Austria contribution makes amoebas dance

A seductively shimmering being glides over the wall. The projection shows the creature moving across a wet layer. It’s an amoeba, magnified 40,000x for this shot. A papier-mâché model also hangs in the room, depicting a unicellular organism as huge. The installation was created by the artist Sonja Bäumel, who represents Austria at the 23rd Triennale Milano. In her work “Entangled Relations – Animated Bodies” she questions the special position of humans compared to other living beings.

This year’s motto for the triennial, which runs until December, is “Unknown Unknowns. Introduction to Mysteries”. In Milan’s Palazzo dell’Arte, where exhibitions on art, design and architecture can be seen all year round, 20 countries show their presentations on the subject of the unknown. The Triennale is considered one of the world’s most important events in the field of design and architecture.

Following an international call for entries, six African countries will also be taking part in the crossover show, which takes place every three years, for the first time in 2022. In addition, the astrophysicist Ersilia Vaudo from the European Space Agency (ESA) has designed an exhibition.

Photo series with 4 pictures

DSL Studio/Triennale

Installation view of the Austrian contribution “Entangled Relations – Animated Bodies”

Performance Doris Uhlich in the installation

Gianluca Di Ioia/MAK

Performance by Doris Uhlich in the installation “Entangled Relations – Animated Bodies” by Sonja Bäumel

The Czech national contribution “Casa Immaginaria: Living in a Dream”

DSL Studio

The country contribution of the Czech Republic “Casa Immaginaria: Living in a Dream”

Louise Manzon's ujumbe project deals with water pollution

DSL Studio

Louise Manzon’s “Ujumbe” project deals with water pollution

From fashion to skin flora

The most interesting contributions focus on biodiversity issues. Lilli Hollein, director of the Vienna Museum of Applied Arts (MAK) and commissioner of this year’s Triennale contribution, is right on trend with Sonja Bäumel’s project. “I’ve been dealing with microorganisms for ten years, for example with the communication of bacteria,” says the artist in an interview with

Born in Vienna in 1980, she originally came from fashion, but then studied conceptual design in the Netherlands. At the Design Academy Eindhoven, her scientific interest was first sparked by the relationship between textiles and skin flora, i.e. the bacteria and fungi on the largest human organ.

living plastic

“For me, the main question at the time was whether we didn’t expect too little from clothing,” Baumel describes her dissatisfaction with the conventional concept of fashion. The “Human Microbiome Project”, a US research initiative that presented its results for the identification and characterization of the human microbiome in 2012, the community of microorganisms that can be found on all body surfaces, became a game changer for the designer. At that time, Bäumel turned to research and “Bio-Art”.

The Triennale takes place in the museum building Palazzo dell'Arte

Milan Triennale

The Triennale takes place in the museum building Palazzo dell’Arte

In this contemporary trend, art goes into the laboratory and makes use of the methods and knowledge of biotechnology. Over the past decade, the Amsterdam-based artist has worked primarily with live material. To do this, she put herself in the largest Petri dish in the world to create bacterial cultures.

For Bäumel, we are currently facing the challenge of giving up belief in our superior, privileged position. “50 percent of human DNA is non-human. We now know that we have seven to eight kilograms of microbes in our digestive tract. How do we deal with this new self-image? Who are we anyway? Can we see the body as a liquid ecosystem?”, the artist formulates central questions.

When microbes shake

Bäumel worked with dancer Doris Uhlich for the first time during her solo show at the Frankfurter Kunstverein in 2019. For the Triennial, they have jointly developed a choreography with the exhibited protozoa. The amoeba is huge, the human is small: at the beginning of her performance, Uhlich is squatting on the floor, her long hair covering her naked body.

From this image, reminiscent of an archaic, self-sufficient earth mother, a contact with the two micro-macro beings in space gradually unfolds. In doing so, Uhlich repeatedly reaches into the fullness of her own flesh, lets it wobble and, to a certain extent, makes her own microbes shake. At the end of her intense performance, it looks like the dancer is reconciling with the amoeba approaching as a projection.

The national contribution from the Netherlands “Have we met?  humans and non-humans on common ground” the European Bee Award 2022 was presented

DSL Studio

The national contribution from the Netherlands “Have we met? Humans and non-humans on common ground” was awarded the European Bee Award 2022

“My approach is that we have to encounter these organisms differently, understand them differently,” emphasizes Bäumel, whose work also has scientific-critical approaches. By the way: the enlargement video “Amoeba” from Blümel’s installation comes from the Dutch artist and “microphotographer” Wim van Egmond, who worked on it for months.

This year’s prizes were announced at the opening of the Triennale on Wednesday: the Dutch pavilion received the “International Bee Award”. The project “Have we met? Humans and non-humans on common ground examines opportunities for biodiversity in three locations – an urban block of flats, an oil rig in the North Sea and a farm in eastern Holland.

Endangered Fish

Another award went to Kenya’s contribution addressing water pollution. The French-Brazilian artist Louise Manzon has created sculptures in which glass balls hang over large fish heads. The wall texts reveal that the liquids in it are toxic substances such as pesticides. Overall, artists dominate in the country pavilions of the multi-genre triennial, where Roma and Sinti are represented for the first time this year.

Francis Kere, who won the Pritzker Prize in 2022, the most valuable international award in his field, was invited as a representative of contemporary architecture. Originally from Burkina Faso and based in Berlin, the architect became known for his use of traditional craftsmanship techniques such as timber construction.

He also planned the Operndorf Afrika together with Christoph Schlingensief. At the Triennial, Kere presents a spiral, walk-in installation made of bricks, decorated with traditional murals from Burkina Faso. A surprisingly simple construction that insists on sustainability in times of climate change.

Magnificent main show

The main show of the Triennial, in which the New York architects SOM present designs for a colonization of space, is completely different. The “Introduction to the Mysteries” proclaimed in the title of the exhibition turns out to be a mix of grandiose art installations and historical exhibits, the connection between which remains vague.

The view into unknown galaxies proposed by astrophysicist Ersilia Vaudo comes at the same time as the new images from the James Webb space telescope. But in view of the pressing problems on our own small planet, the reaching for the stars presented here does not seem advisable.

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