Tuesday 16 April 2024 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Tuesday. 16/4/2024

The Monocle Minute

The Opinion

Image: Andrea Pugiotto

Art / Robert Bound

Art in an emergency

The Art Olympics, otherwise known as the Venice Biennale, previews this week and opens to the public on Saturday. I’ll flog that metaphorical horse no longer, however, because there is simply too much splendour, spectacle and expression to squeeze into track or field. This year, Brazilian Adriano Pedrosa is the curator of the biennale’s main exhibition, “Foreigners Everywhere”, which will open across two venues: Venice’s manicured Giardini and the post-industrial Arsenale.

Pedrosa is being provocative and making a statement of fact: 331 international artists will show work that will be pored over by many thousands of curators, dealers, museum directors and journalists from every corner of the globe. The idea of the foreigner, outsider and immigrant are seen through a political, social and psychological lens. Expect works concerned with diaspora, nationality and belonging, and, probably, stuff that questions what a biennale is for and the sense in carting artworks around a warming world.

The UK’s national pavilion showcases the work of video artist John Akomfrah and will feature eight overlapping screens examining identity and memory. Sandra Gamarra Heshiki’s work for the Spanish pavilion looks at colonialism through witty and powerful reworkings of 17th-century European painting (Monocle was fortunate to be offered a preview at the Peruvian-Spanish artist’s Madrid studio). Three African nations will inaugurate pavilions this week: Tanzania, Senegal and Ethiopia – the latter hosting the exceptional painter Tesfaye Urgessa.

This city has always been a giant gym in which art collectors can flex their muscles but this year, expect fewer of the superyacht set and more of a serious eye on the urgency of the art. Fortunately, though, the Venice Biennale is still a place where you can appear to be assiduously interrogating the way of the world while holding an ice-cold spritz.

Robert Bound is Monocle’s senior correspondent and presenter of ‘Monocle on Culture’, on Monocle Radio. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.

The Briefings

Exit stage left: Lee Hsien Loong

Image: Getty Images

Politics / Singapore

Changing of the guard

Singapore’s prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, has announced his resignation. His deputy, the 51-year-old Lawrence Wong, will become the city-state’s fourth prime minister on 15 May and lead the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) into next year’s election. The PAP is the only party to have been in power in post-independence Singapore but Lee, who has held the country’s top legislative position since 2004, presided over its worst electoral performance in 2020 – though the party did maintain its supermajority after claiming a 61 per cent share of the vote.

“Singapore’s transitions leave nothing to chance,” Trisha Craig, vice-president of engagement at Yale-NUS College in Singapore, tells The Monocle Minute. “Wong was already tapped to succeed Lee in 2022. He has been in training to take over the top position and, having deemed him ready, Lee is now stepping down.” Under the outgoing leader, who is the son of Singapore’s first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, the city-state has become one of Asia’s most prominent financial hubs by maintaining ties with both China and the US. Wong’s goal is to keep the peace while continuing to prosper in an increasingly volatile region.

To learn more about Singapore’s power as a small state, tune in to the latest episode of ‘The Foreign Desk’ on Monocle Radio.

Affairs / Spain

Doing the rounds

Spain’s prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, is on a diplomatic mission to rally support for the recognition of Palestinian statehood as he continues his tour of Europe. Sánchez has already met the leaders of Norway and Ireland; later this week he will speak to those of Slovenia, Belgium and Portugal. Spain is a strong pro-Palestinian voice within the EU and last month, alongside Ireland, Malta and Slovenia, its government announced that it would work towards recognising Palestine as an independent state later this year. His trip comes as the conflict in Gaza is threatening to spill over into the wider Middle Eastern region, a risk that has intensified following Iran’s drone and missile attack on Israel over the weekend. Sánchez has long been an advocate for Palestinian statehood, which he views as the only way to achieve a fair and lasting peace in the Middle East.

Image: Blue Bird

Transport / Canada & USA

On the right track

Blue Bird, the original maker of America’s iconic yellow school buses, has been vastly expanding its capacity to build electric versions of the vehicles. Demand for electric buses from school districts across the US and Canada has been soaring. To cater for the increased demand, the company opened a new manufacturing plant in the US state of Georgia last year. School buses are well-suited to electrification and the factory can produce almost 5,000 a year. Fixed journeys, such as bus routes, are ideal for range-limited electric vehicles and the buses will have plenty of time to recharge while their passengers are in the classroom.

The fact that they help to cut air pollution around schools – by reducing the number of cars on the road – has also encouraged education authorities to start electrifying fleets. By 2032 it’s estimated that about half of school buses will be electric, which will make the school run less taxing – for the environment, at least.

For more agenda-setting stories on the world of business and transportation, from our global network of reporters, pick up a copy of Monocle’s April issue, which is out now.

Beyond the Headlines

Image: Andrea Pugiotto

Q&A / Llisa Demetrios

Family firm

This week, Monocle is hosting a series of talks with leading Swiss appliances firm V-Zug at the Pinacoteca di Brera for Milan Design Week. On the agenda: how to design timeless furniture and architecture. It’s something that Llisa Demetrios is well placed to comment on. She is the youngest granddaughter of Ray and Charles Eames, and leads the Eames Institute as chief curator. In this role, Demetrios researches how her famous forebears came up with their treasured designs. Here are some highlights.

How did materiality influence Ray and Charles’s work?
My grandparents were known for using five materials: moulded plywood, wire rod, aluminium, fibreglass and plastic. They had a deep understanding of their functions and the influence that the manufacturing process has on design. But what I admired most was their dedication to sustainability. They stopped using plastic and fibreglass because those materials were not eco-friendly. Ray discontinued the harvest of Brazilian rosewood for the lounge chair and ottoman when she heard about its impact on the forest. Sustainability in materiality continues to be very important to us.

Tell us about their design process and philosophies.
Ray and Charles had different approaches for each design but both wanted to ensure that they were durable. They always spoke to the maintenance teams to work out the biggest problems they faced with each design. My grandparents believed in sharing what’s wrong so that they could come up with the solution. They mended systems instead of replacing them, which is what helps design to evolve.

Do you have a favourite archive piece in the Eames Institute?
One of my favourite things in the collection, which is written in both Ray and Charles’s handwriting, is a diagram showing overlapping interests. The diagram consists of three circles. The first was what Ray and Charles wanted to accomplish; the second represented their client; and the third was society as a whole. The challenge was getting all three of these circles to converge. I enjoy seeing people’s perspectives change after looking at that diagram. People find the “society” circle especially interesting because it could be about many things, including people, the environment or future generations.

Monocle will be continuing its series of talks with V-Zug at Pinacoteca di Brera’s reading room until Wednesday. Monocle Radio, in collaboration with House of Switzerland, will be interviewing designers all week at Casa degli Artisti. For the latest updates and insights from Salone del Mobile, tune in to Monocle Radio or pick up a copy of our ‘Salone del Mobile Special’ newspaper, which is available at The Monocle Shop and on select newsstands now.

Monocle Films / Retail

My life as a vending machine

Currently serving 250,000 drinks a day, Tao Bin has become a staple in Thai malls, hospitals and offices since the brand launched in 2021. The machines boast freshly ground coffee, fizzy lemonades, protein shakes and more. Monocle Films travelled to Bangkok to see them in action.


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