Austrian Pavilion

Markus Schinwald is interested in legs. His exhibition for Austria radically disrupts the walker’s path through Josef Hoffmann’s original 1934 pavilion by adding floating walls that corridor the space, and a 7 metre high doorway at the entrance. As one navigates the labyrinth of white walls, a low-level view of other visitors’ legs becomes key to the exhibition. Their legs somehow look artificial and symptomatic of the manipulating space. Two films are projected in either flank of the building, and they too explore bodily discomfort produced by architecture. Characters located in a disused industrial structure and a domestic interior perform routines – raise legs, turn arms, become trapped in niches – which emphasise experiences of architectural uncanny. After watching the films, having entered the exhibition in such a constricted way, the 19th century portrait paintings over which Schinwald has painted muzzles and braces continue our sense of unease. We find legs if we look up too, this time from chairs and tables – dismembered and hanging over the walls and window ledges. 

Criticism of a 19th century preoccupation in self-correction is explicit in the paintings and furniture, but where Schinwald’s exhibition is most interesting is in its contemporary implications. There is a widespread feeling that much modern architecture rejects the body as inspiration and client. In The Architectural Uncanny, Anthony Vidler discusses buildings that are either fragmented like a dismembered body, or estranged from any anthropometric proportions altogether.  Such buildings can be difficult to navigate, rest in or even contemplate; they are unheimlich, unhomely, and uncanny, incapable of being understood. One leaves the exhibition with the impression that Schinwald is attacking 19th century bodily restraint, and its equivalent in contemporary dehumanised architecture. But these two issues lie outside the Giardini, and if Schinwald is basing his exhibition on them, then his location in Hoffmann’s pavilion is problematic. The original pavilion feels comfortable and proportioned to the body, and in little need of an architectural intervention. However, it is perhaps exactly its spatial ease that Schinwald enjoys undermining, with the suggestion that all buildings, to a greater or lesser extent, manipulate our bodies.