Sylvia Schwenk

A Naval Novella is a film with interviews, physical workouts and anecdotes presented as a revealing and engaging video work.

The work demystifies the Navy breaking down some of the barriers that exist between Defence personnel and civilians. The video shows the human side of the Navy uniquely allowing people to access a closed culture in an inviting way. The work is anchored by the naval tradition of tattoos and gruelling physical training done with ‘the rope’, a symbol of union, mateship and stability. Short stories by people who talk about their tattoos or their lack thereof are intertwined throughout the work.

The practice of painting Naval ships with disruptive pattern camouflage, known as Dazzle was initially used almost 100 years ago. Ships were painted in bold coloured abstract shapes and patterns, with areas of dark and light tones placed next to each other to break up the outline and shape of the ship when it is viewed from a distance.

Sylvia Schwenk and Anne Zahalka propose to contemporise this history of camouflaging by creating a work of art made from human bodies. A side view of a Naval ship will be marked out on Middle Head Oval with military personnel from HMAS Penguin and civilians lying down side by side to create a ‘naval ship’ covered in Dazzle camouflage. This participatory performance will be videoed and photographically recorded from a Navy helicopter to capture this historic event in all its nuances to be produced as finished artworks.
A shared space by Sylvia Schwenk gives a rare insight into what happens before and after a funeral service.

The film opens on a graveyard on a beautiful serene sunny day. Grave diggers are working in a quiet, harmonious way, with almost choreographed movements, preparing a grave for a burial.
The birds are chirping, the sun is shining ... but all is not as it seems - there is a twist.

This work was performed during the opening of Going Gaga with Dada: A dedication to spontaneity, chaos, innovation and nonsense, curated by Akky van Ogtrop at Brenda May Gallery, Sydney.

As a dada inspired work, the performance is silly, fun and serious - all at the same time.

In the performance a group of people milling around the gallery, talking, looking at the art, eating and drinking simultaneously ‘limp fell’ and lay on the ground. Sometime later the performers all got up at the same time and continued doing what they were doing before the fall, acting as if nothing unusual had happened.


Along white lines is a project that joins art with sport and community. This work was performed during half time at the NTFA Grand Final at Aurora Football Stadium, Launceston in September 2011.

During the performance over 400 spectators, around 15% of the audience at the football event spontaneously particiapted in this work of performance art, completely covering the lines marking the centre square of the AFL football field. At the start of the performance when people dressed in white overalls jogged onto the field in a single file and started to become the white lines on the ground, the goalposts, the goal square and boundary line, the spectators were somewhat unsure of the work. Some of the audience joined in, but many more watched. There were even moments when some of the children on the field tried to kick balls at the performers. Then when the performers moved to become the 50 metre line and the boundary line, many more spectators joined in. The work culminated in the last movement, which saw a transformation – spectators embraced the work lying Along white lines completely covering the lines of the centre square.

The performance Along white lines is re-presented as 2 single channel video with sound, a series of photographs, and a book with an essay by Andrew Frost.


Sometimes awful things have their own kind of beauty is a mesmerising work which shows a man Sylvia invited to perform - dancing with a lawnmower to a harrowingly beautiful waltz, whilst mowing the lawn in an area surrounded by perimeter fencing, alarmed fences, and razor wire.

The lawn being mowed is an oasis in the maximum security area of a prison. The space offers a respite from the confinement of the prison cells and the cold metal surfaces and concrete of the prison. The space is rectangular in shape, it is grassed, it has concrete paths bi-secting the area and has about 20 magnificent towering palm trees.
It almost seems surreal. The air seems sweeter and fresher here. The waltz is filled with hope but is underwritten with a score of despair. 

Sometimes awful things have their own kind of beauty is also the name of a body of work that presents three videos which tell stories about prisons and asylums in a beautifully simple, yet powerful way. These works consider spaces, lives and environments that are off limits to most of society, as well as looking at the notion of what performance in the everyday means for those who live in a space where private and public co-exist – sometimes simultaneously.


This is a simple video work with music and sound. It is engagingly framed and provides the foundations of a story of a mental asylum (that is no longer in use), which the viewer completes with their own constructed narrative.


five Prison stories relays 5 stories about life in prison in a relaxed, private and almost humorous way. The work gives an insight into a way of living and area of society that most people have no exposure to or experience with. The stories are told in the third person and are set against images and footage of the inside of a prison. The film makes the inaccessible accessible in a simple and highly engaging way.



birds and clouds from one life to another by Sydney-based German born artist Sylvia Schwenk and German artist Nikola Dicke references Bertolt Brecht’s poem The Lovers and centres around a work of participatory performance art that will see a group of model plane pilots from Germany and Holland working together to fly their model planes in a choreographed performance set to music written especially for this performance.

On the day of the performance the spectators and pilots will be invited to create large origami crane bird sculptures and/or smaller origami crane bird mobiles – which feature in Brecht’s poem – in a workshop held by the artists. There will also be a BBQ to celebrate the day.

One of the aims of this work is to build relationships across art and the sport of model plane flying, as well as building new relationships with pilots and spectators.

birds and clouds from one life to another is part of the European Union's GrensWerte program that promotes cross-border artistic and cultural art projects. Over the period 2010 to 2014 the GrensWerte program commissions 10-15 art projects each year, from all disciplines to be presented in the German-Dutch border region. GrensWerte is a cooperative project of Münster eV, Art & Cultuur Overijssel and EUREGIO. The project is co-financed under the INTERREG IV A Programme-Nederland Germany through the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the economic affairs of the states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Lower Saxony and the provinces of Overijssel and Gelderland.

For more information about this project please see: www.birdsandclouds




This new work of participatory performance art is being created as part of 'Art Month'.

In the performance a group of everyday people-cum-performers draw attention to ordinary events or actions that normally go unnoticed. The performers will be dressed in orange overalls, orange hard hats and black boots 'carrying' sheets of pretend glass and performing other simple repetitive steps appropriate to the space. The site was selected due to the extensive construction works extending the MCA.



In this performance everyday people crossed over to become performers pretending to be cars 'driven' in highly populated pedestrian zones and on roads with slow flowing traffic. Four people positioned in the same way that tyres are placed on real cars, wearing the same coloured clothes, pushing tyres with their hands represented each car.

This performance was presented as part of 'Art and About'. 



Remember the importance of SELF is a participatory work of performance art that seeks to reminds us that each of us is important and that who we are is more important than the gap, which exists between the life, we dreamt of and the life we have.

In the performance everyday-people-cum-performers hold aloft three sumptuous purple cloths on poles to form a canopy or palanquin. The procession moves through the streets of Schöppingen, a small town in Germany, and the performers raise the palanquins over people they meet who are going about their everyday activities. The performance, with its implications of bestowing importance and the sharing of a moment of richness and prestige is a small oasis, a moment of pageantry injecting something out of the ordinary into the known and the familiar: endowing a sense of worth and inclusion.


Anja’s reality is a text-based work about a prostitute who offers ‘drive-thru’ sex in a designated zone for prostitution, in a city in the Netherlands. In the zone men can legally pick up a prostitute when a daytime two-way street is turned into a one-way circuit around a railway station. Prostitutes gets into clients’ cars and they drive into a parking area, which is sectioned into bays with strip rubber fixed to steel framework as divider ‘walls’ where they
have sex inside the car. The prostitute is then dropped off at the end of the road where she and her pimp are paid.

Three ’realities’ are presented in the work: Anja’s, the caretakers’, and ‘my reality’ (which serves as the reader’s view). These are printed on the wall of the gallery or as text on perspex, in script as if taken from a typed record of interview. As the viewer stops to read, his/her silhouette is cast in shadow from a light behind, imposing them directly into the trio of narratives.


Red, blue or green? is from a body of work with the heavily ironic title, Anything you can see in person, you can see better on TV, which is a fun take on the spectacle and the belief that a televised image is better than being there in person.

In this performance people are invited to wear black pants and shoes and their choice of red, blue or green t-shirts and make human geometric abstractions on the road during a busy part of the day. The patterns that are made during this intervention are very dependent upon the colours that people choose to wear, so the final choreographing takes place immediately before the performance.


In the participatory work of performance art a large group of performers, positioned in a grid formation, perform
simple and repetitive synchronised exercises and stretching, re-performing a performance by the artist that is screened on a television with music. The work is about a number of things: the most obvious being that we all know that the world isn’t quite the way it should be and we would like to help, but we’re just a little too busy right now; the work also looks at our desire to fit in and follow the trends, fashion and lifestyle that are projected to us on television.

This work was first performed during an artist residency at the Künstlerdorf in Schöppingen, Germany, and saw relationships being built across a diverse group of local residents and refugees from the Middle East and Africa living in Schöppingen. This social outcome evolved from the first rehearsal, where individuals grouped themselves with like-minded and likedressed people according to what felt safe and familiar, waiting for the rehearsal to begin, through to four weeks later with an art exhibition where performers greeted each other warmly and generously, often speaking in English, the second language for nearly all the people, re-living their experiences, creating new experiences and firming up friendships. 

The work was re-performed at the entrance to the Artfair in Sydney.


Life preservers is from a body of work called They paved paradise put up a parking lot which shows off the latest footwear and dresses that Sylvia Schwenk designed for global warming. The project uses humour and imagination to deconstruct the well known issue of global warming to say: perhaps, sometimes if you can’t change a situation, you just have to change the way you think about it.

In the performance in Cologne, Germany, five women model dresses from a collection of clothing called Life Preservers. The dresses play on an amusing imaginary double bind of the extremes of climate change: to fill the plastic bottles festooned on the outer layer of the dresses, would be good for drought, but would make one sink in the event of a flood, and vice versa.


Boots for Rising Waters was first performed on the steps of the Dom Cathedral in Cologne as an elegant and subtle intrusion into the everyday life of the city where fashion and performance came together in the mode of contemporary allegory to bring attention to issues of climate change.

In the work nine women dressed in short black clothing model stylish but impractical high platform-gumboots that Sylvia designed as the latest footwear for global warming. The Boots are not suited to walking and ‘helpers’ assist the models during the performance. The stacked soles of the Boots range in height from ten to twenty-five centimetres – giving the wearer of the Boots the ability to choose a height that suits the water levels on any given day.

Boots for Rising Waters has been re-performed at the Blue Oyster Gallery, a project space in Dunedin New Zealand and at Artereal Gallery, a commercial gallery in Sydney, Australia.

The Boots themselves are presented as sculptural works in gallery spaces and the performance

X Performances are ephemeral large and individual Xs that are made of human bodies, in the middle of road intersections and important shared public spaces. X Performances is an international project that uses combinations of the human body, performance, fashion, intervention, public space and the everyday to create fun and participatory performances which encourage participation and look at various social issues.Local residents in Sydney, Saigon, Cologne and Dunedin have participated in these performances, creating huge Xs and individual ‘freestyle’ Xs with their bodies. Each performance is individually created for the urban space and culture of the city where the work was performed, and has a unique story and social discourse.

           The workers' lift

The workers’ lift explores the hidden space workers in a large shopping centre in Cologne, Germany, occupy.  

The workers move between floors unseen by shoppers, using an exclusive private elevator that allows them to step on and step off  different levels in the shopping centre.  The lift offers a peaceful and quiet means of transport; a moment of escape which belies the hectic noisy shopping environment that awaits them on the other side.

This work looks at the relationship between performance and the everyday, and reflects upon the significance and beauty of commonplace activities 




Loss and Love are two of the primal emotions of humanity.
Is it possible to experience Loss without having felt Love; or
to experience Love without knowing the fear of Loss?

There are 3 works of art included in this body of work
6 weeks; You cannot read loss, only feel it; and Loss and Love (after Robert Indiana).




Under Surveillance was an art intervention masquerading as an everyday event in Sydney, which saw performers dressed as officials conducting surveillance. The performers photographed and filmed people in public to stimulate awareness of the level of surveillance our society is subjected to, and to prompt thought about what the loss of privacy that accompanies this heightened scrutiny means.


I also work collaboratively with 'the collective', a group of artists who have come together to create artworks, situations and happenings. The focus is on creating awareness, discussion and engagement through participation, fun, energy, spontaneity, controversy and commentary.