Everybody Feng Shui Tonight

China did not sneak quietly into this year’s Venice Biennale. Rather, feng shui expert and urban designer Wang Qiheng marked the People’s Republic first year at the extravaganza by giving the exhibition some frank architectural evaluation. In May, a month before the biennale opened, Chinese curator Cai Guo-Qiang invited Qiheng to evaluate the proposed site for China’s first temporary national pavilion, a former naval building. Once there, Qiheng says, “I discovered that the location selected in the Arsenale would not meet the ancient core values and aesthetic criteria of feng shui” for example, the site wasn’t far enough east, the direction that represents tolerance and openness. The realization inspired Qiheng to create Fengshui Project, a video installation that evaluates all the national pavilions using the namesake practice’s blend of meteorology, landscape design, and ecology.

Fengshui Project gives the structures a mixed report card. The United States pavilion is “at a point that is lower than other pavilions, where all the great wind and energy, or aura, gather,” making it “a small pavilion that does big things.” Meanwhile, the Brazilian pavilion “blocks the entrance of the Venice pavilion and wrecks the symbiosis between the Austrian, Egyptian, Polish, Bulgarian, former Yugoslavian, and Greek pavilions.” Qiheng praises the Italian pavilion, whose long central axis gathers and accumulates good energy, and the thin walls of the Nordic pavilions, which promote engagement with the environment.