First impressions of the post-lockdown Biennale

Few tourists in Venice, spectacular or unfinished installations, QR codes and temperature checks: after so much waiting, here is a very first taste of the event that inaugurates the European re-openings.

It’ s been just over 24 hours since we set foot in Venice for the 17th International Architecture Exhibition, the first major event of the year in Europe, and everything looks (but only looks) the same as in the last months. The city is still free of the presence of tourists, there is no queue in front of the vaporetto ticket office at the station, there are free B&Bs at popular prices and the typical Venetian spritz can only be drunk while sitting at the few tables available outdoors, but at least you can drink them. Many, among those we met coming from abroad, confessed that they took a last-minute flight, the night before, probably not completely convinced that the Biennale would be inaugurated in the end.

The indicators of an anomalous situation are the drastically reduced number of visitors, the flows of people in the Arsenale, for which some shortcuts and access ways are closed and it is necessary to respect the directions of entry and exit (be careful), the masks that do not help to recognize each other, the temperature measurement at the entrance and a good number of set-ups still in progress. Some pavilions will open later due to delivery delays, while others are still under construction but open to the public, giving human character to this Biennale.

Workers with last minute fixings at Arsenale, Biennale 2021
Workers with last minute fixings at Arsenale, Biennale 2021

The Biennale is here, and it is the same as always, at least in its form. The contents, on the other hand, remind us that the world has quite changed since the last time we visited. The entrance to the Central Pavilion at the Arsenale is an evocative succession of immersive installations that are reminiscent of an art biennial: perhaps the boundaries between disciplines have really disappeared? Or do we all feel the need for more art, especially the world of architecture? The themes are those that have been recurring for years and that can be summarized in the great sense of urgency for the fate of the Planet (consecrated a few years ago by Broken Nature at the Milan Triennale) answering the question “How will we live together?”. So you will find less architecture in a conventional sense.

An urgency that seems a bit tired, perhaps because the installations were ready two years ago. Technology, for example, is still little talked about despite the fact that it is at the origin of the way we behave and relate today. In a context where more and more exhibitions are born digital and then materialize in the physical world with sculptural and hermetic synthesis, you get at the extreme into the German pavilion, where only a QR code is left on the walls.

Opening image: USA pavilion, Venice Architecture Biennale 2021

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