Danaë by Vadim Zakharov

venice-biennale-russian-pavillion-danae-vadim-zakharov-3-thumb-620x413-60437 copiaMy new article for Cool Hunting.

Greek mythology is the inspiration for the Russian Pavilion at this year’s 55th Venice Art Biennale, which is seen in “Danaë”—a provocative installation conceived by conceptual artist Vadim Zakharov and curated by Udo Kittelman, under the supervision of commissioner Stella Kesaeva.

The rooms of the building (designed and built in 1914 and situated in the area of the Giardini) have undergone some structural changes to connect all of the spaces that host the installation, which consists of objects, performance and the continuous involvement of the visitors.

The action is centered on the flow of custom-made golden coins (each one is One Danaë), symbolizing fertility and abundance. Coins fall from the sky, in a room where only women are allowed to enter (protected by a transparent umbrella) and take a handful. The coins are then brought by female visitors to an adjacent room, put into a bracket and hand-lifted to the upper floor through a hole in the ceiling. The man who takes the coins up is in charge of filling a machine that, thanks to a special lift, automatically takes them to top of the pavilion, where they fall again. This process keeps repeating and repeating.

In another room, a man is sitting on a saddle on top of a pillar. While he’s eating peanuts, the only thing he produces is leftovers falling on the ground—trash, not gold. Writing on the wall says: “Gentlemen, time has come to confess out Rudeness, Lust, Narcissism, Demagoguery, Falsehood, Banality and…” In another room the sentence continues: “…and Greed, Cynicism, Robbery, Speculation, Wastefulness, Gluttony, Seduction, Envy and Stupidity.” Only the golden coins carried by the ladies can save: on one side, their true value is unveiled and it consists of “Trust, Unity, Freedom, Love.”

The 55th Venice Biennale is open to the public now until 24 November 2013.


Lasvit-nova-bor-paolo-4-thumb-620x413-56757My latest article for Cool Hunting

We were recently invited by lighting specialists Lasvit to visit their production sites in Nový Bor, a small town north of Prague in the Czech Republic. We visited two different plants, met designers Maurizio Galante and Arik Levy, and previewed their products that will debut at Milan Design Week. During the trip, we had the chance to see glassmakers using breath and gravity in the perfection of their craft.

The first location was a traditional furnace in the middle of the Bohemian woods where dozens of men work glass in an incredibly hot environment. At the center, the main ovens kept melted glass at 1400º C. Divided in groups of three—one master glassblower and two assistants—craftsmen work at high speeds, rough and elegant at the same time, quickly extracting fragments of melted glass that is then put into wooden moulds and blown with the force of lungs. In a series of choreographed gestures, the artisans reenact an ancestral way of relating to matter. Here we saw the production of Jar, a new lamp designed by Arik Levy.

The second plant was completely different, with the environment of a futuristic white laboratory. Every step of production was more contemporary, and the name of the place itself, Kolektiv, indicated that this was a collaborative effort among young people specialized in fusing, painting, grinding and engraving. In a place meant to innovate in the art of glassmaking, we saw Maurizio Galante’s Plisse brought to life.

During this intense day, suspended between a primitive past and a futuristic modernity, we had the chance to talk with both Levy and Galante about their respective projects for Lasvit.

Galante, Italian-born and now based in Paris, is one of the elite few fashion designers working in the world of haute couture. In recent years he has branched out to create everything from furniture, lighting and audio systems, working with companies such as Baccarat and Chopard, to stamps for La Poste France. HisTattoo poufCanapé Cactus and Louis XV Goes To Sparta (designed in collaboration with Tal Lancman for Cerruti Baleri) have rapidly become contemporary design icons.

For Lasvit Galante has created Plisse, a lamp that unites the softness of fabrics with the delicacy of glass, transforming the ruffles that define his fashion into a new glass concept.

How was this project born?

This project was created with the intention of combining what I’ve always done and continue to do in the fashion with the craftsmanship of glassmaking. The initial idea was to put movement into solid things. I like the idea that the movement could also be transferred to more rigid objects of completely different worlds, such as jewelry and glass.

Before doing the project, had you seen the production? Did you know already the techniques and limitations you were supposed to consider?

When I first visited the furnace and the company, I studied what Lasvit had done before and tried to become part of the collection—all with something that did not exist, something new that was mostly mine. My fashion is very built, very architectural, so it was easy enough to be able to find a meeting point. It’s haute couture that I do; there is so much craft, which is also abundant in the work of Lasvit.

In your atelier stimuli arrive from all over the world—do you feel that you behave as an interpreter who then revises it all in a personal way?

This is what happens during a journey. Sometimes you have a vision or discover something unexpected. For example, the first time I came to Nový Bor, I realized that they work glass in a different way compared to how it’s done in Venice, in different spaces, with different possibilities. So I tried to put together all these points with lines and to provide new answers and do something interesting.

Did you bring Paris to the Czech Republic?

Lasvit is fully projected outward with respect to what is seen here. I tried to make Plisse an “ambassador,” an object able to tell who made it and where it comes from. Undoubtedly there is also a lot of my work here, where I’m from, what I do, France, Italy. But above all there are the emotions, which are the key to my work. Today we do not need anything. What we lack, however, are objects that give us some kind of pleasure.

We have seen in production that the modules of Plisse are born small and then are welded, almost “sewn” together, with a technique that is very reminiscent of fashion. At the same time, the project is highly modular, with a logic closely linked to industrial design. Was this project is born with the ambition to become a family of products?

Undoubtedly, every time you give birth to a creature you want it to have a history and a long life. This idea of modules that can expand and multiply like a virus is part of this logic. In Milan Plisse will be presented on a long wall, but we also imagine to use it on ceilings, to give the impression of living in a seabed, under algae or under the ice.

The glass elements of Plisse are born flat, placed on specially made ceramic curved surfaces, then melted in an oven until you get to their final curved shape. It looks like an ironing process, another component derived from fashion.
Plisse will be presented white and clear—are there planned evolutions in the project through color?

I’d love to work with color shades, from light to dark, which could give the idea of something that lightens up. With glass you can do it.

Artist, filmmaker, photographer and designer Arik Levy was born in Tel Aviv and now lives in Paris. His work is based on a strict relationship between objects and functionality, art and design, technology and nature, surface and colors.

Jar is the new lamp he conceived for Lasvit, a very flexible and open project that is mainly meant for public spaces. Even though it is completely handmade in the most traditional furnaces of Nový Bor, there’s a very clear and strong digital allure. In fact the presentation of this collection will be based on the RGB color model, allowing users to create an interesting range of combinations. At the factory, we discussed with Levy the origin and the evolution of his new piece.

You say that you want to create “ego-friendly” objects. What does that mean exactly?

Ego-friendly is my motto. It means that I create the tools, and the architects, the interior designers or the owners can interpret them and build what they like. Surprisingly enough, when you design objects and you see them not the way you did them exactly—not the way you choose the colors, not the exact finishings—in many cases you have interesting surprises. I remember when I started 20 years ago I was making lights from cardboard. I sent my mother a light and to protect it I packed it with plastic mesh. I traveled to Israel a few months later and I discovered she left it with the mesh, turned the light on and it looked amazing. For me it was a part of packaging, for her it was the lamp: this is ego-friendly.

What about the aspect of color? You went for a RGB color palette, a very basic solution that, depending on how you combine the single elements, can create almost every color.

It’s a basic solution for an endless number of interpretations. I think that color is a question of personal taste; anyone can tell me what’s a beautiful color to them. I think it’s a great possibility to give color variations and a wide range for people to use. If the concept of the light of the object is color-free, then it works in almost every color. If a Ferrari is put in pink it doesn’t work. It is important and relative to integrate that thought about the color potential within the design. Jar is about how the the colors interact with each other with see-through effects and with the light, both natural and artificial.

The shape of Jar is very iconic, clean and may recall the shape of a glass bottle. Was that the starting point?

Actually this configuration seems but doesn’t have the proportions of a bottle. For me it’s a little more technical and sharp, more like a gas cylinder or a diving tank.

Why did you choose such delicate and pale shades to present at Salone in Milan?

I wanted it to be see-through. I like it when it’s lit but also when it’s not. The object benefits from the surroundings and changes according to the background. If you have a red wall or a Malevich painting, that shines through the piece and creates a new shade.

There’s a very famous book by Leo Lionni called “Little Blue and Little Yellow.” Jar is not really homage to the book, but it’s a sort of primitive but very intelligent primal understanding of what the eye would see, understand and benefit. I wanted that level of sophistication, without powerful opaque colors, that if the environment changes, they don’t change. It’s like a rainbow: it’s transparent, but all the colors are there. There’s a sensation of magic in it, it’s there without being there.

And we come back to the idea of ego-friendly, since there’s more room for interpretation. We are more than open to personalizations. I would love to have someone who wants only olive green or orange or whatever, or different color appearances, or someone who wants to open a restaurant and only create gradients from black to white. I’ve just created the toolbox for people to use and I think that people could take this opportunity.

National Pavilions

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“Common Ground”—the theme this year for Venice’s Biennale Architettura 2012—covers all exhibition spaces from Giardini to Arsenale, as well as the vast range of venues spread out all over town. Fitting into this larger concept while presenting their own respective themes were a number of national participants. Here are three standouts from Japan, Russia and the USA.


For its unifying motif the US chose the idea of “Spontaneous Interventions: Design Actions for the Common Good.” The installation marks a huge living catalogue of 124 spontaneous urban interventions, put in place by architects, designers, planners and artists, as well as common citizens willing to intervene in their neighborhoods and cities.

After an open call for projects, commissioner and curator Cathy Lang Ho worked with co-curators David van der Leer and Ned Cramer to narrow down the selection among more than 450 submissions. The result is a clever choice of local projects, urban gardens, community farms, websites and art activities which foster and enhance relationships, leisure, comfort, functionality, safety, sharing and sustainability in US cities. Every project—which ties back to the central notion of collaboration—is visible on a constantly updated dedicated website.

A system of movable banners conceived by the Brooklyn-based design studio Freecell lies at the core of the installation—each banner presents and describes a project, and which of the ideas it explores improve the public realm. The visitors can lower a banner while a counterweight is pulled up, revealing a keyword for the future of cities and graphics designed by communication design studio M-A-D. The Jury of the Biennale has assigned a Special Mention for the national participation in this project.


The same prize went to the Russian National Pavillion, but here it’s a totally different story. Where the US installation is totally mechanical, concrete and evident, the choice of curator’s Sergei Tchoban, Sergey Kuznetsov and Valeria Kashirina was to go digital, virtual and invisible, with “i-city” and “i-land.”

The i-city area is completely covered with QR codes from walls to floors to windows, with no exceptions. The visitors are provided with a special tablet with a camera that lights up the squares according to a specific rhythm. Then, the monitor unveils projects for Skolkovo, the so-called Russian Silicon Valley. The Skolkovo area is not far from Moscow and is one of the most ambitious architectural, financial and scientific projects in the country, anticipating buildings and development plans by David ChipperfieldOMAHerzog & De MeuronStefano Boeri Architetti and Bernaskoni Architecture Bureau, just to name a few.

On the lower level, the i-land project is a completely dark area, with mysterious tiny backlit holes that create a sort of underground constellation. Looking inside the holes, the visitor can directly spy into the Soviet past, discovering a series of formerly secret science cities. Those citadels represented the excellence of USSR’s scientific research and were kept hidden until the end of the Cold War.


The Golden Lion for the Best National Participation went to “Architecture. Possible here? Home-for-All,”Toyo Ito‘s project for the Japanese Pavillion, which starts with the consequences of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. With the help of architects Kumiko Inui, Sou Fujimoto, Akihisa Hirata, and photographer Naoya Hatakeyama, Ito documents the realization of community centers for victims.

Questions about the possibility of post-quake architecture find an answer in apparently primeval construction techniques, where wood and stilts make up the basic elements. The entire installation looks and feels like a work-in-progress, where the contribution from everyone is considered and accepted, in a spirit of authentic collaboration between architects and common people. This is the epitome of this year’s Biennale, an authentic “common ground” for the future of architecture.

Torre David / Gran Horizonte

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Torre David is an abandoned 45-story skyscraper located in Caracas, Venezuela. After the death of the developer in 1993 and the collapse of the Venezuelan economy a year later, the office tower was almost complete, but the construction was suddenly and inexorably interrupted. Today Torre David is a real vertical slum occupied by a community of more than 750 families. The residents of the tower have spontaneously created a sort of city within a city with areas for sports, leisure, worship and meetings—an extra-legal community whose organization has been studied by Alfredo Brillembourg and Hubert Klumpner, along with research and design teams at Urban-Think Tank and ETH Zürich.

The exhibit Torre David / Gran Horizonte is one of the most incredible surprises at this year’sArchitecture Biennale in Venice. It wasn’t by chance that this project was awarded with the Golden Lion for the Best Project of the Common Ground Exhibition, the true core of the Biennale curated by David Chipperfield.

In the Venetian exhibit and in their book Torre David: Informal Vertical Communities (due to release October 2012), Brillembourg and Klumpner analyze this reality and other similar informal settlements, coming up with concrete ideas for sustainable interventions aimed to transform and take these places back to the urban landscape.

The center of the exhibition is far from a didactic space. The fully functioning arepa restaurant, Gran Horizonte, acts as a traditional place to eat and create community, like those created by the inhabitants of Torre David. The exhibit also displays some breathtaking pictures by Iwan Baan that describe the thin line between everyday life and this one-of-a-kind situation, where despair and beauty coexist in every shot. The Common Ground Exhibition runs through 25 November 2012 at La Biennale.

Image courtesy of the U-TT Archives and Daniel Schwartz.

Carlo Scarpa: Venini 1932-1947

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Coinciding with the events of Venice Architecture BiennaleVenini presents an exhibition dedicated to its famous collaboration with Carlo Scarpa, artistic director of the glassware firm from 1932 to 1947.

The exhibition of 300 pieces (large and small vases, containers, dishes and more) demonstrates how the direct relationship between the architect and the craftsmen resulted in little glass masterpieces. Alongside unique pieces, prototypes and mass-produced items, the exhibit showcases original drawings and rare photos from Venini’s historical archives.

Carlo Scarpa was intimately involved with production techniques and spent many hours in direct contact with the artisans on the island of Murano, where the best Venetian glass has been made since the Middle Ages, trying to understand the secrets of glassmaking, develop new techniques and encourage more extreme and deeper experimentation.

The exhibition is divided into areas defined by production technique. Among the most famous works are vases made using the “a bollicine” technique that fills the glass with tiny bubbles that can even draw ornamental motifs. Scarpa was also able to give new life to traditional techniques, such as the “filigrana” (watermark) and the very well known “murrina,” an icon of Venetian craftsmanship. The unexpected colors of the pieces on display are sometimes enhanced by amazing surface effects, giving the look and feel of mother of pearl, ice, smoke or metal. The consistency of the different masterpieces is also a constant surprise, since the exhibition shifts from thick structures to incredibly light and volatile wonders.

The exhibition is curated by Marino Barovier and will be open until 29 November 2012 at Le Stanze del Vetro at the Giorgio Cini Foundation.

Negozio Olivetti

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Widely recognized for their Ettore Sottsass-designed Valentine typewriter, one of Olivetti’s less celebrated design accomplishments is the company’s Venice showroom and store. Architect Carlo Scarpa spent two years conceiving the space with a focus on transparencies and materials after commissioned by Adriano Olivetti in the late ’50s, leading to what became one of the most significant architectural achievements of the 20th century.

Located on Venice’s famed Piazza San Marco, 14 years ago the Olivetti store was turned into a novelty shop. Last year the space’s owner, Assicurazioni Generali, began working with the Venice Heritage office to painstakingly refurbish the shop to its original appearance, reinstating authentic materials, forms and color schemes. They also turned to the glorious Italian cultural institution, FAI to protect and manage the building, which is filled with a unique collection of typewriters and calculators donated by Olivetti that’s now open to the public for regular visits along with the rest of the space.

One focal point of the renovated store is Alberto Viani’s “Nudo al Sole”—a sculpture that the architect put above a black Belgian marble plinth covered by water. To achieve the right amount of light, Scarpa increased the number of windows, illuminating the irregularly-shaped mosaic glass floor which changes color in each area. The main entrance is red, the central section almost white, the side entrance blue and the rear yellow.

The showroom-slash-museum provides exhaustive testimony to Scarpa’s construction expertise, taste and sophistication in the dialogue between old and new—skills that enabled him to design a classic in a city of architectural icons. The Olivetti Store is made of savvy construction details, balanced contrasts and constant maniacal research into lettering and texts, the results of which were never so eloquent as they are in the Olivetti Showroom.