Venice Biennale 2011: Markus Schinwald at the Austrian Pavilion

Art critic Ben Lewis navigates Markus Schinwald's physically unsettling installation, and finds out why the Austrian artist is obsessed with legs

We tend to focus on the top, and we only use the legs to walk or for sexual activities, and I thought they deserved special attention.
Markus Schinwald


[Ben Lewis] How did you get the first idea to create the installation inside?

[Markus Schinwald] I tried to work with kind of a labyrinth, but instead of the normal labyrinth, it starts from the floor and ends somewhere above eye level. My labyrinth is coming from the ceiling and stops in crotch height. And that’s kind of the sub-theme of the exhibition, the focus on the legs. We tend to focus on the top, and we only use the legs to walk or for sexual activities, and I thought they deserved special attention.

[BL] And does that relate to the legs of the chairs that are hanging in certain sculptures that are positioned quite high up, that are based on chair legs?

[MS] I tried to find a way to work with sculptures on the wall, and in every day culture, people hang guns, crosses and trophies on the wall, and that was kind of my initial…

[BL] But why did you pick chair legs? Is this kind of a sort of leg theme?

[MS] The design was invented by the British carpenter, Chippendale, and he tried to imitate human legs with his table legs; and I just took them apart and dismantled them and put them together in the wrong way.

[BL] The paintings in there, though… they are… why do you alter them in that way? Because these people, they have these sort of prostheses on their faces?

[MS] When I changed the people, they are not then to wear these forever. It’s more an apparatus for desire and an instrument of torture.

[BL] A large queue is forming of people who are going to see your work. How do you want them to experience it?

[MS] It’s crucial that the people are actually going inside, because you need quite some public… the whole thing becomes a little bit humorous. It’s not a construction that works without the legs, and it’s just something nice and elegant.

[BL] You are the first artist I’ve ever met who is obsessed with legs.

[MS] I was always, in a maybe very naïve way, admiring fetishes, because I thought they have some kind of secret key that opens up a completely different world for them.

[BL] Well, I think your work really has legs, as we say in English!

[MS] What does it mean?

[BL] It means it’s good, it’s got a strong foundation!

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Art Term

Installation art

The term installation art is used to describe large-scale, mixed-media constructions, often designed for a specific place or for a ...

Art Term

Interactive art

Interactive art describes art that relies on the participation of a spectator