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Interview with Anna Schachinger
Lulu, Mexico City

We met Austrian-Ecuadorian artist Anna Schachinger, who is based in Vienna, in Mexico City last year to talk about her exhibition at Lulu, the limits of meaning and white crocodiles.

How did you come to Mexico City and Lulu? I met Chris Sharp (independent curator) in Vienna in 2016. He asked me for a studio talk. We stayed in contact after that.

Your exhibition is entitled “alles.” It makes me curious! Can you tell us more about it? It is the German word for “everything.” This show deals with the possibilities of painting, dissecting the materiality, getting deep inside the narrow void that painting opens in order to simultaneously gain a clear, distanced perspective on it. In Spanish, “alles” is not a word. But it nearly is. There are many close relatives: calles, valles, … Here, the possibility of meaning is emphasized, without actual fulfilment.

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Lulu

The works were made between 2014 and now, and as I see, the paintings are quite small, yet striking. How did they emerge? It is a format I have used constantly these last years, sometimes to use up already mixed paint, sometimes to generate new ideas for future paintings, sometimes for both of these things and sometimes for neither. They are also just independent works. But this show is kind of a summary of the ideas about painting I have been working with these last three years.

Exhibition view "alles" (Lulu)

4 x "Untitled", 22 x 27 cm, exhibition view "alles" (Lulu). Photo: Chris Sharp

Can you tell us more about your approach – is it more intuitive or conceptual? I can’t really separate those two.

Where do you find the most inspiration for your artwork? I am not really fond of the word inspiration. Or maybe it is just not something that I can find. I think it is much more about working through a certain proposition than about inspiration.

You grew up in many different parts of the world – India, Nicaragua, Ecuador. Which is your favorite? Where do you feel most at home? I feel at home in Vienna, Austria. I have not returned to India or Nicaragua since I was a child. Ecuador means a lot to me. I am close with my family there, and I have lived in Quito as an adult. Living in Europe now, it is a place that I always long for. However, I am aware that it is only in Europe that I look like a Latin American.

You are currently living in Lisbon. What are you doing there? I am involved in the Maumaus International Study Program. I have a studio, so I paint. I try to go to the ocean whenever I can. But I am actually mainly walking. Lisbon is a city that makes you walk a lot.

Your paintings are profound, lively, mythical and appealing – what is painting to you? Painting is something that makes me excited to wake up in the morning. It is a way to relate and deal with experiences and ideas. It is a challenging, process-based work which I hope does not need the artist in its afterlife.

“Poetic and resonating with mythic narrative imagery” – where does this approach come from? Some of my work certainly gets there. In my last show “white crocodile” I overtly played with these concepts. I think that meaning can be created on this level. However, this same body of work is also about the limits of meaning, about the uncertainty of a shared “mythical” language.

Your paintings make me feel content, because there is enough meaning to be found. I am not distracted; they are complete and I feel light. Delights of the mythic narrative? For me, the narrative elements in the works can be quite heavy. Because of that I try to make the paintings light on some other levels, maybe to be able to deal with the content.

What about the relationship between language and painting? There is this common phrase that painters like to use, that we paint, because we cannot express ourselves in words. But visual language is a language too, after all. It is just not something that is taught in schools, but more a language that everybody learns through other cultural devices. Paintings must be read as well.

Is it comparable to rational versus wild thinking, which are both possible yet different attempts to structure the world? I actually want to do both types of thinking within my work. I think that dividing those two, rational and wild thinking, makes for a bulk of boring work, within painting in particular and within art in general, as both attempts to structure the world run out of breath before going anywhere by themselves.

The following poem about the white crocodile is yours? 


how to look into a crocodile mouth

how to catch a crocodile mid-air

how to feel your mother’s sturdy grip around your neck

how to stand closely as a group


about white crocodiles, 

about fear.


(of taking responsibility)

(of your neighbor)

(of failing hard)


how to inhale common sense 

and exhale white crocodiles

Yes, it is. It was the invitation text for the show "white crocodile" at fAN Kunstverein. It is a list of the work titles.

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"group" (fAN Kunstverein). Photo: Manuel Carreon Lopez

Is the relationship between language and painting also similar to the white-crocodile-and-common-sense dynamic in your most recent paintings? Who is who here? Language as the white crocodile and painting as common sense? Sure, I inhaled some paint fumes along the way. But I am not afraid of language. Maybe only if language is seen as the public conversation that is being held in the Western world right now. I am quite uneasy about the schizophrenic use of language by almost everybody in the public sphere. But that is commonplace by now. I would like to suggest that these paintings deal with courage, with the moment in which fear is overcome.

Can you tell us more about this figure of the white crocodile? Somebody told me at the opening that white crocodiles really exist: If people get a cute little crocodile as a pet and then flush it down the toilet because it grew to some size that seemed monstrous in their apartment, the animal is likely to survive in the sewer system (if the region is not too cold). In time it will lose all the pigments in its skin and eventually turn white.

What about the interactions between people in your paintings? In your painting series “each” you appear within a group of people or on your own. What do togetherness, ancestry, alliance and heritage mean to you? A great deal. Only, I am really a bit awkward with all these things.

I read that you try to get as far away as possible from the computer and Internet and thus respond to these technologies with avoidance. Why do you resist? Freedom? Well, I have a toaster. I am not against technology per se. It is just that it is hard for me to find happiness in the Web. It is very easy for me to drift off into a state of passive browsing. That said I do have Facebook and Instagram and I maintain certain friendships via Skype.

Do you have favorite places in Mexico City? I really enjoy going for a fruit juice at Mercado Medellin and I highly recommend the fabric stores in the city center.

Lulu (the owner of the local juice bar)

Lulu's patio

How special are Mexico and Mexico City for you, as someone already familiar with Latin America? A challenging place? The D.F. is challenging for me in its sheer vastness: It is a city difficult to escape from. Mexico is special for me owing to my family’s history: My mother grew up in Mexico City until she was 14; my grandmother is Mexican. After that, they moved to Ecuador, my grandfather’s country. For me, Mexico is a place about which I was told many stories, a place my family longs for. My grandmother spends a lot of time cooking real Mexican food in Ecuador, and so does my mother in Vienna. However, my grandmother is also second-generation Lebanese; my Mexican great-grandparents talked Arabic with each other. Well, this idea of belonging somewhere is tricky.

Thank you Anna!

Interview: Dajana Dorfmayr

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Bajío 231, Lulu gallery is located there