Romania at the Biennale 2014: Site Under Construction

Projecting the future from amidst the relics of modernist ruin.

Deep inside the Giardini in Castello, Venice, the Romanian Pavilion for the Architecture Biennale sits amidst a long row of undifferentiated pavilion facades, evocative of their design era and the design politics of that time, punctuated only by their entrance doors and identifiable by nation only by virtue of a sign announcing each country.

Romania Pavilion Site Under Construction - 14th Arch Biennale

Romania Pavilion Site Under Construction – 14th Arch Biennale

Ironically, the neutral, anonymous façade – which acts as a “plain wrap” container for the wonders many nations have proudly showcased within – serves as an exemplar for what the Romanian Pavilion curators critically note:  “In Eastern Europe the assimilation of modernism proved a rather divergent process, correlated with tumultuous and contradictory socio-political events.”…

 “Any art movement is directly linked to the political and economic context it develops in.”

They report a clear image of Romanian architectural modernism, a dictated, forced development, “through the brutal transitions due to ideologically opposed political contexts.  Transitions from interwar to communism and then to post-communist capitalism reflects our understanding of modernism.”

Thirty-five artifacts of industrial modernism and their urban environments are displayed primarily by videos, many now modern ruins from a ruinous half-century long socio-political system.  The presentation is color-less, as are the people celebrating the creation of the Romanian socio-economic modernist empire in the videos.

How intriguing that systems which create ruins are so often populated by leaders without style (except when behind the walls of their palaces, reveling in wealth and excess), and visibly impose that monochrome culture on their people and institutions.  “The entire space of the pavilion reflects the mega-space of the contemporary city, seen as an imperceptible black box without definite outlines” amidst the “void of the post-industrial present”.

Very Detroit-ian.

Romania is working diligently on its newest transition, freed from wars and harshly imposed utopian systems – at least for a time.  Learning from that past — how and why it arrived, what its “leaders” imposed, what and who it ruined — the country is projecting a different future, of its own and for its own.

Many nations could learn from the Romanian experience and new resolve.  Many nations have modernist ruins brought about by a toxic brew of some combination of central planned economies, unilateral governance, social upheaval, physical war, natural disaster or avarice.  Only one such ingredient is required for ruin.

Romania Pavilion - 8 Hr Shift - 14th Arch Biennale

Romania Pavilion – 8 Hr Shift – 14th Arch Biennale

The curators count on you, the observer, to learn from the relics of soul-less culture, to project the future – as Romania must and is doing from its legacy of politically imposed modernism, its physical, institutional and human ruins.

Project a different future.

This exhibition is a brutally frank, brave confrontation with the past, a necessary Recapitulation to identify error – including the misappropriation of artistic style for political purposes – and return to a rightful course – Reformation and Renaissance.  Bravo to the curators of the Romanian Pavilion and its sponsoring people.  May others open their eyes and comprehend, to apply this lesson in their own nations.

“Any art movement is directly linked to the political and economic context it develops in.” 

As George Santayana perceptively observed,

“Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Learn from Romania.  Be aware, and beware…

Who is designing and dictating your future and its ruins?



About randysrules

From a professional background in architecture, community and regional planning, urban design, leadership, and fine arts, this blog provides insights on ethics, leadership, architecture/planning/urban design, Venice, and whatever intrigues me at the time. Enjoy!
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