Visitors are drawn in more by the lightness of the experience than the heaviness of things. “Synergy & Symbiosis”, the meta-exhibition arranged in the Chinese Pavilion for the 14th Venice Architecture Biennale reveals a silent and changing “unsustainable lightness” in the Chinese universe.
“The lightness might be physically or metaphysically motivated”, explains Jun Jiang, architect, researcher, writer and editor-in-chief of Urban China, an associate professor at the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts and curator of the Chinese Pavilion and exhibition. “On the one hand, it is simply a matter of time and space – the short duration of the exhibition and the long shipping distance between China and Venice. On the other, it is a concept – the strong overcoming the weak or the defeat of heaviness versus lightness – which can also be seen in the lightness of the Chinese Pavilion within the heaviness of the Arsenale, belonging to the world of the Middle Country and to being Chinese which we wish to convey and accentuate.”
As the curator explains, the exhibition stems from collaboration with the China Merchants Shekou Industrial Zone, founded in 1873 as the first experiment in modern enterprise and later backed by the Communist Party in the capitalist market of Hong Kong in 1949. The China Merchants Shekou Industrial Zone subsequently became the first industrial zone in Shekou, just outside Hong Kong, a year before the Shenzhen special economic zone. It then developed as micro society parallel to the Shenzhen experiment. This led to the Bi-City Biennale, an event that has drawn all these elements together, with the involvement of the two cities of Shenzhen and Hong Kong, and revitalised Shekou’s industrial heritage in 2013.
Organised in collaboration with the Excellence Group, the exhibition features a collection of the finest works from the previous five events, so 10 years of exchanges and interrelations with the Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism / Architecture, and it showcases a system for getting to know the city.
“Synergy & Symbiosis” reports a close conversation between two cultures – Oriental and Western – and two biennials that are diametrically opposite but, at times, similar. The exhibition falls within the curatorial approach and philosophy of the whole Chinese Pavilion’s “Mountains Beyond The Mountains” and Rem Koolhass’s “Fundamentals”, where all is transformed and seeks to be symbiotically regenerated in an exhibition surge containing the best works and that will last until the end of the Biennale. So, there is the Bug Dome, a lightweight and luminous cocoon, installed in the Arsenale’s garden, a timeline using pictures and stories to narrate the dynamics of urban growth in the Shekou district, created in 1979 as the first special economic zone and now an integral part of the Shenzhen megalopolis; and Tales of Silk Road by the artist Shan Shan Sheng, created from recycled glass in a multicultural dialogue with no sense of heaviness.
The architect Jun Jiang works in urban research and experimental studies, exploring the interrelationship between the design phenomenon and urban dynamics in more than 200 Chinese towns and cities, and approximately 50 countries. He explains that the biennial experience can actually change a city via its workshops, round tables and exhibitions linked to the event.
“Compared with the Venice Biennale, which creates a set of events linked to other disciplines – such as art, dance, films, and theatre – and permanently exploits the heritage of the Arsenale, the UABB strategically changes location every two years but it regenerates post-industrial zones and – as also desired by the Chinese government – avoids places that may polarise attention. China can, for instance, learn from Venice the political and commercial model of the permanent pavilions.” One of the most fascinating works is the Bug Dome, a reinterpretation by TCA Think Tank of the bamboo structure created for the 2009 Shenzhen & Hong Kong Bi-City Biennale by the Weak! group of architects. In Venice, it has found both a new material and a space in the Giardini delle Vergini at the Arsenale.
In Hong Kong, this structure served for poetry-readings and performances but here it hosts intimate chats and interviews, some political, in the sense linked to the Polis.
“This installation was devised for the Venice Biennale with a different local material from the natural bamboo used in Hong Kong. PVC was chosen, partly because manufactured locally and partly for its structural flexibility, which allows several possible forms,” explains the architect Pier Alessio Rizzardi, designer and curator with Jiang Jun of the Bug Dome Workshop in its Venetian metamorphosis, an assistant professor at Milan Polytechnic and founder, along with the Chinese architect Zhang Hankun, of TCA Think Tank, an international research team set up in Shanghai in 2011. “The installation is an experiment that goes beyond traditional architectural form and composition in a quest for the fundamentals of traditional space. It is as if you were drawn into the structure: there are no corridors, walls or doors but a sole element that defines the form and creates a series of spaces that represent the characteristics of Chinese space. The sinuous form prevents you from seeing inside and expectation draws visitors in. The mind perceives the space not only visually but also via feelings and emotions. If you expect there to be something inside, your perception changes.”
The very concept of lightness, both unsustainable and sustainable, in a complete Yin/Yang metaphor is integral to Tales of Silk Road by Shan Shan Sheng, an international artist born in Shanghai but who has moved to America and also present in Venice with Open Wall, exhibited at the 53rd Venice Art Biennale in an exhibition organised by UNESCO and the Italian Committee.
“The red and yellow colours of the work were chosen with the same reasoning of symbiosis and synergy because they represent China and Venice. These colours are, for different reasons, a part of Chinese and Italian history and both are a part of the exhibition. The installation, which took long periods of preparation, is composed of recycled glass and small precious pieces of Murano glass. The work launched a broader project on the recycling of glass for artistic purposes.”
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Until 23 November 2014
Synergy & Symbiosis
Designer: Pier Alessio Rizzardi
Design Team: Martin Huba, Zhang Hankun
Workshop Team: Muratori Martina, Jocelyn Fu, Regina Kaluzny, Siyin Wang, Lucia Bertaggia, Maria Bertaggia, Hu Yalin, Alessandro Zorzetto, Edoardo Giancola.
Site: 150 sqm Garden pavilion by Li HU OPEN Architecture
Building footprint: 65 sqm
Materials: PVC pipes, plastic ties, wire, metal net, gravel, nonwoven fabric
Construction: 16-19 September 2014