Markus Schinwald represents Austria at the 54th Biennale di Venezia. In the framework of Bice Curiger’s general theme ILLUMInations, he negotiates the representation and manipulation of space, time, light, and shadow. He not only alters our experience of space through a moment of disturbance, but also allows the pavilion’s architecture and history to stand and makes it his subject—with all its ruptures, rifts, and blemishes.

In his Venice project, Markus Schinwald examines the Austrian Pavilion built 1934 by Josef Hoffmann, an architectural landmark in and around the Giardini district.

Markus Schinwald, who scored success with complex installations he realized mainly in museums and art institutions outside Austria, as for example in Zurich, Frankfurt, Brussels, and Budapest, has a comprehensive oeuvre to show for, with his works combining performative with painterly, sculptural, filmic and architectural elements.
With subtlety and finesse, Schinwald explores dispositifs of control, disciplining, and self-improvement, which inscribe themselves in the human body, shaping and pervading it to re-emerge on the body surface as psychologically charged inner worlds, visible and palpable.

This approach also makes itself felt in his Biennale contribution: the viewer turns into a performer, the pavilion into a closed stage. By dissecting the interior space along vertical axes, a new mode of perception emerges which makes the human body its structural frame of reference: “Although these constructional components are of course architectural elements, it suggested itself to use psychoanalytical terms for a concise definition; after all, the space created is dissociative rather than
than actually fragmented: claustrophobic above and nothing below. Or, if you will, the mind in neurosis, the crotch in psychosis. However, unlike in the spatial sculptures of Bruce Nauman or Robert Morris, the space intervention is not an autonomous act here, but also a kind of stage system or environment for the display of different works. It is, for one thing, an attempt to establish various different elements and, at the same time, to avoid explicit categorizations through contrastive positioning”, Markus Schinwald explains.

In the context of the general theme of ILLUMInations as defined by Bice Curiger, Markus Schinwald negotiates the representation and manipulation of space, time, light and shadow. Not only does he transform the spatial experience through an element of disturbance between the visible and the concealed, but also leaves, and addresses, the pavilion’s architecture and history as it is, with all its breaches, rifts, and blanks, and thus succeeds to give sociopolitical visibility to the inscrutable. Both in his architectural interventions and in his performances, films, and reworkings of 19th century paintings and lithographs, disturbance and distraction are constituent elements used to alter perception.

In the center of his artistic examination are the psychological exploration of space and body, eeriness and discomfort, the defective and the irrational depths of individual and collective existence. Schinwald focuses his observing gaze on the human body with all its deficiencies and on the sociocultural environment it is embedded in. Being involved by the artist in the spatial and temporal framework, the detached passive viewer becomes a protagonist, an active watcher who is given an opportunity to develop and pursue his or her own analogies and narrative strands.

To contribute to the discussion about big media events such as the Venice Biennale, new interviews with internationally renowned artists, museum directors, curators, architects, critics, collectors, and gallerists will be posted every two weeks at the website Initiated by Eva Schlegel, this video platform is entitled “Approaching Venice” and critically interrogates the history of the Biennale di Venezia from different perspectives.


The installation within the pavilion consists of a variety of small corridors that are laid like a labyrinth throughout the space. The visitor is, in a manner of speaking, choreographed through the pavilion. The space is not only divided into vertical axes, rather it more markedly receives a distinct horizontal division. The human body is therefore a central point of reference for the structure: the middle of the body, about at waist height, is the polarizing point for the intervention into the space. In contrast to the classical labyrinth, where the path begins on the ground and ends somewhere above eye level, here the anchoring is on the ceiling. The walls begin above, but don’t reach all the way to the ground.

Even though these structural components are clearly architectural elements, it is perhaps easier to explain the effect in psychoanalytical terms since the created space is more dissociative than actually fragmented – above, claustrophobic, below, unconstrained. Or, in other words: the head in the neurosis, the crotch, in the psychosis.

In contrast to Bruce Nauman’s or Robert Morris’s spatial sculptures, here the intervention is not autonomous, rather it is simultaneously a type of stage or environment for the display of different works. It is an attempt, on the one hand, to establish differing elements through contrasting placement but, at the same time, to disable distinct attributes. In this manner, the manipulated portraits from the end of the 19th and start of the 20th century that hang in two frontal rooms, which are already detached from their historical context through adaptation, experience a further alienation through the placement in the narrow passages.

The architectural intervention is echoed in the annex, where one single wall begins at the ceiling and ends at the navel. While one side remains white, the other serves as a surface for a format-filling projection. The projected film consists of two parts that simultaneously define each other. One runs in the right annex, the other in the left. The film aligns itself with the feeling or atmosphere of the entire pavilion. All the elements effect (affizieren) the psychophysical sensory system in different ways: through the removal of familiar distance, soundproof walls and diffuse light, which together create the effect of the unavoidable.

The entrance to the building is covered by a simple wall in which a small slit provides the only connection to the space beyond, of course too small to give an accurate impression. The visitor shouldn’t be prepared for the space; they enter from the side only to find themselves without forewarning in the corridor.

Photos by Cosmin Năsui

////////////////////////// vă prezintă, în premieră, un serial dedicat expozițiilor pavilioanelor naționale și evenimentelor paralele și dar și a celor colaterale ale Bienalei de Artă de la Veneția, unul dintre cele mai importante evenimente europene de artă contemporană.

Mulțumim Institutului Român de Cultură şi Cercetare Umanistică de la Veneția și ICR București pentru suportul și sprijinul acordat la realizarea acestui serial.