The Austrian Pavilion for the Biennale in Venice was designed by Josef Hoffman for the Giardini in the 1930′s on a commanding and elevated site, in part for impact but also perhaps being aware of the threat (even then) of potential flooding, there having been serious floods in November 1927 and December 1933. This gallery spaces around an internal courtyard were year taken over by Renate Bertlemann’s exhibition ‘Discordo Ego Sum’ which sought to twist, challenge and redefine, in at times an uncomfortable way, today’s social issues such as gender relations, role models, stereotypes and power structures while the courtyard was filled with 312 red glasses roses impaled on sharp steel knives, creating a contrast and conflict between the beauty of the roses and the destructive power of the knives – reminding us that our lives are on a knife’s edge and indeed, taking the subject of climate change, our world is itself on a knife edge.
Nearly 40 years ago, in 1980, another artist, Valie Export, sought to cover the same themes in the Austrian Pavilion – at the time probably more shocking they appear to us today, along with a message for urban designers and architects – consider how people will interact with physical designs and ensure they are designed to encourage imagination and creativity. Urban and landscaped places should be creative and stimulating spaces for people – sometimes they are tightly controlled, managed and constrained so that people cannot interact with them fully.
The Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac has brought together work from that 1980 exhibition, along with additional archive and photographic material, allowing those of us who visited the Biennale this year to reflect on how the two artists represented similar themes in two different exhibitions set almost 40 years apart using different media, performance and sculptural installations.