The Venetians of Pawel Althamer

It is a major achievement to realize that the body is only a vehicle for the soul’- Pawel Althamer

Pawel Althamer is a Polish artist known for his multi-media approach to creating the relationship between sculpture and human psyche. His innovative practice continuously experiments with sculptural expressions that play on social collaboration. The works do not derive solely from personal talent, but through the cooperation of other individuals, commonly being family members, who act as models. Their role is a part of the play between the real and the invented, a main aspect to Pawel’s sculptural portraiture.

My fist Pawel experience was during his latest exhibition at the International Biennale 2013 at the Arsenale of Venice where the artist applied human sculptural with the intentions of expressing the forms as the habitat for the soul. Walking into the space filled with over fifty skeleton-like bodies was curious and refreshing in comparison to the overwhelmingly prior spaces filled with paintings, sculptures, architectural models, objects and abstract casts. Pawel’s plastic ribbon forms are not intended to be a simple reproduction of invented bodies, but of real-life Venetians. Each character is individually studied. The face and hands are molds of volunteered bodies and stories in order to give life to the exhibit. The sculptures that fill the Arsenale hall exhibit individuals in positions that are directly connected to them. Though the viewer will doubtfully understand who they are nor how their positions are of any relevance, the space has an inarticulate dynamism.

It is not a random decision nor a simple artistic choice to create original molds of faces and hands of existing Venetians. ‘Hands and face play an important role for human communication. They are the main source of information to discriminate and identify people, to interpret communicative signs as hand and face gestures and to understand emotions and intentions based on facial expressions.’ (Baltzakis, Pateraki, and Trahanias, p. 1141). Initially the human form is visually interpreted as a vague structure that slowly transforms and perceived as the facial features and hand gestures become more defined. Facial expressions are an easily acceptable articulation of human character interpretation. The selection of the two body parts is related to their conscious connection. After all ‘our hands reveal a lot about what is going on in our heads’ (Weinschenk). 

It is Pawel’s approach to non-verbal communication is essentially linked to the real-life molds of Venetians. Their success is also in relation to their opposition to the plastic skeleton structures that has a unique capacity to link the past of the Arsenale to the presence of the exhibition. The‘external features provide a context that improves our ability to recognize and to match internal features’ (Froud, Shelton, and Atherton) The forms speak of the dead and their gestures and expressions create a cultural context where the location, materiality, and forms are directly associated with Venice, the Arsenale, and the Biennale.

Pawel’s sculptures are prof that understanding the process of production from concept to implementation is important in valuing art. Without knowing the details, the work is seen differently. Not necessarily worse, just different. Exhibit goers at the Arsenale walked into the space with initial appreciation; which defends the works success as art; but the artistic genius, so to speak, is definitely in the development, movement, procedure and technique of the Pawel intentionality: a unique collaboration of psychology and the human form.

The Biennale Channel interview with the artist Pawel Althamer


  1. Baltzakis, Haris and PAteraki, MAria and Trahanias, Panos. ‘Visual tracking of hands, faces, and facial features of multiple persons’ in Machine Vision and Applications. 2012. No. 23. Pp. 1141-57
  2. Biennale Channel.‘Biennale Arte 2013 - Pawel Althamer’ in YouTube (online). Published on May 29, 2013 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=arxAYO-ERtg [lat sited: 12/30/2013, 21:07]
  3. Dobrin, Arthur. ‘Facial Expressions: Universal VS Cultural’ in Psychology Today (online). June 25, 2013
  4. Frowd, Charlie D. And Shelton, Faye and Atherton, Chris. ‘Recovering Faces from Memory: the Distracting Influence of External Facial Features’ in Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied. 2012. Vol. 18, No. 2, pp. 224-38
  5. Mahmoud, Marwa and Robinson, Peter. ‘Interpreting hand-over-face gestures’ at University of Cambridge. Doctoral Publication 2011
  6. Navarro, Joe. ‘Body Language of the Hands’ in Spycatcher. Jan. 20, 2010
  7. Riggio, Ronald E., Ph.D. ‘What Does the Shape of Your Face Say About You?’ in Cutting-Edge Leadership. June, 16, 2012
  8. Weinschenk, Susan, Ph.D. ‘Your Hand Gestures are Speaking for You’ in Psychology Today (online). Sept. 26, 2012

1 comment:

  1. I really find Althamer a very interesting the coolest to itnerpret how art could transforms space into a more elevated higher realities..