Beatrix Sunkovsky & Alfons Egger 

Pavilion. Exhibition of an Exhibition

curated by Cosima Rainer

Beatrix Sunkovsky (b. in Innsbruck, Tyrol in 1951) and Alfons Egger (b. in Haiming, Tyrol in 1952) have long since pursued their individual artistic paths. Yet they have also repeatedly worked closely together, engaging in joint activities and projects.

The range of their forms of expressions spans from productions for the theater, room-filling installations, scenic photographs, paintings, drawings, collages, and linguistic works to conceptual and performance solutions. Both are multi-talents. Because of their strong relationship to the theater and to stage design they again and again found themselves at a distance from the world of “pure” art. This world defined itself by virtually disparaging the “theatrical” in the early 1980s. Today, theater and performance are clearly finding favor again in the arts.

Beatrix Sunkovsky and Alfons Egger have translated the spirit of their joint projects into a complex installation for their exhibition in the Gallery of the City of Schwaz. The title of the “play” brought on its stage is “Pavilion. Exhibition of an Exhibition.”

The first scene is set in the gallery’s entrance area in the form of a “casting” the visitor has to pass: two creepy glass eyes stare from the white exhibition wall above the word CASTING. This inverts the visitor’s position: the hygienic walls of the white cube are casting their public. Are you a good viewer? Who is the work of art now?

The main space of the gallery accommodates a pavilion or archival sculpture of steel tubes. The Spartan framework resembles a proscenium stage. While the construction is open on one side, a spiral staircase twists its way up in one corner. A large number of A4-sized documentary photographs and sketches of past works lovingly printed on deckle-edged paper are suspended on strings from the minimalist structure. The hand-made paper, which is normally used for high-quality prints, establishes a strange contrast to the digital prints. Visitors can enter the stage area of the pavilion and leaf through the flying archive like a wardrobe. The spiral staircase, on the other hand, is a cardboard model that cannot be accessed. The intervention twists through the space of the gallery and imaginarily leads up to other rooms. This also suggests a view of the artists’ common production from a meta-level.

This production consisted in an originally experimental form of performances, particularly so in the years from 1977 to 1987. The mostly Dadaist absurd acts were mainly put into practice together with numerous other artists. Bearing such titles as “Counter-City Hotel, “Rede wider die Traurigkeit” (Speech against Sadness), or “Der Hirnforscher” (The Brain Researcher), these works were staged at various locations such as at the Krinzinger Gallery/Forum for Present-Day Art in Innsbruck, the Pakesch Gallery in Vienna, or the Petersbrunnhof Salzburg. The archival sculpture presented in the Gallery of the City of Schwaz offers a “mini-retrospective” of these acts, as it were.

The credits and titles of the documentary photographs are set down in the three artists’ books presented at the stand in the entrance area. An unusually outsized black-and-white photo work by Beatrix Sunkovsky is to be found in the transit area next to it. Filling the side wall of the gallery corridor, it shows a young woman in an Historicist costume evoking the era around 1900 and an oversized spiral staircase corresponding to the one positioned in the main space. The photograph is a result of the artist’s engagement with Sigmund Freud’s much-disputed case of “Dora,” which was published in Bruchstücke einer Hysterie-Analyse in 1905 (Fragments of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria, 1925), a study in which the interpretation of dreams plays an essential part. Yet the case of “Dora” was also one making clear that Freud’s perspective was informed by the prevailing patriarchal understanding of women and that his psychoanalytical theory was concerned with itself rather than with the young client. The staged picture belongs to a series that Sunkovsky made in Vienna’s public realm in the 1980s. Hitherto kept in the archive, it is presented in the exhibition for the first time.

Its counterpart, a light box by Alfons Egger, is on show in the studio. The photograph, staged like Sunkovsky’s, was taken on the outskirts of Vienna. It shows a man lying across a railroad track in suicidal intent. The title of the work, “Photo Light Box Elysium,” also suggests an impending farewell to the turmoil of the world. The man, who wears a suit, has a big white sphere sitting on his neck instead of a head, however. There is no face, no hair, no hat. The surreal mutation resembles a moon rather. The romantic landscape and the tracks overgrown with grass turn the situation into a poetical moment beyond time. Alfons Egger uses the expression “pictorial prisons” in his texts on the philosophy of images. The artist wrestles with the means he employs and his possible failure: “The picture is threatened by death as you are.”

Whether drawing, model, installation, or photograph: certain motifs keep recurring in Sunkovsky’s and Egger’s works. It is as if these motifs were further unfolding in a continuing dream or being incorporated in the artists’ own mythologies like archetypes. Cropping up again and again fragmentarily, poetically, atmospherically, they keep shifting the possible meanings. May this be the reason for Sunkovsky and Egger’s decision to call their presentation “Exhibition of an Exhibition”? Be that as it may, they deliberately rely on a meta-level that offers leeway for reflection, yet does not necessarily result in clarity or explanation but keeps enigmatizing itself and remains elusive.

Text: Cosima Rainer
photography: Verena Nagl