Via Lewandowsky studied at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste Dresden from 1982 until 1987. Starting in 1985, he organised subversive performances together with the avant-guarde group, Autoperforationsartisten, that undermined the Communist art authorities of Eastern Germany (GDR). In 1989, shortly before the fall of the Berlin wall, he left the GDR and subsequently moved to West Berlin. Since then, he has travelled extensively and has lived for extended periods in New York, Rome, Peking and Canada. He now resides in Berlin.
Via Lewandowsky works in diverse artistic media. He is most familiar for his sculptural-installation works and exhibition scenographies with architectonic influences such as Gehirn und Denken: Kosmos im Kopf [Brain and Thinking: Cosmos in Mind: 2000] displayed at the German Hygiene Museum in Dresden. By the 1990s his work had already begun to incorporate elements of Sound Art; this has since become an important and integral part of much of his performance work. (e.g., Oh tu nove verde [Oh You Green Nine: 2011]; Applaus [Applause: 2008]).
Content, not form, is the unifying theme in Via Lewandowsky’s body of work. Dominant recurring themes include: misunderstanding as failure of communication and the deformation and deconstruction of meaning. Another hallmark of Via’s work is that ideas are represented as process rather than completion. The artist is neither looking for something conclusive, a definitive ending, nor complete destruction but rather for the constructive moment within a process of destruction. This identification of the in-between moment is highlighted by the work’s inherently satirical content that does not try to elicit pathos from its audience. Via’s work does not confer objects with disrespect but rather admiration and amazement.
His working method and the effectiveness of its artistic results are often characterized by opposites. Elements that are controlled, staged and constantly emerging also have spontaneous, unexpected, and thus lively qualities. Humoristic, seemingly lighthearted works viewed a second time contain gruesome, brutal moments that can turn the comedic into the disturbing. Examples include Die Testperson verhielt sich ungewöhnlich ruhig [The Test Person Behaved Extraordinarily Calmly: 2007]; Street Life (Street Live) .
His preference for tragicomedy, absurdity and paradox as well as the Sisyphean drama of continuous repetition and futility of action link Via Lewandowsky’s art with Dadaism, Surrealism and Fluxus. The ironic breaks with everyday life, the intrusion of the strange into the familiar, often domestic realm take place in his work by using the detritus of the German bourgeoisie: cuckoo clocks, DIY garden sheds, parakeets or buracracy.
His interest in a nation’s construction of identity exposes a political dimension in his work. Via’s installations in public spaces confirm this, as do his performances, which create an awareness of the structures of historiography. In 2009 his contribution to the 20th anniversary of the Monday Demostrations in Leipzig took the form of a confetti parade. Canon were fired at the participants with the fusillades consisting of confetti made from miniature business cards bearing the code names and professions of thousands of the Stasi’s domestic spies. Information for the business cards was acquired from documentation at the Birthler office in Leipzig.
Via Lewandowsky’s public works of art cannot be reduced to any obvious political element. Von hinten [From Behind: 2006], in the collection of the Kemper Art Museum in St. Louis, Missouri, plays with absurdity and puzzle of form and content. As with many of Via Lewandowsky’s works, the title points at the work’s inherent double entendre and hints at bigotry, thereby increasing its effect on the viewer.
A work installed at a public site central to Germany history in Berlin is Roter Teppich [Red Carpet: 2003]. Laid out in the entrance hall of the Bendler Block, this oversized carpet, when viewed from above, shows a war-torn Berlin and ironically refers to the military term carpet bombing. The irony is heightened by the choice of location, as the Bendler Block is currently the home of the Federal Ministry of Defense. Roter Teppich’s overlapping of various layers of comprehension and the conscious aim of misguiding his audience by constructing unclear narrative threads are characteristic qualtities of Via Lewandowsky’s work.