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The Austrian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale

Not only does Venice Biennale offer a panoply of contemporary artwork, it also presents the visitor with a magnificent itinerary through the city and a generally fabulous scenery. The beautiful vegetation of the Giardini, the canals, the amazing specific architecture, and so on and so forth were contributing to this must-see art experience.

Although it might have been, perhaps, at the end of a full day of art viewing, where it is easy for visitors to mix up information or not remember exactly what each venue presented, some of the national pavilions, like the Austrian, were definitely memorable.

What probably attracted most at the Austrian Pavilion (which was indeed well frequented) was the fact that it was playful and interactive, while keeping at the same time a certain gravity, imposed by the magnitude of the chosen artists, Brigitte Kowanz and Erwin Wurm, who both made considerable contributions to the field of sculpture during the last three decades. Besides, it was quite unique in the sense that it wasn’t like anything else in the Giardini: it wasn’t focused on a single artist like the Andorran, the Belgian or the Romanian Pavilion, nor was it dealing with utopias like the Russian, the Hungarian, or the Finnish Pavilion or with music like the Azerbaijan or the French one.

Erwin Wurm, Stand quiet and look out over the Mediterranean Sea. Photo Credit © Ana-Daniela Sultana

Curated by Christa Steinle, it was divided in two, one part dedicated to Kowanz, and the other to Wurm. The show actually began from outside, with a piece of Wurm’s ‘One Minute Sculptures’ series called ‘Stand quiet and look out over the Mediterranean Sea’, which consisted of a truck displayed in front of the pavilion vertically, on the driver’s cab. It made me think of other large vehicles mounted in public space this year like ‘Benz Bonin Burr’ by Cosima von Bonin and Tom Burr, situated in front of the LWL-Museum für Kunst und Kultur for this year’s edition of Skulptur Projekte Münster or ‘Monument’ by Manaf Halbouni, erected on the backside of the Brandenburger Tor in Berlin.

Erwin Wurm, Just about Virtues and Vices in General. Photo Credit © Ana-Daniela Sultana

Erwin Wurm, Just about Virtues and Vices in General. Photo Credit © Ana-Daniela Sultana

Sure, for Wurm the automobile as a medium of expression has a different meaning than in the two examples I just mentioned, it stands for a mobile-immobile dichotomy, but I cannot help noticing the synchronicity. Inside the pavilion, another vehicle, a caravan this time, takes the idea of mobility even further. Hence, as we find out from the press release of the opening:

‘A pavilion is not, after all, a garage. The visitors as performers experience both settledness and nomadism, containment and exclusion, mobility and immobility. Since this takes place in a caravan (in German: “Wohnwagen”), this experience clearly also calls on their social and psychological experiences. In the word “Wohnwagen,”, “Wohnung” means dwelling and so has connotations of home and homeland, of family, domicile and domestic country. The “-wagen” part of the word, meaning car, implies “on the road,” traveling to foreign people and distant countries, going abroad’.

Erwin Wurm, Just about Virtues and Vices in General. Photo Credit © Ana-Daniela Sultana

While Wurm uses the car, Kowanz appeals to the Internet to express social topics of current relevance. Titled ‘Infinity and Beyond’, the light space attributed to her put on view four works, representative for her practice, in which she uses neon light, mirrors/reflective metals and codes: Google 15.09.1997, Wikipedia 15.01.2001, iPhone 09.01.2007 and www 12.03.1989 06.08.1991.

Brigitte Kowanz, Google 15.09.1997, Wikipedia 15.01.2001, iPhone 09.01.2007. Photo Credit © Ana-Daniela Sultana

Brigitte Kowanz, www 12.03.1989 06.08.1991. Photo Credit © Ana-Daniela Sultana

Called in the press release a ‘poet and architect of light’ or a ‘messenger of light’, she referenced in her contribution important dates such as the day when the Internet was presented at CERN in Geneva, the moment when the first website went online or when google was launched.

Brigitte Kowanz, Infinity and Beyond. Photo Credit © Ana-Daniela Sultana

Brigitte Kowanz, Infinity and Beyond. Photo Credit © Ana-Daniela Sultana

Text and photos by Ana-Daniela Sultana


Venice, 13 May - 26 November 2017

57th International Art Exhibition titled ‘Viva Arte Viva’ and curated by Christine Macel

Ana-Daniela Sultana is a freelance curator born in Bucharest in the last decade of Communism, currently living and working in Bucharest and Vienna. She holds a MA in ecm - educating/curating/managing from the University of Applied Arts Vienna and is the co-founder of the MODELiER venue in Bucharest and the [ˈfæbrɪk] transdisciplinary organization in Vienna. She is collaborating with creative communities and cultural institutions; her aim is to promote new or lesser known artists and their endeavors.

E-Mail: dana.sultana@modelier.ro

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