Common Ground: Architecture gets political in Venice and New York

As Occupy Wall Street celebrates its one-year anniversary, art and design communities around the world continue to parse the movement’s implications and effects through themed exhibitions, festivals, and ideas. Earlier this year, on the heels of the stridently political 7th Berlin Biennale, Kassel’s Documenta 13 announced its own intent to question “the persistent belief in economic growth”. Stateside, the New Museum dubbed their triennial The Ungovernables (selected images below), focusing on “both anarchic and organized resistance: protest, chaos, and imagination as a refusal of the extended period of economic, ideological, sectarian, and political conflict that marks the generation’s inheritance”. And here in Canada the Contact Photography Festival, centered on the theme Public, positioned itself as an exploration of “photography’s role in the public performance of identity as an important means to respond to, intervene within, and document political actions” (see our review here).

above: selected images from The Ungovernables, New Museum, New York (credits below)

On view since the end of August, the 13th Venice Architecture Biennale is similarly engaged in ideas of social change through public discourse. Featuring Common Ground as its theme, the Biennale invites us to ask questions of architecture, to realize that alternatives are possible, to know that “we are not condemned to passive acceptance.” According to Monocle’s nicely produced video from the Giardini, the US pavilion exemplifies this approach through its presentation, Spontaneous Interventions: Design Actions for the Common Good, which shuns big name architects in favour of more than 120 young practitioners dedicated to tackling social problems on the ground through imagination and ingenuity. Also featured in the video are the pavilions of Denmark (development of Greenland), winner of the Golden Lion Japan (rebuilding post-tsunami Tohoku), and first-time participant Angola (greening the African urban landscape).

Closer to home, architecture gets the art historical treatment in MoMA’s recently opened exhibition, 9+1 Ways of Being Political: 50 Years of Political Stances in Architecture and Urban Design. Tracing the political potential of architecture from the 1960s to the present day, the exhibition profiles emerging practices that “bear witness to a rebirth of social and political engagement as an assertion of architecture’s relevance” and “presents a variety of critiques, from radicalism, institutional critique, and iconoclasm, to the blurring of social borders and the examination of public space.”

How this reinvigorated debate will play out in our countries, cities, and buildings remains to be seen, but with so many individual artists, designers, and architects addressing public issues today, society as a whole has reason for optimism tomorrow.

See today’s New York Times article on Greenland’s unfrozen future as mineral riches ironically reveal themselves in the wake of ice melt caused by global warming

See Migrating Landscapes, Canada’s pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale

Monocle is a global affairs magazine and media company with shops and offices in London, New York, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and soon, Toronto. Founded by Canadian journalist Tyler Brûlé, it’s location on College Street near Ossington in Toronto’s West End will be Monocle’s first outpost in Canada.

9+1, MoMA:
Jason Crum,
Project for a Painted Wall, New York City, New York; 1969, Gouache on photograph. 30 x 20 inches (76.2 x 50.8 cm), The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Purchase, 1969

from The Ungovernables, New Museum:
Mariana Telleria, 
Días en que todo es verdad/Days of Truth (detail), 2012, found and manipulated objects, wood shelves; courtesy the artist and Galeria Alberto Sendrós, Buenos Aires, photo by Shani K Parsons

Hassan Khan, Jewel, 2010, 35mm film transferred to Blu-Ray, colour, sound, paint, speakers, light fixture; 6:30 min (loop), courtesy the artist and Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris, photo by Shani K Parsons

Amalia Pica, Eavesdropping (Version #2, large), 2011, found drinking glasses, glue; collection of James Keith Brown and Eric Diefenbach, New York, photo by Shani K Parsons

from the Venice Architecture Biennale:
Spontaneous Interventions: Design Actions for the Common Good, US pavilion, commissioned and curated by Cathy Lang Ho, photo by designboom

from 9+1, MoMA:
Gunter Rambow, 
Utopie Dynamit’, 1976, offset lithograph, 46 1/2 x 32 3/4 inches (118 x 83 cm), gift of the designer

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