Pawel Althamer’s Venetians
The third and final review of exhibitions from this year’s Venice Biennale features Polish artist Pawel Althamer and his representations of many real-life local Venetians. Here we find castings made directly from the models’ face and hands in plastic, a material chosen in part for Althamer’s access and experience with the medium - his father owns a small plastic manufacturing company and in fact works with his son for this piece. The remainder of each body is made of nondescript extruded plastic ribbons, giving each individual both presence and absence.
This juxtaposition is mirrored in the duality of each sculpture being a portrait of each man, woman, and child, but also only a representation of their physical appearance. We can see their faces, hands and poses, but we are not privy to their character, personality, or beliefs.
The beliefs of the artist are crucial in much of Althamer’s socially and philosophically driven installations. Indeed, the entire work, composed of more than fifty separate representations of Venetians, alludes to the self-realization people undergo throughout the course of their life. His casting method seems to recognize how we view ourselves. Namely, through our hands and the tasks they complete, as well as the faces we view in the mirror every morning - the ultimate physical signifier of countless emotions and traits.
This self actualization seems to be at the heart of Althamer’s thinking; “It is a major achievement to realize that the body is only a vehicle for the soul.” With this in mind, one can view Venetians as a cage for the soul that holds us within until our time on this planet is over, or as a vessel for which we are here to experience.
For more information on other works, Althamer also produced a similar, earlier exhibition for Deutsche Guggenheim that makes use of plastic portraits, while Polish Culture has an informative biography on Althamer’s earlier work here.
- Daniel Cairns