The Way Out
steirischer herbst ’21
September 9–October 10, 2021
During the recent lockdowns, theaters and traditional museums were sorely missed; but was it the same for the institutions of contemporary art? The public was painfully oblivious to their absence, and, somehow, the feeling was mutual. Our historical pedigree, the avant-garde, translates into a vivid and explicit, and at times contemptuous, rejection of populism, which often means that art might demand radical change, but in a way that only experts would understand. Today, however, the capacity to effect a radical change may well be in the hands of previously anonymous users, passive viewers, and excluded audiences. Art has to embrace this new balance of power instead of retreating into safe white cubes and black boxes. While still searching for a way to become essential again, art has to infiltrate itself into the new adventure of the everyday.
steirischer herbst ’21, a festival that already has a strong history of engaging with public space, is venturing radically out—outdoors, out of lockdown, but also out of the safe institutional bubble. In a moment when we all are still unsure if we are allowed to meet strangers again, it is time for contemporary art to meet its own invisible and ignored stranger—the non-initiated audience. Can the popular be political without slipping into a populist trap?
The engagement with the local—its contexts, its stories, its people—is related to the urgency of reducing unnecessary travel, but not just that. Even in Hollywood and fashion we see the shift towards non-professional actors and models. This engagement with real people resonates with the current strangely painful and sometimes clumsy rediscovery of outer reality after a year of lockdown life.
All the works shown at steirischer herbst ’21 are new commissions.
In June, in the Styrian village of Hainersdorf, the festival offers a preview of its themes and approaches with a Schwank, a popular type of theater sketch, by all-female Graz theater collective Die Rabtaldirndln, addressing corruption, real estate speculation, and the agency of ordinary women in preventing them.
Putting the audience on stage
On September 9, the festival opens in public space with a presentation of a new installation by Marinella Senatore. During the first two weeks of the festival, large-scale multi-performer street interventions by Sophia Brous (with Faye Driscoll, Samara Hersch, and Lara Thoms) and Flo Kasearu as well as situations by Tino Sehgal will unfold in the parks, streets, and squares of Graz, challenging the border between art and life, reality and fiction. Moving bodies of city dwellers, as well as of actors and actresses, become part of the artwork.
Embracing the popular
Already for the fourth time the current steirischer herbst team is challenging the purity of the festival’s “cosmopolitan avant-garde” legacy. The festival this year dives deep into contemporary popular culture, from music to television, and together with artists revives its democratic political potential. Composer Uriel Barthélémi with Sophie Bernado & Salomon Baneck-Asaro explore the meld of electronic percussion and hip-hop dance in a decolonial context. Phil Collins’s sound systems pop up in various neighborhoods of Graz with flamboyant reggae music and talks about its hidden political legacy of anti-colonial, anti-homophobic, and socialist struggle. Hiwa K revisits his early distance-cooking project Cooking with Mama with an open-air kitchen cart that moves through Graz staging participative cooking performances with relatives far away. Reverend Billy & the Church of Stop Shopping Choir will interrupt the routine on Graz’s main shopping strip with rousing songs and televangelist sermons against consumerism and the destruction of the earth.
Working with others
Many of the festival’s projects involve intensive collaboration with social institutions and groups in Graz and Styria. A memorial to Simone Weil by Thomas Hirschhorn, an artist known for his years-long commitment to community projects, is based on such neighborhood outreach. Dejan Kaludjerović interviewed children in Graz on major issues such as war, racism, or the pandemic to develop an opera with theater director Bojan Djordjev in collaboration with Marija Balubžić and Tanja Šljivar. Theater director Felix Hafner visits several Styrian towns to work with people living there rather than actors, addressing their motivations for protest across generational divides.
Up close and from afar
In a situation involving drastic sanitary measures as well as an uncertainty regarding travel, the festival wants to make its productions accessible to those who cannot, or prefer not to, visit them under current conditions. Three major stage productions, which will unfold in Graz’s Orpheum theater during the festival and will be also streamed, include premieres by Hito Steyerl and Mark Waschke, Žiga Divjak, and Yael Bartana, delving into the major challenges of our times, such as digital feudalism and popular revolt, the raise of occultism and toxic nationalism, or climate crisis.
Taking the spirit of last year’s Paranoia TV to the streets of Graz, steirischer herbst kicks off its own online TV series called Situation Reports. Humorous and serious at once, it reveals the city to the world and the festival to the city. The reports are created by artists and intellectuals, some of them foreign correspondents, others well-informed Graz insiders. With Lars Cuzner, Stefanie Sargnagel, Nicholas Grafia & Mikołaj Sobczak, Heimo Halbrainer and others, online through the whole festival period.
A special poster campaign addressing the reopening of public space will fill Graz, with contributions by Mounira Al Solh, Nilbar Güreş, Boris Mikhailov, Rosemarie Trockel, as well as advertisement icon and former festival director Horst Gerhard Haberl and legendary steirischer herbst veteran Hans Haacke, among others.
This year’s discursive program probes the common impasses of a post-pandemic reality and looks for ways of getting beyond them. It kicks off with a lecture by Paul B. Preciado and continues with a series of online keynotes with thinkers and writers entitled “The Way Out Of ….” A conference organized in collaboration with Forum Stadtpark on the topic of “Transformation” dives into today’s debates around war communism, economic planning, mobility and labor in an age of crisis and rapid historical change.
The festival closes with a project by Theater im Bahnhof, one of its regular local partners, with narrative interventions in a specially constructed two-day flea market. It culminates in their parodistic Gala TV show Bares für Wahres (Cash for Truth) on the festival’s closing night.
steirischer herbst continues with the second iteration of Out of Joint, the literary festival within steirischer herbst conceived together with Literaturhaus Graz. Taking place from October 4 to 8, it initiates new text commissions by Doron Rabinovici, Günter Eichberger, and Stephan Roiss. From October 7 to 10, steirischer herbst’s most traditional festival within the festival, musikprotokoll, explores the theme of nomadic sounds.
The program of steirischer herbst continues until October 10 and includes a rich parallel program featuring Graz’s and Styria’s cultural institutions and artists.
The full list of artists will be published in September.
This edition of steirischer herbst is created by all participating artists, thinkers, and philosophers, as well as Ekaterina Degot, Director and Chief Curator, Henriette Gallus, Deputy Director, Christoph Platz, Head of Curatorial Affairs, David Riff, Senior Curator, Dominik Müller, Curator, Mirela Baciak, Curator, and steirischer herbst team.