Applied Strollology - part I
"By proceeding in this manner, you are gradually getting close to a scene, a scene of something. You sketch it out, you don't know what it is, your only certitude is that it refers to the past - both the farthest and the nearest past; your own past and the others' too. Lost time is not re-presented as on a tableau or even presented at all." These words by Jean-François Lyotard (from "Re-writing Modernity") connect the question of the inescapability of modernity with the question of visibility and track reading. The following micro-narratives originally had the working title 'scenes'. As a montage and overarching narrative we have come to call them Applied Strollology, thereby referring to the still inspiring Lucius Burckhardt, inventor of strollology, author of “Venice is Invisible” and subject of the Biennale exhibition in the Swiss Pavilion by Hans Ulrich Obrist.
THE REALITY OF AN ISLAND
In Venice one is always a pedestrian.
Lucius Burckhardt, Venice is invisible
Russia’s past is our present.
Neon writing, Architecture Biennale Russia Pavilion
Riappropriamoci di Poveglia.
Friday Special, Stage E in the Arsenal
Islands are at the heart of the discussion. One of them is called Lavapolis. It is a fictional island invented by the writer and cultural researcher Michael Schindhelm. Schindhelm is convinced that in order to generate new and radical ideas that will effect social and political change, we must move beyond well-travelled paths. Why not use fiction, a heterotopia in the Foucauldian sense, when politics comes to a standstill? On the cover of the book, in which Schindhelm allows the inhabitants of Lavapolis to speak, is written in red letters: WHAT JOINS US COMES BEFORE WHAT DIVIDES US.
Since May, Friday, an inhabitant of Lavapolis, has been on a European tour. He brings the ideas discussed in Lavapolis on different stages and tweets his observations on developments in Europe. At the European Youth Forum in Strasbourg, in the Arsenal in Venice, on a discussion platform on the World Wide Web. Embodied by the actor Gabor Biedermann, Friday sits next to his creator Michael Schindhelm. A video of the inhabitants of Lavapolis plays in the background. Friday says “Our deeds are an example for the potential deeds of others. We demand participation, not liberation.”
The other island is real. It is called Poveglia. Pierantonio Barel and Francesca Balbo of the association Poveglia per tutti take the Arsenal stage an hour after Friday. Barel is a historian and is quite familiar with Poveglia’s history. Balbo is a filmmaker. She shows scenes from a documentary on which she is currently working. The camera moves about the island: there are trees, beeches, a lighthouse. The houses are empty and overgrown. One can hear seagulls and see lizards. Crickets chirp. A place completely lost in time. Mold on the wall. A spider slowly spins its web around a lizard until the lizard is dead. In the 18th and 19th century, the island served as a quarantine station and hospital for Venice’s incoming travellers. A kind of filter for the inside and outside, but also a source for stories. Reports about a psychiatric hospital where humans were experimented on. Ghosts were said to have convinced a mad neurologist to throw himself off of the Poveglia church tower. Reports about the island’s soil, which is supposed to consist of the ashes of humans who were cremated during the Plague.
How real can such an island be?
Barel and Balto are co-founders of the Poveglia per tutti group. It’s evident that neither is new to the stage. They take time for their statements, refine them, return to them. All the while Barel’s daughter is fidgeting around on a barstool next to him. In the spring of this year, the Italian government decided to sell Poveglia, uninhabited since 1968, through debt repayments to the highest bidder. Every member would pay 99 Euros and would thus become a co-owner of the island. Poveglia per tutti, a socially heterogeneous group of activists made up of architects, lawyers and people of other professions, decided to make a bid. The group’s membership quickly rose to nearly 4,000. Crowd funding raised more than 470,000 Euros. A fundraiser turns into a gathering, a political process, and, out of that, into a public discussion. How should we live? What kind of future does Venice have? The neighboring islands Sacca Sessola, San Clemento and Santa Spirito were sold for private use as luxury resorts. On the former waste-island Sacca San Biagio, also uninhabited, there are plans to build an amusement park, whose promising project title is Veniceland. Poveglia was one island too many. Everyone has written about Poveglia: The Guardian, The Independent, Der Spiegel. Poveglia’s reputation inspires titles such as “Scariest Island in the World Up for Sale.” Which sounds more interesting than “Venetians Fight for Common Goods.”
If the group of activists is successful in asserting itself against the Italian government and real estate speculators, a 7-hectare-big piece of land will suddenly be free for new ideas. Uninhabited, in the middle of the Venetian lagoon, a dream. Should Poveglia be left to nature as it was before? Or should a Tempelhof-style park, like the one in Berlin, be created? A contiguous recreation and relaxation center with a vaporetto connection open to natives and tourists alike? The suggestions that were debated on the Lavapolis homepage ranged from turning it into an alternative calendar to the establishing of a local trade economy to a retreat into a cave.
Swiss Pavilion, Giardini
The great hall of the Palazzo F is silent. The Swiss exhibit A stroll through a fun palace is on display,There are a few serving trolleys on which a procuration team has placed sketches, essays, and blueprints from the estates of Swiss sociologist Lucius Burckhardt and English architect Cedric Price. The documents are constantly being rearranged, stowed back in the archives as new ones come to light. On one side Burckhardt’s “strollology that glows from the visible to the invisible”, on the other side Price’s “architecture as the generator of the unthinkable.” Weekly workshops took place here in Venice. What was produced during that time joins the archives. Among them are the postcards from June, made by architecture students of the ETH, that depict a speculative Venice: A satellite picture that creates island landscapes in front of the Lido; Trabant resorts like the ones made famous by The Palm or The Pearl in Dubai; a vaporetto transportation network that includes Poveglia; a tour of Poveglia as “Ghost Adventure.” These imagined cities are supplemented by the theses of philosopher and activist Lieven de Cauter. They can be found on the reverse side of the postcards. One reads: “We have to reinvent the idea of the commons. The classic dichotomy between private and public has obscured it. As has the recent economization of everything. To approach the common we have to start from its oblivion, its abolition, its forsakenness.”
Burckhardt said that the deserted alleys in Venice are almost always dead ends. This principle can be generalized for the digital age: people pursue people. Here, in this non-exhibition, on this Saturday afternoon in late summer, where the curator, the main attraction, has already vanished, Burckhardt’s and Price’s thought treasures do not want to be discovered.
Israeli Pavilion, Giardini
A flattened pile of sand. Over which a frame and a computer-controlled needle leaves traces, traces of Israel’s settlement: of the year 1949, the year 1951 the year 2014. On the last are two maps, one with and one without the West Bank settlements. The needle works harder from map to map. The settlements which began in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem, are eating their way into the central areas. “One hundred years of modernist planning” it says on the wall. The same algorithm that creates the settlement maps is producing background noises. It sounds like Björk’s Vespertine. A room guard sweeps the sand visitors are spreading back into the pile. On his shirt is Super Mario, a turtle, and the words, “What doesn’t kill me makes me smaller.” Two Carabinieri are standing around on the top floor. They look like wax figures, but wax figures would melt in this heat.
Monditalia Exhibition, Arsenal
It’s about Italy and Europe. The past, the present, the future. Only occasionally do those interested in architecture appear, pulling curtains aside, stopping at one of the 82 fragments of Italian filmography on display or reading one of the project descriptions on the wall. It’s lunchtime at the Biennale, one takes a break at the Arsenal’s café. Couples, groups. Queues for a doppio and a tramezzino. The temperature seems to slow down here, to overwhelm. But when the customer, who has finally received his coffee, suddenly turns to reveal his profile, eyes fly open, hands cover mouths mid-gasp. A Japanese woman abandons her spot in the queue to grab her brother. They follow the man onto the sunlit terrace, where they turn around, so as not to be exposed as fans.
At 4 o’clock he is sitting center-stage at Stage E. His participation in the conversation attracts more people than there are chairs. They listen and write notes, they take pictures and film. They are architecture students, experts, urbanites, acquaintances, Europeans. With Michael Schindhelm he discusses the potential for an active population. He refers to the activists of Poveglia per tutti, who took the stage before him and will take it again when he is done. “The population as a whole, and I include emphatically all of the immigrants, is creating and provoking very blatant forms of creativity and new possibilities.” He continues: in the face of the always-changing political circumstances and cultural realities, it is best not to revive utopias of the past but to keep hoping for change. “Systematic optimism is the only viable position, even if at certain times it means to be very naïve.” And, finally, in the shadow outside the light beam, one act as a fan of Rem Koolhaas, Biennale curator, protagonist of architectural history in the times of globalization.
Teatro alle tese, Arsenal
The theatre in the former naval base of the Republic of Venice is completely full. A young, international theatre audience has taken its seats (in chairs or on the floor in front of the chairs). For ten days theatre groups from around the world devise plays at daytime workshops which are then performed in the evening. On stage there are three Greeks: two men and a woman. The younger man is holding a whisky bottle, which he hurls into the air, barely catching it again. He smiles, the audience follow suit. Shreds of monologues in Greek follow. A projection with English subtitles runs in the background, although it can hardly be in sync with the action. A tragedy is suggested. A man, lonely, looks out of the window. He doesn’t understand the world, doesn’t want to understand it. One can guess: it won’t end well. A glance at the ticket. The piece is called How to disappear completely, put on by Athens’ Blitz Theatre Group. At this precise moment one wants to do the same: to dematerialize, quietly and secretly. But the big, heavy doors of the former shipyard stay locked until the lights are turned on again.
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Translation: Sophia Cosby