Artist duo Hanakam & Schuller | Interview

The exhibition Cosmic Cathedral, which takes place in Galerie Krinzinger is the first solo exhibition of artist duo HANAKAM & SCHULLER. I met Markus and Roswitha, who have been working together since 2004, at the gallery to talk about their work and approach to film and technology.


HANAKAM & SCHULLEE, photo: Kristina Kulakova

Typology and phantasy are elements of Cosmic Cathedral, a video piece by Markus Hanakam & Roswitha Schuller, in which the expressive repertory of alchemy, its systems of order and material ideas merge with seemingly surrealist imagery.

Two alchemists alternately make use of various apparatuses and generate sequences of actions related to the index of Fulcanelli’s Le Mystère des Cathédrales from the 1926, the alchemist text written by the legendary Frenchman (to date Fulcanelli’s identity has not been fully clarified.) Fulcanelli interprets the sacral architecture of the Gothic period as expressing a secret language, borrowing from alchemist symbolism as well as esotericism.

Kristina Kulakova: Where does the fascination with alchemy come from? Have you been working on that topic before? 

Roswitha Schuller: We worked with alchemy a little bit before. In 2010 we were invited to participate in the exhibition about the ‘World’s First Photograph’. The NCCA (Moscow) invited us among other media artists to deal with the photograph by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce. (In 1826, French scientist Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, took that photograph, titled View from the Window at Le Gras, at his family’s country home. Niépce produced his photo—a view of a courtyard and outbuildings seen from the house’s upstairs window—by exposing a bitumen-coated plate in a camera obscura for several hours on his windowsill.) For us it was something we couldn’t work with, because we normally don’t work with found footage materials. We were not interested in the picture itself, but what was fascinating is the process of how that picture developed and arrived to this world. It was kind of magic moment for everyone in media history. Nobody knew back then it would turn out to be a fixed photography. We’ve always worked with older texts from the 19th century and we found this text about the photographic apparatus mentioning alchemy, objects, preparation process and chemical substances. We found it very interesting, because we made the parallel with how to treat the sculpture. ‘How can we transform an object in something that tells the story, or gains some features, that are not in the object itself. You can see it in our current work Cosmic Cathedral. Those are just some plastic pieces, sometimes trash in a way, some parts of advertising displays and other stuff. We like to work with plastic things exclusively, which is also industrially normed. You can always combine those pieces together and you will always find something that fits.

KK: Are you interested in chemistry as a science or it is more of the aesthetic mechanism or tool for your practice?  

Markus Hanakam: We are artists, so we want to use this fascinating magic moments of the chemical transformation process when a matter turns into another matter.

Roswitha Schuller: What we are interested in, and it is also very present in early alchemy and chemistry, is to create a system. It is really strange and multiple particles have a very definite language, which is a bit weird, because a lot of it is Latin. We like very much how the way things are described and have a certain order (sometimes becoming a sort of convention) in those texts. And convention is something related to the arts: the way people describe aesthetic processes or how the image should be composed and so on.

MH: It is all about finding a system. Every video work we do has its own way to read and how the different scenes are combined.

KK: In the current work the video parts shown at random is sort of the system? 

MH: With this work we definitely are not trying to tell a story, there is no dramaturgy or narration.

RS: This randomness comes from the media. For example in computer games you have the micro stories and as a user/player you combine it for yourself and we like to take the viewer or beholder into the interaction with our work, because he has to find the way how he could use these forms or the actions taken with objects. It is a bit luring the beholder that he would want to grab something.

KK: Your works focus on certain aspects of popular culture and at the same time consists of old texts. Where do they meet?

RS: I think this work is a good example. We have a fundus: the text is a storage and objects that we collect for years now and we always combine them to new forms. It is kind of playful mode we do it in. I am sure this comes a little bit from Markus’ fascination with computer games.

MH: And role play.

RS: All the kids in the 80’s & 90’s did that. I was not so much involved personally, but I am keen on literature and working with old texts, because they transport so much of the atmosphere. If you revert into Latin it transfers you into another time or space. I really love that. We transform those things and make a tool kit out of them. Talking about tools. This is what we are generally questioning in art. Of course from the history one can use a found object and tell another story about it (this is about hundred years old now). We are very interested in discovering what is the artist material of today, how do we use that? What is this aura that is inscribed in these plastic pieces?

Hanakam & Schuller, Cosmic Cathedral, Vidostill, 2016, courtesy: Galerie Krinzinger and the artist

KK: When you work on a new piece do you think about the gallery visitor or the accessibility of your work? 

MH: I think we have different types of works. Video pieces are in the main focus, but then we also have some drawings.

RS: We work with applied art forms as well. It is very interesting for us as well to create the object, which will be in movement and not static on a pedestal, so that the interaction with the objects happens not only in the video, but they are also used as furniture for example.
We would like to interact with the audience. Our approach is to make people deal with our works, not to create an understandable piece, when the visitor looks and thinks: ‘ok, I got it now.’

MH: It is challenging, because people want to understand everything in one moment.

RS: We are not here as cultural sociologists, who explain everything to the world, but we are just using the tools and the power of these terms. Sometimes just putting things in the different context.

KK: You are based in Vienna. Does the city influence your way of work?

MH: We actually do not produce so much in Vienna. We are always trying to find different locations where we do our work and most of the time is not situated in the studio. For video works we are always searching for partners elsewhere. We are not interested in setting up a film studio, it is important to move from one place to another and find other people to work with.

Hanakam & Schuller, Cosmic Cathedral, Vidostill, 2016, courtesy: Galerie Krinzinger and the artist

KK: What is your approach to film as a medium?

RS: We are using video and digital film to be able to show movements and actions with our pieces. It is oriented on the objects. It could be performative action as well.

MH: Everything one sees on the screen is very easily understood how it is filmed. There are no tricks or stuff like that.

RS: It is not so mysterious how we work. It is not about proposing a new filming technique.

MH: It is important to mention that we have a very small team. It is just two or three of us, who work on the video.

RS: During our studies we worked on film production and it was very clear to us that we don’t want to be involved in big productions.

KK: Why?

RS: We need the intimacy and the viewer can sense that. I could make the parallel with a writer. He is alone with the text when he writes it and then the reader is usually alone with a novel too. It is a bit old-fashioned approach maybe.

MH: Sometimes on film festivals we see short films of maybe one minute and then there is another three minutes needed for the titles. That is absolutely not interesting for us.

KK: Do you think the technology enables creativity or does it make it more accessible and therefore more mediocre?

RS: I am not a big fan of the guys who make the news just by shooting a film with an iPhone, because the iPhone has no relevance for me personally. We use the technology we have available at the moment, if we would work 20 years ago it would probably be done with VHS video.

MH: One has to be careful nowadays, because people know very often that this image is shot with that camera. You then have the connection with certain time and period, and there is no freedom. We would like to create a clean piece, where it is not clear, on which camera it was shot.

RS: A bit out of time. We are not always working with up to date technology. We do animation from time to time. And we use old techniques for that, without it being retro or something, but not putting the focus on the technology and starching its boundaries. It is not about the software after all. We would like to make the focus on our stuff and not the program we are using for that.

Roswitha Schuller * 1984 in Friesach, diploma and doctorate at the University of Applied Arts, Vienna.
Markus Hanakam *1979 in Essen, University Essen, diploma at the University of Applied Arts, live and and work in Vienna.
Since 2004 working as a duo, exhibition – and festival participation, as well as curatorial activities in an international context. exhibitions (selection): 2016: Gaite Lyrique, Paris (G), 2015: Austrian Cultural Forum, Prague (S), Fabrika, Moskow (S), AIR – Sri Lanka / Hungary, Artists in Residence 2013/2014, Galerie Krinzinger (G), 2014: DI∞G, Vienna (S), Artist Quarterly Sotheby’s, Vienna (S), DEPO, Pilsen (G) 5th International Sinop Biennial, Sinop (G), 2013: Eyebeam Center for Art and Technology, NY (G), 2012: Museum Moderner Kunst Kärnten, Klagenfurt (S), Rencontres International Festival, Palais de Tokyo, Paris (G), AiR Ungarn 2011-2012, Krinzinger Projekte, Vienna (G)


  1. Markus Hanakam and Roswitha Schüler, photo: (c) Kristina Kulakova
  2. Hanakam & Schuller, Cosmic Cathedral, Video still, 2016, courtesy: Galerie Krinzinger and the artist
  3. Hanakam & Schuller, Cosmic Cathedral, Video still, 2016, courtesy: Galerie Krinzinger and the artist
  4. Hanakam & Schuller, Cosmic Cathedral, Video still, 2016, courtesy: Galerie Krinzinger and the artist

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