A line as a tour a cut as a wound 2021 Akbild Wien

20.04.2021

Breathing together

Bianca Phos can spend ages enthusing about the beauty of a simple plaster. So what else interests the Vienna artist? Trauma and technology. Injury and healing. And cakes in the cake shop.

There are moments in life when everything changes. Completely banal things such as breathing or walking become a challenge. And one’s own body becomes something alien over which one has lost control.

Relational Breathing, sound environment with transducer array, 07’00’’ (loop), 2020. Exhibition view, Haus Wien, 2020. With works of Angelika Loderer and Kerstin von Gabain in the background. Foto: Bianca Phos

Photo: Bianca Phos

New fields of research

Unforeseen research fields suddenly emerged: Injury and healing. Trauma and technology. Body memory and phantom pain. “It’s only when your throat is sore and the air is rushing through it that you notice that you have a tracheal wall”, says Phos. Breathing brings together people and animals. Each of us breathes but hardly any of us think about it.


The Vienna artist Bianca Phos experienced such a moment in 2014. “I was on a motorbike with my friend. A car drove into us”, she recalls: “After this I spent years in therapy. This fascinated me for ages: How a system is switched off and then back on again.” The fact that Phos speaks about her body as a system is no coincidence. She is interested in the posthumanism debate (see: Donna Haraway). The accident gave her an opportunity to see everything differently. Including her art.

Survival training

This sounds interesting, but how can you make art out of it? Phos starts by talking to a lot of people, to doctors, a diver, anaesthetists and soldiers, who learn techniques for suppressing the escape reflex through calm breathing. This led to the installation “Relational Breathing”. You stand under a tree and listen to breathing sounds, some hectic and some calm, running into each other. As a result, art can be experienced sensually, it touches you with great directness.

Phos uses her art for survival training. If she ever finds herself in an extreme situation again, at least she will know how to remain calm and focussed. She has a taste for left-field thinking. Have you ever considered the beauty of a simple plaster? Phos can spend ages enthusing about the way in which the holes are perfectly positioned so that the skin can breathe. Or about the rounded corners, or the medical design.

Sollbruchstelle (splint 3), ceramic and slip fired with salt-soda, marshmallow, 4 x 12 cm, 2018. Exhibition view, detail, Bezalel Gallery, Jerusalem 2018, Photo: Bianca Phos

Predetermined breaking points

She is particularly interested in prostheses. In the work “Sollbruchstelle” (Predetermined breaking points) she placed splints on ceramics in the same way that people wear them to stabilise fingers. In “Che(e/a)tah” she investigates the prosthetic cheetah leg designed by the biomedical engineer Van Phillips. Paralympic runners such as Aimee Mullins and Oscar Pistorius used it to set records – also due to the fact that these prostheses burn around 30 per cent less energy than biological legs, which is fascinating in itself. But Phos has researched further, investigating how these prostheses are used in popular culture. Both athletes made perfume advertisements. “But Thierry Mugler makes Pistorius look like a futuristic superhero”, explains Phos: “and Alexander McQueen stuffed Mullins into some sort of corset.” Even if the subject is prosthetics, it is clichéd gender images that win the day: Men are heroes, women dolls.

Cake for all!

Phos doesn’t like to specify a material, remaining open to a range of approaches. The new studio is ideal for her “sculptural practice”, as she says: “Having my own space influences my work hugely. Earlier, I tended to draw.”

Incidentally, drawing is how it all began. When Phos, who was born in Vienna in 1985, was able to paint as a child she would already immerse herself in her own world. “This was practical for my parents: They only had to give me pencils and I was quiet”, she jokes. Her grandparents have a cake shop in Lower Austria: “During the summer holidays I sat there and drew the customers with their dogs.” That’s actually also a wonderful, posthuman subject: Dog and human eating cake.

Tentacular, thermoplast, metal, 60 x 40 x 90 cm, 2019. Exhibition view, detail, Über das Neue. Junge Szenen in Wien, Framers (idle hands), Belvedere 21, Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna 2019. Photo: Bianca Phos