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Rats portray war and inner conflict

Deborah Sengl

Deborah Sengl brings her exhibition The Last Days of Mankind to European Forum Alpbach. Based on the play written by Karl Kraus, it confronts the extremes of World War I. Sengl has created a visual adaptation of the play by using 200 white stuffed rats in 42 individual scenes.

“I chose rats because they are quite similar to humans. Rats are moving in masses. But as soon as something happens, they stick to themselves. They are egoistic,” said Sengl, a Vienna-based artist.  

Curated by italian art historian Günther Oberhollenzer, the exhibition aims to evoke disgust and shock. “My work is always socially and politically critical. I cannot change the world, but I want to make people think,” said Sengl.

Although there are no more wars in the trenches, every individual experiences inner conflict Sengl said. “Intolerance and racism are growing. We are always looking for someone to blame.” According to the artist, the stuffed rats should not provoke, but rather touch people, especially the young.

The original play, set during the events of World War I, shows everyday people in absurd situations. Karl Kraus’s satirical view of society, published from 1915 to 1922, is spread over 200 individual scenes. Out of this amount, Sengl chose 42 scenes and adapted them into a grotesque collage.

The rats displayed at the Congress Centre in Alpbach, are largely white. Sengl said: “I decided to make white rats because we are all the same, we all have the same responsibility and the same role in this world. White is the colour of innocence.”

The artwork was first exhibited in 2014 in Klosterneuburg, to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I.

By Manuel Lavoriero and Olivia Powell

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