Soulwarmer, 2005. Mixed-media installation at the library of St. Gall Abbey, St. Gallen, Switzerland. © Gerda Steiner and Jörg Lenzlinger.

Gerda Steiner + Jörg Lenzlinger: Visions of Paradise

Falling Garden (2003), an enchanting installation at the Venice Biennale, turned Gerda Steiner and Jörg Lenzlinger into instant international celebrities. The Swiss Art Commission had invited the young Swiss artist couple to create an work in the church of San Stae. Since 1988, this jewel of Baroque architecture on the Grand Canal has served as an additional exhibition space for Switzerland, complimenting the Swiss national pavilion in the Giardini. Steiner and Lenzlinger turned the ornately decorated interior of the church, which contains the burial place of the Mocenigo family, into an earthly paradise. Countless delicate seedpods, blossoms, and leaves, mixed with fabled creatures from nature and mythology were suspended from the ceiling on thin wires until they almost touched viewers’ heads. In the center of the nave lay a soft white rug, which visitors could walk on only with bare or stocking feet. On that rug, a bed upholstered with hay invited the weary to relax and observe the installation while lying down. The scent of sweet lavender drifted from the pillows. Viewers—transported into a different dimension—spoke only in whispers. The atmosphere was filled with positive energy. One of the highlights of the 50th Biennale di Venezia, this work became an audience hit.