Mimi Zeiger

Critic, editor, curator and instigator.

Lesley Lokko’s sprawling, dense Biennale asks us to engage different representational languages. It’s a slow burn, but finding new legibility takes a moment.

“Zt. Zzt. ZZZzzzZZZzzzzZZZzzzzzzZZZZzzzzzzzzZZZzzzzzZZZzzzzo’ona,” begins The Old Drift, Namwali Serpell’s 2019 novel set in Zambia. The insistent whine of a mosquito. Her pesky, omniscient narrator traverses generations and geographies. It’s a tale of violence and the folly of colonization. That hum, indigenous and persistent, singular and swarm, is the consciousness of the African continent.Those ZZZs droned through the Arsenale and Giardini as participants, journalists, and VIPs gathered to kick off the eighteenth International Venice Architecture Biennale, and echoed across alleys and piazze made damp by unseasonal rain and high tides. Venice, after all, is a reformed swamp with mosquitos of its own.

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An anachronistic exoskeleton design first conceived in 1999, resurrected in 2006, and now looming over the Expo line, it’s impossible to look at the baroquely formalist (W)rapper tower without gagging on certain circumstances surrounding its rise: an evaporating market for any office space much less the lofty double- and triple-height ceilings on offer and ERIC OWEN MOSS’s tenure as SCI-Arc director and the inflated high six-figure salary he pocketed. (W)rapper encapsulates architecture not as autonomous form but as a succubus that extracts everything from tuition to natural resources.

The Architecture of Disability uses the lens of disability to reevaluate received architectural histories and speculate on a more inclusive architectural environment.

A shock of recognition comes early in The Architecture of Disability. Author David Gissen argues in his introduction that while providing adequate access for disabled people is necessary, making it the dominant principle by which architecture responds to impairment not only is insufficient but also reinforces alienating functionalist narratives. And then, toward the end of this initial essay, he turns the mirror on the discipline itself—to the hustles of studio, site visits, and archival work that compose common design and research practices. In short, the ways that architecture cultivates an unwritten doctrine of, as Elon Musk might put it, hard core. Read More …

Waste Tide would be a poolside summer read if that pool were toxic swill of first-world effluence. CHEN QUIFAN’s science fiction novel was first published in China in 2013 and he’s currently futurist-in-residence at SCI-Arc. Set amid the e-waste trash heaps of Silicon Isle, a fictional polluted strip of land in a dying sea off the coast of China, the story evokes a future ravaged by climate change choking on obsolete consumer electronics. Modeled in part on the very real town of Guiyu, it’s an uncomfortably recognizable portrait of the Capitalocene and reflection of near-feudal class disparities. In this way, it resonates with novelist and socialist political activist China Miéville’s musings on utopia: “[W]e live in utopia; it just isn’t ours. So we live in apocalypse too.” The twin condition that someone else’s utopia is another’s dystopia is central to Waste Tide’s narrative, but not a foregone conclusion. From the piles of stripped circuity and heavy metal poisons of the dump emerges a worker revolution.

Waste Tide by Chen Quifan and translated by Ken Liu. Tor Books, 2019.

What is the border? Line. Crossing. Wound. During the last four years—six if we count the run-up to the 2016 election—Donald Trump framed the US-Mexico border as a referendum on nationhood, with rhetoric so toxic and policies so brutal that other discourses, other lived experiences, were eclipsed by the shadow of the promised wall. And then on January 20, President Biden halted all work on Trump’s fortified fence while the new administration reviews construction contracts.

With that pause, which is neither truly benign nor pious, a temporary lightness allows us to see what has been wrought: new photos of partially built sections of the barrier in southern Arizona (commissioned by Insider magazine) show natural landscapes blasted and scarred. Yet it is in this lull that other outcomes seem, if not possible, then worth summoning. Two Sides of the Border: Reimagining the Region, recently published by Yale School of Architecture and Lars Müller Publishers, asks us to envision an alternative to the hardened US-Mexico boundary and its attendant violences, human and ecological.

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