fonteles (Ágora: Oca Tapera Terreiro, 2016) exhibits an array of folk objects, statuettes and textiles around a circle of dirt and housed beneath the thatched roof of a clay hut. Not to worry if Fonteles’s hut isn’t your thing; maybe Pia Lindman’s mud and bamboo hut (Nose Ears Eyes, 2016) up on the second floor will be more to your liking.

To be sure, there is work that falls outside of this dream world of craft and nature and primordial return — for example, Hito Steyerl’s video installation Hell Yeah Fuck We Die (2016) on the technology, politics and poetics of robotics. Rosa Barba’s film Disseminate and Hold (2016), funded by the Prix International d’Art Contemporain, examines the Minhocão, a vast concrete elevated highway that runs through central São Paulo, erected in the midst of the military dictatorship. It’s a subtle socially and politically grounded study of built environment.

But the overall tone is one of folksy escapism and anti-rationalism, sometimes despite the particulars and conceptual intentions of the artists (even in a couple of my examples above). Works like Leon Hirszman’s Cantos de trabalho (1974–76), beautiful, radical film studies of Brazilian rural laborers; or O Brasil dos índios: Um arquivo aberto [The Brazil of the Indians: An Open Archive, 2016], a selection of the work of Vídeo nas Aldeias, a collective that, for three decades, has trained indigenous Brazilian filmmakers and documented everyday life in these communities, here feel like they are being marshaled away from specificity toward a generalized nostalgia.

Whether another kind of exhibition — one more politically unequivocal or one with fewer mud huts — would have made a difference in the face of Temer’s power grab depends on how one measures the efficacy or purpose of political art. But it raises more questions than just that. Do we misconstrue both when we read an international exhibition against a national political context? Regardless of the political sympathies of the curators (no doubt left of center), and of Oscar Niemeyer’s utopian vision (cultural nationalism and political communism), doesn’t the space of the pavilion in fact belong to the global nowhere of the art world? The everywhere of capital? Yet Brazilian collectors and those on museum boards are drawn largely from the resurgent right-wing ruling class, kept at bay until now by a general contentment with surging commodity prices. Such localized political dynamics were certainly on the minds of Aparelhamento, a group of artists staging direct actions and protests against the coup, and who arrived en masse during the exhibition preview in black T-shirts bearing slogans like Fora Temer [Temer Out] and Diretas Já [Direct Elections Now].

As for uncertainty… that, of course, is reality. And it might not so easily be divorced from fear. In the US — maybe you’ve heard? — we have our own monster waiting in the wings (and a lesser evil stage left). But in art, uncertainty is a long-standing preference. We want everything to be destabilizing, defamilarizing, nonbinary, ambiguous. What, I wonder, would an art of certainty look like, one that, “in order to objectively confront the big problems of our time,” relied on conceptual categories like right and wrong?

Back at Unique, things were pristine, while the zombies continued to linger on the sidewalk. Later I found out they were waiting for autographs. Rammstein was staying at the hotel.

by Eli Diner

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Reporting from the Front Architecture Biennale 2016 / Venice

The theme of this year’s Architecture Biennale, “Reporting from the Front,” focuses on the tangible effects architects can have on human and ecological crises — first and foremost the plight of people displaced by war and economic collapse.

The exhibition in the German pavilion, “Making Heimat. Germany, Arrival Country,” is one of its highlights. To epitomize the nation’s open-border policy and welcoming of over one million refugees in 2015, four large sections of the walls of the historic building have been removed for the duration of the Biennale, making it the only exhibit that will stay open at all times. The designers of this year’s exhibition, Julian Schubert, Elena Schuetz and Leonard Streich, founding partners of the young Berlin-based architectural practice Something Fantastic, focus on rapidly changing urban environments and on communal housing. Alongside Frankfurt’s Deutsches Architekturmuseum (DAM), curator Oliver Elser, project coordinator Anna Scheuermann and author Doug Saunders, they reflect on a comprehensive checklist of conditions necessary for the growth of neighborhoods where immigrants can thrive as actual citizens and not merely temporary guests. The lessons derived from Saunders’s painstakingly researched book, Arrival City: How the Largest Migration in History is Reshaping Our World (2011), are clear: the key prerequisites for a successful integration process are affordable and high-quality housing, access to work, small-scale commercial spaces, good access to public transit, networks of immigrants from the same culture and a tolerant attitude that extends to the acceptance of informal practices.

Several projects address the global housing shortage and its underlying concerns, including urban decay (of note is Inês Lobo’s research on this theme for her project “Mosque in Mouraria” in Lisbon), unaffordability and gentrification. Anupama Kundoo and her practice strive to design spaces that are durable and humane as well as affordable. In her workshop “Life Afterlife” with local students of the faculty of architecture, she examined themes of urban obsolescence and the possibility of upcycling waste, including waste produced by the Biennale itself. The effect of unrelenting gentrification over the lives of some of London’s more vulnerable citizens is explored in the “@Gaybar” project. In collaboration with Daata Edition and Zuecca Projects, artists Hannah Quinlan and Rosie Hastings display “Gentrification,” part of a series that seeks to “rematerialize historic gay bars as containers for queer discourse.” Set in the Bauer Hotel’s ground floor foyer, the exhibition features six videos of empty gay establishments and soundscapes.

Transitory, public and shared spaces across cities and macro-regions are explored throughout the Biennale. Curated for the Australian Institute of Architects by Amelia Holliday and Isabelle Toland with urbanist Michelle Tabet, the arresting exhibition “From the Edge” presents the municipal pool as a vital public space in the culture and social life of the continent. Public pools, many of which are threatened by funding cuts, play a vital role in bridging barriers and bringing people and communities together. Personal and political identities are questioned and reframed in these oases of “everyday pleasures.” Elsewhere in the Brazilian Pavilion, one is reminded of the elegance, beauty and generosity of the public projects as well as the smaller domestic dwellings designed by Lina Bo Bardi. The farsighted Italian-born architect pioneered the incorporation of traditional building techniques and materials into the glass-and-concrete language of architectural modernism in Brazil, the country where she lived from 1946 until her death in 1992. The fine home she designed for Valeria P. Cirell in São Paulo (1958) has endured the whims of tropical weather thanks to its thick brick walls tied through lumber beams, its porches covered by dense shrubs. Bo Bardi’s larger multiuse spaces — the beautiful Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP) is one — are welcoming spaces for gathering and public life.

The vast range of activist thinking, research and social engagement on display at the Biennale reminded me of artist Anri Sala’s touching tribute to his friend Edi Rama, the former Mayor of Tirana and Prime Minister of Albania since 2013. The sixteen-minute color video projection with sound Dammi i Colori (2003), one of the works on view in a recent retrospective at the New Museum in New York, considers the attempts to affect the urban transformation of Tirana and reverse its fortunes; from a city where one was forced to live to one where one wanted to live.

This Biennale’s good intentions make its shortcomings all the more striking. One example: for his first public event, the curator Alejandro Aravena assembled an all-male-over-fifty-years-old-active-in-the-global-north panel to discuss the topic of infrastructure. That no women, no practitioners from the global south and no younger practitioners were invited as speakers belies such a lack of awareness, to the fact that the current system it purports to criticize is, in practice, flawed and systematically biased, that it defies belief. Better then to remember the wondrous Peruvian “Plan Selva,” a large-scale educational project in the Amazon region, and recall Lina Bo Bardi’s unflinching conviction that “the spirit of modern architecture” is to be shaped by “a love of humanity.”

by Francesca Tarocco

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