As ever, the national pavilions at the Giardini were a spectrum of spectacles: ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. From the outright stupidity of the Polish contribution to the serenely beautiful artefacts exhibited by the Belgians, a quiet tribute to the resiliance of materials and the traces the practice of quotidian life leaves behind. What makes a good pavilion? Architects by and large are not good compilers or curators, and with the slashed budgets that the economic situation has forced upon us, the pavilions that have sought to convey simple yet thought provoking ideas in a concise way have won out.
The Romanian Pavilion, curated by a group of young architects deals with the statistical representation of space and provides an immersive installation that explains the political but, deftly, leaves the poetic to the visitor. The playfully surreal seesaws and mobile plants of Serbia offer a respite from the intensity of some of the more academic, or plain dull, pavilions. Yet appearances are deceptive and despite the laughter and tomfoolery, there are darker issues to be deduced from the exhibition.
The less-is-more approach comes across in the Chinese pavilion too. Two years ago they contributed one of the most intellectually stimulating and dense presentations including an incredible display of urban photography and a separate collection of massive cardboard installations. This year they have contented themselves mainly with an installation of glass birds suspended from the ceiling. It is an appealingly light tough in the dark, far-end of the Arsenale, although it has considerably less depth than their previous contribution.
In comparison, the Australians have come to wow. The pavilion is bathed in ultra-violet light and is full of 3D projections which advertise Australia as a nice place to go on holiday both now and in the future too. It feels out of place and cripplingly self conscious: the cultural cringe made manifest. Other countries have resorted to presenting what essentially are books on walls, Germany and Israel have managed to put generally interesting ideas together in a generaly uninteresting way. Quite a skill.
Architects are best at making spaces, creating experiences and inspiring debate. Those that have done that at the Biennale this year have naturally done best. Bearing that in mind, and looking at the UK pavilion in context, there should be a Golden Lion heading to muf and the British Council.