Anne Schneider

Severed doll heads with distorted faces—those were the first works I ever saw by the young Austrian artist Anne Schneider. Turned inside out, their eyes, noses, and mouths had been deformed into uncanny caves. At the time, it struck me as an act of brute force. But Schneider’s current solo exhibition makes it dear that these were not objects of destruction but rather sculptures of a strange, cavelike architectural utopia. While the openings in the face previously functioned as enlarged entrances into organic buildings, Schneider now focuses on the world beyond the entrance, designing curious little rooms—dwelling places within the folds.

On view here were thirteen small works, each titled Architekturmodell (Architectural model), 1999–2000—impressions that Schneider had made by pressing wax against a knee, an arm, or an elbow, and then folding. The surfaces of the body have made only faint impressions in the wax, but the folds produce strong divisions of space. The models, which can be yellow or light blue but are usually pink, are reminiscent of auricles or caves eroded by water, with rounded interiors and walls of varying thickness, some of them transparent. Delicate filigrees of string—“membranes,” as Schneider calls them—are threaded through the openings. They recall the stitches left after surgery, though here they don't close: On the contrary, they emphasize the opening. These strings also dangle loose from the ceiling of the gallery, separating the “architectural models” from a group of photographs, Untitled, 1999.

Schneider’s work has always involved a critique of clichés. By deforming the dolls’ heads, for instance, she destroyed the standardized mold, the schema of proportion (big forehead, little features) and substituted an unexpected image: the cave as a representation of the womb, a symbol of protection and security. Now, when Schneider returns to the cave theme and isolates it, the direct reference to the earlier deconstruction seems at first to be missing. But the choice of colors admits no doubt concerning its persistence. Two years ago Schneider participated in a show at the Neuen Gesellschaft für Bildende Kunst, Berlin, called “Rosa für Jungs/Hellblau für Mädchen” (Pink for boys/light blue for girls). In taking up these colors again, she connects the architectural models to the question of identity. This theme emerges even more strongly in the photos, rephotographed documentary images of a museum in Melbourne, in which we see a woman posing, apparently functioning either as an indication of scale or in order to animate the severe architecture. This counterpoints the evocation, in the architectural models, of interior spaces as protective zones—protection also against ill-suited interpellations of identity—and thereby relativizes Schneider’s use of the term “architecture,” because her models in no way suggest living spaces but rather serve as places for the imagination.

Birthday-Table, 2000, a large table covered with free-form pink wax objects, can perhaps also be understood in this way. Among the irregular pink forms one discerns a crooked birthday cake and a massive package, but also a finger and a fist. The monotony of the sickly pink disperses into a highly personal miscellany. Before turning to art Schneider studied archaeology, and with her caves and on Birthday-Table it seems as if she wishes to excavate layers of meaning, to explore something hidden.

Sabine B. Vogel

Translated from German by Diana Reese.