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Right and below Lyon’s City of Fiction, Venice

After an absence in 1996, Australia returns to the Venice with the popular, yet controversial, City of Fiction postcard array by Lyons, and displays by Kovac Malone and Mark Burry for dECOi. Davina Jackson reports.

This year’s Biennale of Architecture in Venice (the first since 1996 and open until 29 October) has been giving pilgrims a fascinating insight into the current psyches of 37 nations exhibiting in the pavilions scattered around the Giardini - as well as several dozen invited studios showing in the nearby military sheds.
All participants were asked to respond to a dualistic moral theme - Less Aesthetics: More Ethics - proposed by Director Massimiliano Fuksas as a cri de couer against the coffee, computer, media and world-market systems that are driving architecture where its anti-capitalists really don’t want to go.
Only a few countries - particularly Australia, Japan, the United States, the Netherlands and Britain - propose experimental and astute concepts for cities in the digital era.
For the US, Hani Rashid and Greg Lynn display elaborately curved components from their Embryonic House computer-
manufacturing projects with students at Colombia and UCLA. Britain showed ambitious urban gestures by Branson Coates, Zaha Hadid, David Chipperfield and Will Alsop. The Netherlands welcomes visitors to a stylish and sinfully comfortable airport lounge-style "public home" with flexible mattresses installed in the plush carpet beside televisions. And Kezuyo Sejima, with collaborators, transformed the Japanese pavilion and its grounds into a surreal landscape of dazzling white gravel strewn with knee-high "daisies", occupied by amorphous costumes alluding to motherhood and studded with photos of plump, pimpled and vague adolescent females. They’re the subjects of essays which clarify how Tokyo is transforming into a City of Girls. Australia was represented by three Victorian contingents showing in different parts of the Biennale site. Our pavilion - behind France and Britain at the top of

Top left Earlier installation of City of Fiction, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney. Top right Japenese exhibit - City of Girls by Kezuyo Sejima and collaborators. Above top British exhibit - Branson Coates’ Ecstacity. Above USA exhibit - Embryonic House by Greg Lynn and Hansi Rashid.

the gardens - was occupied by Lyons’ City of Fiction interactive postcard installation, which proved popular with students but was disdained by several 1960s-educated European critics.
This show was assembled for Venice at the last minute, thanks to intervention by a Melbourne agency, Global Arts Projects, which took over the role of former commissioner Neville Quarry, after he was unable to muster money for this and the previous Biennale in 1996. Professor Leon van Schaik of RMIT was named as the new commissioner.
City of Fiction - last seen wrapping around a corner of the lofty hall at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art - suffered visually from the low ceilings of our Murcutt-style double-barrelled steel shed, designed by Philip Cox on a tight budget

in the mid-1980s. However, the themes of the work, first explored in Carey Lyons’ 1993 thesis for his M.Arch degree at RMIT, were still effectively communicated by the colourful array of paper bricks, hanging from shop display hooks and forming a giant blurry image of a high-rise metropolis (which the artists claim is Melbourne) under a yellow (polluted?) sky.
This work recalls the choreographed crowd signage at 1950s’ propaganda rallies - as well as Charles and Ray Eames’ House of Cards displays. The brothers Lyon seem to be exploiting those precedents to project some futuristic messages which frighten many architects at the moment. First they’re pushing the anti-modernist heresy that future architecture should depend more on superficial effects than structural integrity, and can be temporary and amusing instead of permanent and important. Then they’re showing some amazing shifts of optical perspective, manipulating human perceptions of space and reality.
In the main Biennale show produced by Fuksas, Australia was represented by Tom Kovac and Singapore-based Jeff Malone -showing curvaceous computer and video depictions of their proposed Ikon apartment building - and by a New Zealand academic, Professor Mark Burry of Deakin University, who produced the parametric computer modelling for ambiguous schemes by Mark Goulthorpe of the Paris office, dECOi.
Contrasting these optimistic proposals is the utter desolation of the exhibition of France and the joint exhibition of the Czech and Slovak republics, which abandoned constructive concepts to scrawl the walls of their halls with bleak graffiti about the annihilation of the planet. (Are these countries again becoming crucibles of revolt? Three decades after 1968, sentiment appears dangerously pre-inflammatory.)
Between those extremes, Russia, Hungary and Greece are racing towards the safety of their Tsarist Classical and sacred geometry traditions, apparently yearning for a future of olde-worlde stability and closeness to nature, while depicting today’s metropolis as an Atlantis, modelled in wood like a circular Tower of Babel. Other European nations, e.g. Belgium and Switzerland, as well as Scandinavia and South America, remain aligned to the modernist principles of grid-defined austerity, sometimes executing natty shifts and tilts.
Intriguingly, Austria showed no work by its architects - instead highlighting major projects being built there by foreign stars. Our Commissioner van Schaik suggests that his Austrian counterpart is saying "up-yours" to Europe’s moves to censure its Nazi-inclusive Parliament.
Davina Jackson is a former editor of Architecture Australia and a co-author of the book Australian Architecture Now



Published online: 1 Sep 2000


Architecture Australia, September 2000

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