2 October 2014
28 September 2014
A unique opportunity for young Emiratis and long-term residents of the UAE to be part of the National Pavilion United Arab Emirates (@nationalpavilionuae) at La Biennale di Venezia during the 56th International Art Exhibition, through a month-long internship in Venice where they act as custodians and docents of the National Pavilion UAE.
Applications close November 15, 2014.
28 September 2014
Before coming to Venice, the future interns were put through training sessions that were meant to prepare us for the upcoming experience. Over a period of a month, we were not only briefed on the actual exhibition but also given a crash course on local architecture along with the history that it is rooted in. Even though the training was months before I would get to the pavilion, I thought I was prepared. I had done similar things in the past and was sure that this would be no different – except for the fact that I’d be in Venice!
For the most part, the pavilion matched my expectations. Through pictures I had seen from the previous interns, I already had a sense of what the place looked like. I could tell that the exhibit was set up so that every minute detail was taken care of. When I walked in for the first time, it seemed familiar but I was nevertheless excited to finally open up all the drawers myself, and discover just a little bit more about my country’s rich heritage.
In my opinion, representing the country through a pavilion such as this while taking into consideration the design and final look and feel, is not only bold but also a breath of fresh air. When one usually imagines what an Emarati display or pavilion would look like, images of grandeur and gold would generally come to mind. Why I feel that this set up is something new, is because it is such a departure from what has unfortunately become the mainstream image one would have of the UAE.
By embracing the atypical, I think that the curator has almost taken us back in time. While I’m sure that it is intentional, it’s not necessarily a connection all the visitors would make. One would have had to experience firsthand the UAE of the past to know that the structures – especially the houses, were very simple on the outside, with intricately decorated interiors. Our pavilion mimics that in the sense that it has a very simple exterior, but once that is breached the visitor comes across an intricately adorned interior in the form of information, pictures, installations and actual pieces of history such as the coral, etc.
By virtue of being extremely interactive, the display invited visitors to take their time exploring the exhibition. Each drawer unveiled something new, with neighboring drawers presented in unique formats – prompting the visitors to open just one more. This playful way of presenting the information helped the visitors stretch their imagination beyond the fancy burjs and shopping malls the country has become popular for. I’ll be the first to admit, that I learnt a lot just by looking through all this information. While I thought I was well versed with the history of many structures in the UAE, I was shocked at how little I actually knew, and I’m sure that people coming from different parts of the world who visited the pavilion were just as surprised.
I was surprised by the number of visitors who came to the pavilion but hadn’t visited the country before, but were genuinely interested in finding out more about this tiny Gulf state making a lot of noise. I felt that the display kept people intrigued, and received a lot of positive feedback in general. More importantly, I think the pavilion helped dispel a lot of the negative preconceived notions that people might have had – only because it’s an Arab country that has been blessed with oil.
Through its displays and videos, it is made clear to the visitor that the structures that exist in the UAE today are a product of many years of evolution. Like in countries all over the world, the social and political environment in the UAE shaped the architecture and carried it forward in different directions. By narrating the many stories of the varied structures present in the country today, the visitors are taken on a journey. The most interesting thing for the visitors to the pavilion was when this journey actually began. Most were taken aback by the fact that the country actually existed before the Burj Khalifa was constructed, and that some of the earliest records date back to the late 20th century.
Just like so many people who visited our pavilion and were surprised by the kind of history the UAE has under her belt, I too was greeted by a wealth of information at various other pavilions.
This entire experience was refreshing in ways that I can’t describe. By stepping out of my comfort zone and the daily routine that accompanies it, I was taken back to my university years. Living in a foreign land, while not really being a resident forces you to try and assimilate into the fabric of the country you are visiting. Through this process you are made aware of your own boundaries – and which of those you are willing to break through, and eventually emerge a more informed person on the other side.
I would definitely recommend this experience to anyone who is willing to open up just a little and see what the world has to offer. In the time I spent working at the biennale, I had the chance not only to represent my country on foreign ground – which in itself is quite an honour, but also learn just a little bit more about the rest of the world.
22 September 2014
One of the things that surprised me the most during this month as Intern was the fact that every Pavilion is related so much with the country that it is representing in Venice: they seem like little embassies all close to one another. And I noted also that architecture plays a main role not only because it’s the chief character of the Biennale but also because it tells the history and the culture of countries from the outdoor part of the pavilion: the clearest example in my opinion is the Italian Pavilion.
The Italian Pavilion
Located in the northern part of the artwork, once you enter in the Arsenale, you have to walk for more than ten minutes before joining the Italian Pavilion, but when I arrived I was very enthusiastic to see the installation of my country.
The exhibition speaks about the “Grafts” or the Italian ability to pursue new goals and values through a metamorphosis of existing structures: this appears to be the original contribution of the design culture of my country, the creation of “Grafts”, in Italian Innesti, capable to act with efficacy and awareness in layered urban contest.
Visitors can perceive this theme up to the entrance, where there’s a large arched portal in oxidized metal that totally dilates the profile of the existing entrance (maybe a former room for armies).It’s called “ Archimbuto” ( Archifunnel) and the creator of it has said that this nickname attests its ambiguous iconicity and also industrial, monumental, figurative and abstract.
The place of the exhibition is very big and well-composed: there are in fact four wide spaces, their walls made of bricks and stones with high wooden ceilings and in each room there is an artwork with a different topic.
In the first room called “Milan. Laboratory of modernity” are shown Milan’s architectural and urban events of the last hundred years, but also some keys moments of its past history. It looks at some moments of this complex history, where a prideful modern is able to adapt to its contest, to make it his and to transfigure it inside a new urban vision.In the artwork are focused some of the most important monuments of the northern Italian city such as “Piazza del Duomo” (Dome’s square) and its transformation during the last century and a collection of images that shows the modern reconstruction of the city centre of Milan after the bombings during the Second War.
The second room is called “Cut and Paste Environments” and is related to the modern technique of collage that played an important role in moments of Italian architectural restoration:in fact in my country lots of monuments and buildings have been renovated, sometimes with very utopic prefiguration of design proposals.
The last and my opinion the best one, is the room dedicated to a contemporary landscape with all the different conditions of the Italian territory and the different economical, programmatic and social contexts found in the processes of transformation cannot be brought back in any way to a single model.
Looking the pictures on the walls and reading the brochure, I’ve learnt that nowadays the best design culture is animated by a common attitude: the careful observation of the site, of its constraints, of its potentials, and the capacity to intervene on it with an act of transformation able to absorb them into its body and to turn them into a new inhabited landscape.
22 September 2014
The architecture biennale acts as a melting pot of cultures, and gives countries the opportunity to present themselves and their identities through various physical structures all housed within two separate areas. For people visiting the biennale, they will notice a very defined difference between the Arsenale and the Giardini.
While both areas are dedicated solely to the biennale, and the activities that surround it – that’s where the similarities end. The Arsenale is an area where pre-existing structures have been transformed on the inside to house pavilions from various parts of the world. The Giardini on the other hand, is a space where the majority of the structures were purpose built by various countries to act as pavilions for the biennales (both art and architecture) over the years.
In the Giardini, it is interesting to then see how the architecture of the buildings is representative of the country that the pavilion belongs to. Not coming from an architectural background, I wouldn’t be privy to the finer nuances – however it is very clear to see that every country is quick to define its identity through architecture alone. You are most likely to understand a bit about the country and its heritage even before you’ve walked into the pavilion. Walking around the Giardini, the environment creates a spontaneous dialogue for the visitor through this mix of architecture that is visible all around the ‘garden’
I felt that certain countries stuck to their roots in terms of who they are as a people, and this is very apparent in the structures. For example, the German and French pavilions are housed in very imposing structures. In both cases you have steps leading up to pillared entrances – the Germans with square pillars (more defined), and the French with rounded pillars representative of a historical legacy. You can see how the architecture evolved, as the people and perhaps political circumstances also changed. Similarly you have the Finnish pavilion – small, with a couple of tiny openings, and overall a sleek, modern, clearly defined structure. Never having been to Finland, this is the image I now have in my mind of this tiny European country.
On the other hand, you have pavilions like the one put together by the Koreans, which is very unique in its surroundings. Being one of the most recent structures commissioned in the Giaridini, it really doesn’t abide by any of the environmental influences that surround it. It was produced as a set of pre-fabricated pieces that were put together to form the final structure – like a lego set. The contemporary approach is very clear in its overall appearance – so much so, that I would liken it to a space ship, both alien in its form and presence alike.
As far as having one favorite pavilion goes, I would say I am spoilt for choice. There is so much on offer at the biennale and each unique pavilion comes with a different offering, and makes it really hard to compare. Having said that, my vote would go to the pavilions from the Far East, with Korea being on top of the list followed closely by Japan – both situated in the Giardini, and Indonesia in the Arsenale.
The Korean pavilion provides visitors with an unprecedented insight into not only the architecture, but also the culture and more importantly its people. What’s really unique about this pavilion is that it represents elements of both North and South Korea – a combination that is rarely seen in a Korean context. With lots of information and interactive installations, the hustle and bustle is almost palpable. The only thing missing is the scent of fresh bulgogi.
The Japanese pavilion is another island of information and delves beyond what one would expect a strictly Japanese experience to entail. Again, the visitor is bombarded with information and invited to flip through archives that consist of pictures and records, which provide details of a diverse heritage.
A very interesting aspect of the Japanese pavilion, which has stayed with me, was a small section of the floor, which was in fact a circular piece of reinforced glass. This section of the floor looks down into a lower area where one can see people socializing. I feel that this was literally a peeping hole and can be seen as a reference to how the Japanese society functions – where people get together and talk while sharing a meal or some tea.
By contrast, the Indonesian pavilion is very simple and might seem stark in comparison to its sister countries. This might be due to the fact that in the Arsenale, countries are allowed to play only with the interior of a structure, which dates back a few hundred years. This is unlike the newer structures in the Giardini. I feel that the smartest use of an already existing space is prevalent in this case. The Indonesian narrative consists of stories told through videos projected on large glass screens. These stories talk about how architecture and in turn modern day structures have been affected by the introduction of new building materials.
I feel that the Indonesian story is very relevant to the setting that it is told in – what would seem like a large warehouse space from the peak of Venetian glory. As the visitor moves along from screen to screen this story progresses to show how structures were affected over the years by various factors including the political situation, mother nature and of course, the people. For someone like me, who has visited Indonesia in the past, these simple stories really took me back to the streets of Ubud and Nusa Dua where this history has given shape and form to what is seen as modern day Indonesia.
This may come as a bit of a surprise, but one last pavilion which I think is worth mentioning, is the Israeli pavilion. As an Arab coming from the Gulf, I don’t think I’d be visiting the state of Israel anytime soon. Having said that, I was very curious to see what was on offer. I did not have any expectations going in, but was greeted with what I would describe as a sterile environment in a very calculated structure – mirroring what some would believe is the basis on which the state was established. Without leaving too much to the imagination, I believe that the curator effectively delivered the message with a simple yet very smart installation – a cartographic tool outlining maps and structures on a patch of sand.
Using various structures and installations, countries are effectively able to tell their unique story and exist side by side with other countries – a task that can only be achieved through a platform such as the biennale.
20 September 2014
Get to know our September interns:
Humaid Mansoor currently works full time managing family-owned healthcare delivery centres. When he’s not at work, he is always looking at ways to indulge in his true passion – art. As an emerging artist, he hopes that this experience will help inspire future works.
Fehmi Garbaia, originally from Tunisia and one of the Italian interns from Ca’ Foscari University in Venice. He has a degree in Anglophone Culture and literature from Manouba University, Tunisia and is currently in his second year pursuining a Masters degree in International Relations at Ca’ Foscari University.
Mohamed Al Qemzi
Mohamed Al Qemzi, an Emirati business student at the Higher Colleges of Technology – Abu Dhabi. He has previously worked at 12 art exhibitions and continuously follows art. A freestyle photographer, he loves capturing moments and believes that when he travels, people travel with him through his camera lens. Motorsports is in his blood, and he is on a journey to be a racing driver.
Follow Mohamed: Instagram
Sara Ferrandi, born near Milan and now studing Arabic at Ca’ Foscari University. She likes travelling and meeting people from different countries.
15 September 2014
Peggy Guggenheim is one of the most influential characters in art history, an American citizen who comes from a wealthy family in New York City. She is the daughter of Benjamin Guggenheim, one of the passengers who were on board in the famous ship, Titanic, and niece of Solomon R. Guggenheim, founder of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. Peggy collected many artworks from Europe and America and exhibited her collection in several places. Pieces in her collection embrace Cubism, Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism. She lived in Paris for a short period before moving permanently to Venice where she established her museum in Palazzo dei Leoni. Palazzo dei leoni is contemporary in terms of functional spaces and location. The palace has an extraordinary view to the water front and consists of an individual floor, Garden and terrace. The rooms are connected to each other by corridors giving a sense of freedom to audiences, while the entrance of the palace overlooking to the main garden gives an inviting feeling to the place. Moreover, the fascinating interior work done by the Solomon R.Guggenheim Foundation is very evident.. These and other amenities make the Palace the ideal place to organize and display artworks. There are many palaces in Venezia that have many floors and divisions, a very difficult task to anyone wants to turn these palaces into a museum or gallery, due to the location of the rooms and the difficulty of movement in the narrow aisles. Choosing the right place is an important factor in the field of art, because the connection between the place and concept of art exhibited is very important. But it didn’t surprise me that Peggy chose this Palace to exhibit her art collection. Her expertise in the field of art and museums are magnificent. She always wanted to establish her own modern art museum in Europe. But because of the political changes and the World War II, many aspirations of this woman had been postponed.
My favorite room in Palazzo dei Leoni is the one dedicated to Peggy’s daughter Pegeen, the youngest artist in the exhibition space. Not much has been written about this artist, but her work speaks for itself. She started making art at the age of seven. Her innocent vision of reality is reflected in her paintings. The majority of her work focuses on issues of femininity, happy people, non-basic bright colors and the theme of family. Lots of her paintings were finsihed during her marriage with Jean Hélion, a happy time in her life, and clearly seen in her works. She passed away in 1967, at the age of 41 and soon after her paintings started to get dareker. Peggy had wanted to keep her memory alive even after her death. As a result, she dedicated a room to display her works permanently. Palazzo dei Leoni visitors usually will explore the unique and creative sculpture located in the Nasher garden followed by the Schulhof sculpture garden, a modern sculpture surrounded by a huge tree, and a great place for Meditation. Finally, the crowds split between exploring Hannelore B. & Rudolph B. Schulhof’s Collection and Peggy Guggenheim’s.
15 September 2014
According to historical records the origins of the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni date back to the mid-18th Century. What is seen of the structure today is a fraction of what was initially designed; there are many theories as to why the palace wasn’t completed the way it was initially envisioned. However, it wasn’t until nearly 200 years after it was constructed the Palazzo took on the popular identity of the Peggy Guggenheim Museum.
It’s safe to say that much like many other structures in Venice, this particular Palazzo has a rich history. By virtue of the events that transpired at the time it was conceived, and the circumstances that led to it being constructed up to the point that we see it today, it forms the perfect setting for the eclectic collection of art pieces that are on display.
Walking into the main courtyard, one is immediately greeted with an assortment of sculptures and installations. It is clear that there was some thought put into which piece should be displayed where, but what was most interesting was that each of the bigger sculptures drew you into something smaller or less conspicuous. I felt like I was walking in a garden that belonged to someone who was not only keen on greenery, but someone who was also very clearly inspired by aesthetics of structures that enhance the overall sensory experience.
The main courtyard branched off into two smaller enclosures, which again had many individual pieces for the visitor to enjoy. I spent a lot of time outside the actual museum building, and the more I walked around it, the more I felt as if the sculptures and installations were actually designed for the space that they occupied. I got a sense that each piece had a purpose, and it gave me an insight into what kind of person Peggy Guggenheim might have been.
Unlike other museums, I had prepared myself to visit Peggy’s personal collection of art pieces, and not knowing much about her, I thought it would consist primarily of classical art pieces. Being a lover of modern art (and an artist as well), I was pleasantly surprised by her collection of paintings and sculptures both inside the Palazzo and outside.
The feeling of being in a personal space is further extended when one walks into the actual museum – or what was once Peggy’s home. Having visited many exhibitions and museums in the past, this visit will definitely stay with me for two main reasons. One of the reasons being that I feel the visitors are taken back in time, and are given a very candid glimpse into who Peggy was as a person – all this through her art.
Some say that Peggy happened to be at the right place and at the right time. Not one with an extensive background on art, she happened to collect great art pieces within a short period of time for affordable prices. Apparently a lot of the artists wanted to get rid of their art for cheap during the 1930s anticipating the start of the Second World War, and her prowess allowed her to amass a large collection within a fairly short amount of time.
Walking from room to room, the visitor is taken on a journey through Peggy’s life. Each room is indicative of a certain period of her life and the movement from one room to the next narrates this story very well. Within a very short period I came face to face with works from a very impressive list of artists including Picasso, Dali, Magritte, Duchamp, Kandinsky, and Max Ernst – to name a few. However, I wasn’t overwhelmed as I felt quite at ‘home’.
Throughout my visit, I would keep thinking to myself that if I had had a house, I would have wanted to display all kinds of art just the way Peggy had done while she was alive – assuming that I could of course invest in such pieces. My visit came to a halt when I came across one of the rooms towards the back, which brings me to my second reason for not being able to forget this visit anytime soon.
This whole room was dedicated to works by Jackson Pollock – the only other room in the entire museum to be dedicated to a single artist, other than the one that displays the works of Pegeen, Peggy’s daughter. Being an abstract artist myself, I came across Pollock’s work years ago, and was fascinated by the work that he did – and acted as a sort of inspiration for the work that I do. Each stroke of his had a clear purpose, and added to the overall story of every painting.
To be standing in a room that told a narrative of Pollock’s life through his work left me speechless. There were six paintings in all, with his early works clearly influenced by Picasso, and then the progression over the years into the kind of work that he is famous for. Having seen Pollock’s work only in pictures, I was initially in shock because of my appreciation of the work that surrounded me on all sides.
I later found out that Pollock had actually worked as a carpenter in Solomon Guggenheim’s museum and Peggy decided to give him a chance to produce some artwork for her based on some sketches that she had seen. Soon this relationship developed and she started commissioning his work on a regular basis. Had it not been for this coincidence, the world might have never known of Pollock and his abstract world of drip paintings.
By far, one of my favorite excursions in Venice, and one that I will most probably visit again before I come back home.
10 September 2014
(Ponte della Costituzione. Photo by Mohamed Al Qemzi)
When one thinks of Venice, you automatically start thinking of the grand structures that carry with them a legacy of historical importance. It wasn’t until recently that I learned the islands that come together to form the city were actually manmade – a feat no short of marvelous keeping in mind at the time the city was formed. After the foundation was laid, master architects and artists spent years constructing the marvels that we see today. The process of how these were then dotted along tiny islands and connected by several bridges to form one homogenous city, is itself a miracle.
Walking around Venice today, for me it is hard to visualize that a majority of these structures have been around for many centuries. Not only have they withstood the elements for hundreds of years, they are still functional for the most part.
Given the fact that space is finite in Venice, it is not very common to come across modern structures. To build something new, the Venetians would have to forsake already existing spaces. Also, the people are very proud of their history which often times leads to resistance when it comes to any new construction which would in turn contradict their heritage.
Having said that, there are a few instances of newly constructed elements and one prime example would be the new – and controversial – bridge by Santiago Calatrava, called Ponte della Costituzione. It crosses the Grand Canal between transport hubs Piazzale Roma and the railway station and is the first really recent work of architecture that most visitors will come across.
It was on my first ride down the Grand Canal, while I was admiring my surroundings and trying to absorb the history that I was riding by in a matter of minutes, when I saw this gleaming structure. Needless to say, it’s hard to miss as it stands out not only because of its size but also because of its obvious modern approach being the only bridge that uses glass as a primary element. Some may say that it connects people arriving from the Modern world with the historical architecture of Venice. While I can appreciate the argument, personally I felt that it does not belong.
In a city where open space is very limited, especially in between existing structures – anything that does not belong is very obvious. This bridge is a prime example of such a structure as it is set against a backdrop of buildings – on either side, that date back centuries, and in my opinion doesn’t necessarily compliment its surroundings.
Other examples of modern architecture in Venice can be found on the Giudecca island – a short ferry ride from the main city. It was historically an area of large palaces with gardens, the island became an industrial area in the early 20th century with shipyards and factories. Much of the industry went into decline after World War II, but it is now once more regarded as a quiet residential area of largely working-class housing with some chic apartments and exclusive houses.
A lot of these old abandoned structures were then refurbished over the years. More recently, buildings that were primarily used for industrial purposes have been redesigned and given face-lifts and converted into residential buildings. Another example of this re-purposing of buildings is the Hilton hotel – which is now internationally recognized as one of Italy’s iconic pieces of industrial architecture. A flourishing flour mill at one point in time, it has now been beautifully restored to house a hotel.
In addition to the hotel, smaller structures on the island were given the same treatment. For the most part, in my opinion the Venetians were successful with these smaller projects and trying to update these already existing structures. One reason would be because they weren’t forced upon the already existing framework of historical Venice. Secondly, it was done in a manner where the juxtaposition of the newer structures alongside the older ones provided for an interesting skyline of sorts.
A lot of work has been done from the start of the early 20th century, with world-renowned architects to try and update the city and make it sustainable in the long run. With approximately 20 million visitors on a yearly basis, the city sees tourists from all over the world coming to Venice for a unique experience that only she can offer. With fears of Venice ‘sinking’ due to the rise in water levels, the city needs to use available resources to avoid becoming the modern-day ‘Atlantis’.
Coming from Dubai, a city that has seen major development in a the past couple of decades, I have experienced firsthand what the influx of major investment and architectural advancements are capable of. I have been fortunate enough to live through what is known as the ‘boom years’ of Dubai’s growth and seen the physical transformation of the city from a young promising city to the sprawling metropolis that it has become today.
Maybe a certain faction of Venetian society feels that it needs to match what the rest of the world is doing in terms of architectural advancements. I personally feel, as I am sure majority of the locals would agree, that these investments should be injected in trying to preserve the already existing elements, and in turn help preserve the legacy of their Italian forefathers.
To know where we are going, we must know where we came from.
2 September 2014
Photo taken on the Rialto Bridge with Internship Coordinator, Maria Bangara.