Friday, 21 February 2014

The Last Days of Mankind - an exhibition from Deborah Sengl at The Essl Museum

"We all share the guilt of war: soldiers who murder, or the propagandist press, or the civilians who do not resist, or those who spread and repeat opinions . . ." - Karl Kraus

The year 2014 is the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of The Great War as it is known by some and World War I as it is known by others. It was a savage war in which more than 17 million people perished, and many millions were wounded including both my grandfathers. 

A vast army of disabled persons quickly appeared on the streets of European cities. These unfortunates included the limbless, the blinded, the shellshocked, and the gassed. 

And it's worth remembering that there were millions of horses in mankind's service who were  also brutalized. Such is our humanity. 

And we should recall also the spivs and the conmen and the opportunists; thieves who made fortunes exploiting others misfortunes. Like the rats in the trenches they too flourished.

And we humans are also the rats. We are the gullible human rats. 

Aroused by propaganda succeeding generations march behind the same paid piper whistling the same old tunes, at the behest of the Great Rat who pays the piper, from one bloody conflict to the next. 

We could step off the old spin-wheel in our gilded cage if we sat down thought about it. 

But for now I want to know the reasons why we are bent on killing each other?  I want to know why we accept as reasons for war the cavalier falsehoods of so many our leaders: 

The enemy has weapons of mass destruction.
We're here to help you. Is that an oil well over there? 
We're only here to look for some criminals. 
We're not stealing your land we're just redrawing the maps.
etc., etc., etc. 

And so I'm reading Karl Kraus's play Die letzten Tage der Menschheit (The Last Days of Mankind) which I purchased at the Essl Museum in Vienna where the Austrian artist Deborah Sengl's exhibition Die letzten Tage der Menscheit can be visited until 25th May 2014. 

Sengl gave Kraus's protagonists the status of rats. At the bottom of this post you will see the rats. Or at least a small selection of my photographs of them. In all there are more than 200 rats in the exhibition. And more than 40 scenes. 

And you might correctly guess, from my purchase of Kraus's book, the rats gave me plenty of food for thought. And that's what I want to pass on via this blog; that people should get in the habit of thinking for themselves instead of always following the crowd. 

Looking on the internet for details of a film (or a movie) of this important book of Kraus's I was more than disappointed. Presumably the film industry has another agenda.

Last but not least many thanks to the German publisher Suhrkamp for keeping the flame alive: 

Die letzten Tage der Menschheit 
ISBN 978-3-518-45715-3 

Speaking of The Last Days of Mankind Deborah Sengl who has spent the past year on her special exhibition for the Essl Museum says: "The work (Karl Kraus's The Last Days of Mankind) may be a century old, but for me it is still up to date. We may not have a war in the immediate vicinity, but war is still so strongly present in us as it was then, if not more so." 

Deborah Sengl's rats can speak for themselves - 



  1. Very good idea to use stuffed rats in place of humans because rats look out only for themselves. (I think I should be coming to Vienna instead of Prague so that I can see the exhibition). Clever way of looking at The Last Days of Mankind.

  2. I really think the rats are brill. The more I look at them the more I see.

  3. The artist Deborah Sengl has a website. Some of her other animals are shown on there.

  4. Rachel, the link to Deborah Sengl's website is now on the page below my final rat picture.

  5. I will have a look. Thank you.


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