The work of Austrian artist Markus Schinwald (Salzburg, 1973) focuses on an intense dialogue between the history of visual art and the fields of theater, cinema, dance, architecture and costume. Through painting, sculpture, installation, video and performance, Schinwald creates a visual universe that is populated by ambiguous figures and in which, akin to the Surrealist tradition, what is human blends in with what is mechanical, and the mask overlaps the face. The theatrical dimension is pivotal to Schinwald’s artistic practice; as concerns the theatrical mise-en-scène, the artist has taken part in many collaborations, among which mention should be made of his work with the choreographer Oleg Soulimenko, where the choreography was based on the interaction between the movements of the dancer and a piece of furniture set in motion by an electric motor.
A study of the human figure as theater of the tensions of the subconscious as wells as space inside which individual identity can perform a series of multiple roles is one of the central themes in this artist’s production, and it clarifies his Mittel-European cultural roots, which stem from the work of Sigmund Freud, the painting of Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele, and the actions of the artists in the Viennese Actionism movement.
Schinwald is particularly famous for a series of paintings in which he modifies portraits from the first half of the nineteenth century, during the Biedermeier period, by painting over faces and bodies medical instruments or prostheses with a dark aspect whose function is unknown. These elements – which the artist adds to preexisting paintings thanks to the consulting of a restorer – are made so that they are combined and mimetized with the original work, creating an ambiguous and alienating effect.
The theme of the restraint of the body, of its modification and pain, returns in a series of sculptures created with the legs of tables or console tables; these are made to look anthropomorphic, like human limbs forced into twisted and languid positions.
Schinwald does not just reactivate a visual strategy that was popular with the Surrealists – that is, the sexualization of everyday objects – but, above all, he insists on an existential and psychological dimension that transcends the centuries and historical eras, in the quest for an intensity of feeling that is suspended in time.
The ambiguous distinction between the human being and the mechanical, and between the organic and the artificial, is the focus of Bepo, the 2005 work in the museum collection. A marionette with male features sits on a swing that is activated mechanically, according to the endless repetition of movement. The alteration in scale with respect to the human body is what enhances the alienating effect of this figure, which inhabits an indefinite space between realism and distortion: indeed, the anthropomorphic form is made even more ambiguous by small but evident details, such as the stiffness of the limbs and the nervous twitching activated by the electric motor, thus creating a disturbing presence reminiscent of theater of the absurd.