Book Briefs #36: Biennale Publications

"Book Briefs" are an ongoing series of posts with short first-hand descriptions of some of the numerous books that make their way into my library. These briefs are not full-blown reviews (though some might go on to get that treatment), but they are a way to share more books worthy of attention than can find their way into reviews on this blog. This installment features a half-dozen books I picked up at the Venice Biennale last month.

Architectural Ethnography edited by Momoyo Kaijima, Laurent Stalder, Yu Iseki | Toto | 2018 | Amazon
I'm a big fan of the books of Momoyo Kaijima and Atelier Bow-Wow. I came across Made in Tokyo and Pet Architecture Guide Book many years ago and have since been lucky enough to obtain a few of their monographs and their amazing Graphic Anatomy. One thing linking much of their printed output is drawing, which is most pronounced in the guidebooks and in Graphic Anatomy. The thinking of Made in Tokyo — understanding a place through drawings — informs the Japan Pavilion curated by Kaijima with Laurent Stalder and Yu Iseki. The exhibition and book of the same name consist of 42 drawing projects — many culled from books such as Cities Without Ground — that illustrate how we can learn about architecture, cities and the lives within them through the act of drawing. The compact book includes drawings from the exhibition as well as detailed sections highlighted by round apertures in the vein of the magnifier in the gallery, a subtle link between exhibition and book.

Dimensions of Citizenship edited by Nick Axel, Nikolaus Hirsch, Ann Lui, Mimi Zeiger | Inventory Press | 2018 | Amazon
There are exactly seven "dimensions of citizenship" in the US Pavilion at the Venice Biennale: citizen, civitas, region, nation, globe, network, and cosmos, from smallest to largest. The U-shaped pavilion in the Giardini moves in the same order, from wearable "citizen" art in the courtyard to civic and regional building materials in the first gallery to a range of multimedia displays for the large-scale dimensions in the remaining four galleries. It is an exhibition that begs for a printed companion to parse a highly ambitious and complex take on an important and increasingly indeterminate term: citizenship. The pocket-sized book delves into the seven dimensions with descriptions of each contribution to the exhibition and long, fairly academic essays that don't necessarily align with the contributions but nevertheless tackle the appropriate dimension and how it relates to citizenship. The essays were co-commissioned by e-flux architecture, and are therefore available online, but their digital forms are hardly a substitute for this handsome, portable book.

16th International Architecture Exhibition: FREESPACE | La Biennale di Venezia | 2018
As in other recent editions, the official catalog for the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale is a hefty two volumes. The smaller one is devoted to the collateral events and the 60-plus participating countries, with each country given one spread to explain their pavilions: one page of text and one page of images. (Not surprisingly Italy and Venice are given three and two spreads respectively, an illustration of the political nature of such an event.) The considerably larger volume (576 pages vs. 190 pages) is devoted to FREESPACE, the main exhibition curated by Yvonne Farrell and Sheila McNamara. It suffers the fate of most exhibition catalogs: it can only illustrate what the contributors want to do (via renderings and models), not what they ended up doing (as photographs in situ). With 200 pages devoted to spreads illustrating the work of the 100 contributors (on top of the same number of pages given them for their exhibition text and images), the volume would be just as valuable without the extra spreads — and considerably smaller. Or visitors to the Biennale could buy the smaller, cheaper, condensed catalog, a suitable alternative especially when traveling home with it and other books collected at the exhibition.

Infinite Places: Constructing Buildings or Places? edited by Encore Heureux | Éditions B42 | 2018
No place is a clean slate. Eminently aware of this, curators Encore Heureux selected ten projects "that emerged out of specific encounters," transporting numerous historical artifacts (clothing, tools, musical instruments, signs, etc.) from their respective sites to the French Pavilion. In turn, the curators disassembled last year's Art Biennale exhibition as materials for this year's display. The catalog — probably the most beautiful one I picked up — has ten essays (by a sociologist, gardener, philosopher, and so on) followed by the ten projects. Most valuable in the latter are diagrams that depict timelines of the each project's history, from the construction of the original building to the changing of hands to the realization of the latest incarnation. History is a continuum, both in the project narratives and in the new architecture, which clearly expresses how these French architects are cognizant of the value of what came before.

Mind-Building | Anni Vartola, edited by Miina Jutila | Archinfo Finland | 2018
Even though libraries are much more than repositories of books — they are meeting places, cinemas, cafes, and often just places to sit or find a restroom — it's hard to shake the image of books and libraries. It's fitting then that the small Finnish Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, which is focused on about 140 years of library architecture in Finland, uses its own catalog as the main means of display. Felt wall panels with ledges and bands display the catalog opened to select pages. They are not alone though. Much like libraries, there are places to sit in order to listen to audio or just take in the contents of the book, which presents around 15 libraries, from 1881 to this year's opening of the Oodi Helsinki Central Library. Befitting the freedom of libraries — in Finland or elsewhere — the catalog is available online free in PDF form.

UNES-CO by Kateřina Šedá | Kateřina Šedá | 2018
The catalog to the Czech and Slovak Pavilions is a wire-bound volume with tabs and even sticky notes, meant to look like a government report. UNES-CO, by artist Kateřina Šedá, draws attention to the Czech town of Český Krumlov, which was put on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1992 and has seen its historic center drained of residents and replaced by tourists and spaces (hotels, restaurants, shops) catering to them. Consisting of interviews, snippets from news stories, and plenty of photographs and other images, the catalog makes a strong case for Krumlov's UNESCO-created circumstances (a case made a bit too repetitively though) and poses a clever way of dealing with it: paying people to act "normal" in the city center this summer. The results can be watched in a live feed on the UNES-CO website.