18th Venice Architecture Biennale, “The Laboratory of the Future”
              George Kafka
              In a recent interview with the New York Times, Norman Foster questioned why “we shouldn’t be converting seawater into jet fuel and decarbonizing the ocean at the same time.” Meanwhile, the 10,200sq mile Neom mega-project planned for the Saudi Arabian desert comes with claims of a “new benchmark for combining prosperity, liveability and environmental preservation.” As the architecture profession contends with the ingrained relationship between climate emergencies and built environments, both statements exemplify a tendency towards techno-solutionism in vocal sections of the industry—and betray an approach to design that overlooks material extraction and environmental destruction to justify extravagant capitalist projects behind weak masks of sustainability. For all its challenges—the unmanageable volume of content, the density of text, the opacity of curatorial approaches—the 18th edition of the Venice Architecture Biennale offers a firm and timely challenge to this trend. Typically understood as a global state of the union for the profession and broader spatial practices, this edition (titled “The Laboratory of the Future” and curated by Ghanaian-Scottish architect and academic Lesley Lokko) is largely unflinching and rigorous in its selection of projects which reject techno-solutionist sustainability, opting instead for a showcase of architecture for “decolonization and decarbonization.” These themes run through …
              15th Venice Architecture Biennale, “Reporting from the Front"
              Nick Currie
              During the first decade of neoliberalism, not long after Live Aid, Sandy Nairne made a series of six films called “State of the Art” for the UK’s Channel 4. They provide a fascinating glimpse into a 1980s contemporary art world both condemning and colluding with international capital. In the fifth film we see once-radical artists like Terry Atkinson recanting their former “left-wing heavy booting” in the name of a new “complexity,” and in the sixth we visit the 1986 Sydney Biennale, where 1980s politicians in 1980s suits are making a big deal of the show’s inclusiveness—somewhat to the consternation of Aboriginal artist Michael Nelson Tjakamarra, who feels that a decontextualizing tokenism may be at work. Thirty years have passed, but very little has changed. On the one hand, art fairs like the Basel franchise operate like a greedy id, offering the super-rich primal visual pleasure and investment opportunities. On the other (oppositional or complementary according to your perspective), biennials stand as a sort of guilty superego, with loftily humanist curators—often from poorer nations—asking us to consider the plight of refugees, immigrants, and the poor (the victims, one might say, of the very people the big art fairs are aimed at). The …

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