Broken Nature in Milan: a “Crooked” Triennale

15.04.2019 | By PAOLO BOCCHI

If you visit the Triennale’s XXII exhibition currently ongoing in Milan, you’ll probably get the feeling that something is wrong, as it looks like the main player of the whole discourse – Nature – has been left out of the entrance/exit doors. Are we supposed to look for it in the surrounding gardens?

This year’s Triennale di Milano appears to be “crooked”, even “lopsided” at some points;

the International Exhibition it hosts feels as if it were chasing a diverse, multi-faceted equilibrium, but ended up displaying “a soulless multilingual show” instead. Where the ‘soul’ part, the beating heart, should be played by our mistreated/cherished nature.

Which is still “nature”, despite being broken.

It’s a Triennale that fails to convince. After multiple visits and having let the initial impressions settle calmly, along with the doubts that had piled up over the weeks,

at the moment of truth we just can’t help saying it: any exhibition – but especially one of this kind – would need much greater care in terms of architectural spaces, items and theme.

Visitors come as they are intrigued by a ‘capital letter statement’ that sounds a little bit like a bait and goes on more or less like this: “let’s pay attention to what we have done, are doing and could do to our planet’s nature”.

And we all agree on this, sure.

At least, at the entrance.

But once you step out the exit doors the disappointment is huge.

This exhibition talks down on the visitors, with no real will to reach the minds of those who observe-walk-travel-look-read what’s displayed, leaving their wish to be part of an ambitious project there hanging, along the whole path.

Maybe the crucial issue is right here: like an increasing number of other exhibitions designed with the same flaw, the Triennale shouldn’t be conceived like a book, nor a catalogue to browse; on the contrary, it should be made of spaces engaged in a dialogue (and not just an architectural one) with the items displayed, and driven by the aim of telling something new to anyone curious enough to spend 18 euro to enter its hall. A rule that should be valid for any exhibition in the world.

To this respect, in our humble opinion, this year’s Triennale has failed.

Long, tall corridors take the visitors around making them feel like empty one-way containers in the emptiness of the galactic void. Corridors that end up facing dead-end vertical walls on which the only things displayed are the red, shiny fire extinguishers.

The widest rooms offer two journey/storytelling levels, with the consequence that if you choose one you automatically miss the other, unless you walk back on your steps; steps that you’re forced to take while surrounded by a permanent rubber-like smell (an intended effect?).

Cold, aseptic pavilions illustrate and describe nature using setups in in which nature, however, is only present as a video, photo, 3D model, lighting, graphics or sound effect.

Incomprehensible mirror rooms (with a strong hint of carnival) are supposed to display the story of plants, only to show the unavoidable damage of the flooring material.

Small, dark projection rooms attempt to show the audience the hidden life of plants; which could have been a good idea if only they had put a couple proper ways out. Because the beacons of light that come with every new spectator coming in constantly spoil the darkness, making it impossible to focus on the films.

3×5 meter explanatory panels are placed perpendicularly to the pavilion entrance, resulting off-scale and impossible to read, therefore useless, as the lack of space makes it impossible for a visitor to stand distant enough to see them entirely.

And when a pavilion (by chance or merit) finally makes use of a mistreated staircase sculpted by an illustrious artist (whose statues are visible in the Triennale’s garden), it would be nice not to hide the captions that tell the incredible story of this staircase-sculpture by leaving them in total darkness.

If you wish to promote “the importance and use of melamine applied to architecture for specific environmental contexts”, which is not exactly a simple everyday topic, it would be great to provide some clarification to the visitors who will find themselves facing a bare, unexplained black totem filled with floating weird shapes. Because the risk of feeling like Kubrick’s monkey is real, and so is the instinct to “crush a couple bones”!

Was it so important, if needed at all, to show desktops whose dividers were made with “Air” laptops (used ones, of course; but is it enough?) and whose height adjusters are dead “apple flavored” smartphones? (Is this really your communication on a new way to struggle for sustainability?).

Is it fair to dedicate flea market-like stalls to countries that maybe should be supported and promoted on a very different basis, given the scope of the whole project?

And what about the plant that stood there as the “spokesperson” of the Plant Nation at ONU, with its sad leaves covered in dust? Was it supposed to be anything more than a poor joke?

Sure, nature is broken, nowadays.

But this Triennale helps us very little to re-think it and live it differently.

With the possible exception of a single, brief moment.

A memorable moment that touched us in the feelings: with no need for explanations, no evolutions, no complicated concepts, two visitors, a man and a woman, were standing in each other’s arms. Simply, tenderly, lovingly.

Which was probably the most relevant message we got from this exhibition:

love, regardless of the time, is the strongest and most poetic form of nature.


Let’s grow love!