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>> Conversation: Laura Owens
>> Interview: Markus Schinwald
>> Images of Children from the Deutsche Bank Collection
>> Childlike Strategies

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Guided Seducer: An Interview with Markus Schinwald

His "Corridor of Uncertainties" is currently on show in Munster – a surreal fairy-tale landscape that catches the viewer off guard. Regardless of whether the young Austrian Markus Schinwald has children kidnapped by marionettes of figures like the Rat-Catcher of Hameln, or populates anonymous hotel rooms with bizarre protagonists: subtle abysses are always lurking behind his dreamlike scenarios. Maria Morais met the artist in Vienna for a talk.

Markus Schinwald, Foto: Maria Morais

Marionettes, bodies, clothes, prostheses. The props are borrowed from the theater. Unreal scenes take place in hotel rooms that seem strangely lifeless. The people moving in them perform strange acts, their bodies bound by the constraints of fetish-like clothing whose ultimate meaning remains obscure. Markus Schinwald’s films, photos, and installations are both bewitchingly beautiful and uncanny. And they’ve brought him, almost imperceptibly, to the forefront of the international art scene. The artist, who was born in 1973 in Salzburg, transfers mental states into their physical equivalent. Yet when the human body no longer suffices to plumb the depths of the psyche, marionettes take its place. Then the world is understood as a stage upon which odd stories are played out that always strive for one thing: to open a psychologically charged inner world to the outside.

Markus Schinwald, Children's Crusade, 2004,
Film Stills, Courtesy Galerie Georg Kargl, Wien

Maria Morais: In your video work "Children’s Crusade," (2004) children play a central role. Along with the historical events connected to the Children’s Crusades of the Middle Ages, you also refer to one of the best known legends of the Occident, the "Rat-Catcher of Hameln," a kind of Pied Piper. What fascinated you about these motifs?

Markus Schinwald, Dictio Pii, 2001,
Film Still, Courtesy Galerie Georg Kargl, Wien

Markus Schinwald: Actually, the choice of themes was a coincidence. I originally wanted to work with a children’s choir. Throughout the course of my research, I happened upon the story of the Children’s Crusades, which is barely known, because the Church tends to play down this chapter in its history. What interested me was that historians are still arguing over how it happened. There’s the fact that a large number of children – 30,000 in Cologne and even more in France – set off on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. There is nothing to support this on the part of the Church. There are even speculations over whether it wasn’t actually slave traders who were behind it all. It’s also open to interpretation whether the children really wanted to wage war against the unbelievers, or if they were supposed to move the enemy to tears to such a degree that he would voluntarily put down his weapon. The fact that certain details of the various stories coincide precisely, while others do not, created a kind of "gap" that interested me. And so I connected the historical tale with the Rat-Catcher myth, which, in a topographical and chronological sense, is interestingly close to the historical events.

What part do the mechanisms of seduction and error play in "Children’s Crusade"?

A very large one. This is why a marionette plays the major role. Someone is always guiding a marionette, of course. I was interested in showing that a seducer can also be guided in this manner. It’s never clear who is actually behind this two-faced marionette. I see the figure more as a place-holder that has to be substituted by something or someone else.

The anonymous marionette is a very unsettling leader.

When certain works seem unsettling, then it’s because there’s this "gap," a state in which things could assume different meanings or not be explained at all. This begins with the prostheses in my work. You can’t immediately ascribe any particular meaning to these things. They’re devices that fulfill an unknown purpose.

And it’s just this mood of the unknown and alien that makes your situations and scenarios seem like dream images. What interested you in the investigation of the unconscious?

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