19.09. – 13.10.2019, Graz.
On the precipice of comfort zones. The steirischer herbst takes hedonistic intellectuals to task.
Ekaterina Degot peers into the abyss. With this year’s festival programme the director of the steirischer herbst leads us to the crumbling edges of the comfort zones of our society, which are rapidly losing firm ground due to the multiple crises of the present and where space is only available to those who can afford it.
For this year’s festival motto Degot seizes a metaphor of the Hungarian philosopher and literary critic Georg Lukács, who strongly influenced the Frankfurt School with his writings on Marxist philosophy. At the same time, however, he also caused numerous controversial debates in the intellectual circles of his time. In the middle of the last century Lukács already saw that the intellectuals had become complacent in a hedonistic comfort zone far removed from reality and were thus indirectly, even if unintentionally or carelessly, complicit with the bourgeois circles of big business: Lukács called this comfort zone on the brink of the abyss “Grand Hotel Abyss” – a metaphor which Degot has chosen as the festival motto of this year’s steirischer herbst..
Because Lukács’ old metaphor has developed a new urgency against the backdrop of a digital society which is disintegrating into its filter bubbles and has made way for the society-dividing populism of the present, the succinct statement by then Foreign Minister Kurz, “It won’t do without unpleasant pictures,” has become a popular catchphrase today. The intellectual elites have come to a comfortable arrangement with this loss of humanity: on the sidelines of symposia and receptions one complains about the refugee crisis, climate change, and warns of the forces of Big Data and Artificial Intelligence crumbling social structures, only to a moment later book a flight on fluege.de for a hiking trip to Morocco and for this purpose order on Amazon the necessary activewear produced by child labour in Bangladesh.
Die intellektuellen Eliten haben sich mit diesem Menschlichkeitsverlust bequem arrangiert: Am Rande von Symposien und Empfängen beklagt man die Flüchtlingskrise, den Klimawandel und warnt vor den die Gesellschaftsstrukturen zersetzenden Kräften von Big Data und Künstlicher Intelligenz, nur um sich im nächsten Moment auf fluege.de einen Flug für eine Wanderwoche in Marokko zu buchen und sich dafür auf Amazon die passende Funktionswäsche zu bestellen, die mithilfe von Kinderarbeit in Bangladesch hergestellt wurde.
At this year’s steirischer herbst, Ekatarina Degot does again what she does best: she takes up highly political societal findings in order to put them up for debate in the world of art itself. The more than forty international artists of the steirischer herbst pursue this in the form of installations, performances, and discursive projects. Among them is the Polish artist Artur Żmijewski, who seeks shelter from the impending political disaster and growing nationalism in a vacant Grazer shop. With his installation Plan B he creates a safe haven with apocalyptic charm that could serve many – whether they be right-wing populists expelled from office, or the artists who flee precisely from those.
Meanwhile, the Theater im Bahnhof addresses the impossibility of escaping poverty in their new role play MEN/SCH/EN/MAR/KT, where pensions, health insurance, and education are no longer benefits granted by a welfare state, but become goods which are exposed to the radical power play of the market and the hustle and bustle is only occasionally interrupted by catastrophic events.
The Opening Extravaganza at Congress Graz revolves around the notion of enjoyment and pleasure. With their genuine Graz Bernhard balls the Scandinavian artistic duo Elmgreen & Dragset contaminates – in critical Thomas Bernhard manner – any remaining national sentiment with irresistible sweetness. Alexander Brener and Barbara Schurz lampoon the hedonism of contemporary art while Gernot Wieland’s Lecture-Performance examines Austria’s ongoing enthusiasm for culinary delights and joie de vivre beginning with the “Capital of Delight” that is Graz. Finally, Fatima Spar & The Freedom Fries make world music with a political dig.
Ekatarina Degot’s aim with this year’s steirischer herbst programme is not to superficially foment discord. Rather, it’s about using the world of art as a mirror – even (and especially) where it hurts and where it “won’t do without unpleasant pictures”.
Grand Hotel Abyss
19.09. – 13.10.2019