Sun, Nov 21, 2004 - Page 19 News List

Taiwan shows its face at the Venice biennale

The country's entry at the ninth Venice Architectural Biennale \nis a playful affair made of wood

By Joan Stanley-Baker  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

A scale duplicate of Taiwan's entry at the at the ninth Venice Architectural Biennale, The Interbreeding Field.

PHOTO: JOAN STANLEY -BAKER, TAIPEI TIMES

Taiwan's entry at the ninth Venice Architectural Biennale reveals interesting gaps of misunderstanding. They center on cultural and identity gaps between the organizer, verbiage from the entrants and then the entries themselves. .

Organizers set this year's theme as "Metamorph," stressing changes in the nature of architecture that is "of a magnitude that justifies comparison with the evolution of living organisms ..."

These challenges elicit meditation on our changing environment, new technologies, breakthroughs in synthetics, in anti-gravity mechanisms, ergonomic utilization of space, heat and light, and should generate exciting future possibilities for enhancing human life.

Taiwan's entry this year, The Interbreeding Field (建築繁殖場), is none of the above. It is as if the organizers' directives were not heard, understood, or respected. Using jingoistic lingo. The project organizers proclaim: "The Interbreeding Field is to display an image as well as an exploration of space representing the kind of new era we live in. As the process of architectural transformation takes place, we have tried to develop an experimental spirit and theatrical character from within, by mapping out different axes of time and space." And so on.

In such gobbledy-gook, Taiwan artists tend to present themselves on the world-stage. This vacuous incomprehensible language lifts undigested theories and terminology currently in vogue to dress up humdrum rehashings of borrowed ideas and misunderstood concepts. Both in avant-garde art and in art criticism, obfuscation aims to intimidate the unwary by equating obscurantism with importance or wisdom.

The entry itself, however, is another matter. There is no architectural innovation, it offers a wood-and-nail frame of various perspectives that we can gain, by cautiously crawling and clambering among wooden slats nailed into planes and fixed at different angles.

Built by students of the Institute of Architectural Arts at Tainan National University of the Arts (國立台南藝術大學建築藝術所), this structure with its off-putting introduction, is in fact innocence itself: a playhouse that would thrill the four- and five-year olds in all of us.

In contrast to the cold gray stone of the Venice prison Taiwan's warm fresh wooden slats, lit to glow orange red -- offer attic crawlspaces from which to peer through, gazebos from which to look out, ladders and towers from which look down at other visitors, or at one's alarmed parents. The monotony of the 2 x 4s and the rigid flat planes focus our attention on the life that's left: the warming light glowing through its wall-less spaces.

The Palazzo di Prigione (the site of the Biennale) is a section of the ancient gray stone prison of the Doges and Taiwan's The Interbreeding Field is built to occupy it wall to wall, floor to vaulted ceiling. Contrasted with the cold stone and curved volutes, the wooden plank-planes going this way and that and glowing gentle warmth from floor-lit lights, offers a contrast of curves and straight lines, spaces and planes.

If you are willing to creep into tiny crawlspaces, explore unsteady ladders and surmount swaying towers, play with looking up or looking down in quick succession, your child's heart will have a whale of a time and reawaken thrills of times past many of us have long forgotten.

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