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Let's shrink

06 of May '24

The column is from A&B issue 12|23

What does the future hold for us? - I asked here two years ago on the occasion of the previous Venice Biennale. Shast-prast, two years have passed and we know the answer: to make events with the word "future" in the name. Such as this year's Biennale.

From predicting the future there are clairvoyant Jackowski and futurological congresses. From what the future will really look like are big business and chance. And architects? This year's Biennale, under the theme "The Laboratory of the Future," proved that en bloc (because there were exceptions) they can't make a good event not only about the future, but also about what is happening now. So they will do even worse with the future itself. So I would consider this year's trip to Venice a waste of time, if not for Venice as such and the Polish golden autumn, which also went to Italy in November. And - if not for the Austrians. These made the Biennale organizers a beautiful prank worthy of the Golden Lions, which, of course, as punishment, they did not get. Just as a few months earlier they did not get permission to let local residents into the patch of the exhibition enclave.

After all, the Austrian pavilion stands by the wall of the Giardini exhibition park. It borders the Sant'Elena neighborhood, one of the few Venetian places where the tourist is a rare specimen and the normal resident a frequent one. The latter, however, can only gaze at the treetops of the Giardini - the most interesting park in historic Venice - from behind a fence or the high blind walls of the border pavilions. For the past one hundred and twenty years, the Biennale has gobbled up the Giardini, leaving Venetians with a green square one-third the size of the exhibition park.

Recognizing this injustice, the Austrians decided to invite the locals in, giving them part of their territory for the duration of the Biennale for workshops, meetings, coffee, pastries and gossip. A temporary steel footbridge was planned to be thrown over the fence. But the stairs and platform were built only on the side of the pavilion and hovered over the wall, because the city and Biennale authorities did not agree even to such a modest opening of the exhibition to the increasingly scarce residents of the uturized city. The reasons? Ostensibly that order and order. But maybe it's retaliation for the Habsburg occupation of Venice? In any case, the Austrians heard "no." So, on the one hand, they trumpeted at the Biennale about Africa (rarely in a communicative way), decolonization, decarbonization, ecology, concern for everything and more, and on the other - they did not allow the natives into the park colonized by the world of art and architecture.

The degrowth so promoted today can therefore, and even should, be popularized in the biennial exhibitions, but this does not apply to the exhibition grounds themselves. These refuse to shrink by even a few dozen square meters. And this despite the fact that - fortunately - the main exhibition at the Arsenal has been slimmed down a bit. A few other countries have also thrown themselves into the fight against the typical excess of ideas at the Venice event. The best weight-loss treatment was probably administered by the Romanians. They rummaged through their national inventions from the previous century and demonstrated how many good ideas and implementations can be found in decades past. And how politics, coincidence and bluntly understood economics were able to nip in the bud what other countries or companies years later "discovered," implemented and made a fortune from. In doing so, the Romanians asked what unknown ideas are wasting away today. What is worth developing? What else can be unearthed from history?

Perhaps, then, it's time to return to the past: re-use ideas, inventions and concepts? After all, the entire 20th century was a great laboratory with achievements used only piecemeal. Never before have trends, fashions, ways and quality of life changed at such a pace. Hardly had something entered circulation, we were already throwing ourselves at novelties, probably losing sight of many good innovations in the process. The frenzy to produce things visible and invisible has continued and continues. Nothing but to dive into this dump of last century's ideas and discover the uncovered. Police officers have their X-Files, where they investigate unsolved crimes by rummaging carefully through old documentation. So it's time for an ideological X archive, too, to be dug up by some avid architectural retrofuturists.

As long as they don't go too far in their rush for restrictions and reductions, stepping, for example, into the shoes of the early Christians who, one thousand seven hundred years ago, got their hands on the throne and, in a Hunjebian fervor, condemned to oblivion a considerable material and cultural heritage. After an era of excess, the pendulum may still swing the other way today. There is no shortage of new zealots, religious and otherwise, ready to drive us into another intellectual misery. The ground is fertile. Many subconsciously are probably dreaming of some kind of turnaround that will free us from being overstimulated by knowledge, discoveries, events and things. But it is enough to go one step too far, so that in a thousand years or so, after some new Dark Ages, amateurs of antiquity will unearth with amazement today's complex contraptions. For example, such as the mobile dam named Moses, which - finally! - worked for the first time and, a week before I entered Venice, saved the city from another flood.

For now, however, degrowth is breathing where it wants, and not necessarily where it should. It is not only in Poland, for example, that the salaries, role and working conditions of architects are shrinking, as was discussed in detail at the Venice exhibition with the Czechs. The creations of designers are also shrinking, as evidenced by the epidemic of "micro apartments." Fewer and fewer meters for the same price, which, by the way, is part of the common trend of downsizing (same price, but less product). If this continues, the best idea from the laboratory of the future will be to reduce the size of humans.

Jakub Głaz

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