Markus Schinwald

Dictio pii


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Not on display
Markus Schinwald born 1973
Film, 35 mm, shown as video, projection, colour and sound
Duration, each: 3 min 16 sec
overall display dimensions variable
Purchased with funds provided by the Film and Video Special Acquisitions Fund 2004


Dictio pii 2001 is a set of five short, non-narrative films with identical soundtracks but different visuals, which depict seven people in a hotel. All of the scenes feature the rooms, corridors, lifts or lobby of the hotel, and although shot in colour, the films are largely muted in hue. The seven characters remain mostly silent and expressionless throughout the films. They have little contact with one another and their few interactions are peculiar and unexplained, such as one scene in which a woman is seen tying a man’s arms behind his back. Some of the characters are clad in strange items of clothing or prosthetic devices: for instance, an older man wears an extremely dusty jacket that he pats slowly, releasing dust particles into the air, and in another scene a younger man wears a device that stretches his mouth into a smile. The soundtracks feature ambient electronic music and repetitive, percussive noises, as well as a series of voice-overs in English spoken by different people with varying accents, beginning with a deep male voice and ending with a female one. These each contain several lines, all beginning with ‘we are’ followed by a cryptic sentence. For example, the first line of the final voice-over states: ‘We are illiterates of perfection, following the curve of relief, interested only in the gesture of bending’. While there is generally no explicit connection between the soundtrack and the images, in one of the films a female character appears to speak the final line of the last voice-over – ‘We are deranged’.

Dictio pii was made in 2001 by the Austrian artist Markus Schinwald, when he was living and working in Berlin. It was shot on 35 mm film, before later being transferred onto DVD for exhibition. The work has previously been shown on a flat screen, but Schinwald considers this format too small and prefers it to be projected onto a wall. He has also suggested that it is best shown in a dark room, with unlit corridors on each side to stop light from bleeding in, and with a carpeted floor to enhance the acoustics. Schinwald originally set up the work so that viewers could flick between the five films with a remote control, but has since observed that this does not work well in busy galleries and so it can also be shown as one continuous piece on a loop.

The title of this work is a Latin phrase that can be translated into English in various ways, including ‘pious speech’, ‘patriotic declaration’ and ‘affectionate utterance’. Although there is no clear connection between the title and the work, the reference to speech in the translation could relate descriptively to the voice-overs that run throughout the films. The artist has said of these different voices that he ‘wished to achieve a “morphing” effect ... as the deep, male voice developed into a female one’ (quoted in Danielle Perra, ‘Markus Schinwald’, Terra Celeste, no.107, January/February 2005, p.58). This statement could be taken to suggest that there is a kind of collective consciousness or a shared set of ideas among the seven characters, an effect that is enhanced by their repeated use of the word ‘we’.

The curator Jens Hoffman has argued that Dictio pii has a ‘mysterious and somewhat uneasy atmosphere’ (Jens Hoffman, ‘Markus Schinwald’, Flash Art, October 2001, p.97). As well as the eerie background music and the odd props, the work’s ‘mysterious’ feeling is produced by the ambiguous relationships between the characters and the lack of clear motivations for their actions. In 2005 Schinwald said that he made it difficult to discern any definite meaning in the film by not ‘allowing the mood to become too clearly readable. The figures are neither terribly sad, nor depressed, nor cheerful; instead, they are empty. All the figures are in the same place, in the same building; they merely have “a kind of relationship” which is not, however, explained further.’ (Schinwald in Maria Morais, ‘Guided Seducer: An Interview with Markus Schinwald’, DB Artmag, no.32, 27 October 2005,, accessed 9 December 2014.)

Schinwald has explained that his decision to avoid characterisation and narrative in films such as Dictio pii is in part connected with the unusual conditions that affect the presentation of films in galleries, stating in 2004 that

generally the visitor comes in somewhere in the middle of the film and then has to wait for the beginning again in order to understand the whole thing. So I usually try to get rid of both beginning and end, to make films that have no chronology, no narrative arc, but simply consist of a middle.
(Schinwald in Heinzelmann and Schafhausen 2004, p.59.)

Further reading
Markus Heinzelmann and Nicolaus Schafhausen, Markus Schinwald, Berlin and New York 2004, pp.59–60, 153, reproduced pp.34–5, 74–81.
Christina Werner, ‘“We are Deranged”: Markus Schinwald’, Metropolism, no.6, December/January 2006,, accessed 9 December 2014.
Markus Schinwald, exhibition catalogue, Kunstverein Hannover, Hannover 2011, reproduced p.48.

David Hodge
December 2014

Supported by Christie’s.

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