Steirische­r Herbst ’21

Various venues, Graz 9 September – 10 October


On the opening weekend of the 54th edition of Steirische­r Herbst, as summer faded into autumn, Graz was in an increasing­ly hot phase of its mayoral election and at its most picturesqu­e. After last year’s ‘’“”•-19-enforced, purely digital edition, Paranoia , the festival, under the vague rubric   , ventured back into the analogue and, above all, into the public space of the city. Some works were strident enough to be unmissable: Marinella Senatore’s Assembly (2021), on Europlatz in front of the train station, was a poetic and, at night, dazzling entrance gate to the festival in the style of traditiona­l luminarie art, composed of multicolou­red lights and glowing texts (eg, ‘I want a name like fire / like revolution’). On the nearby Esperantop­latz, meanwhile, Thomas Hirschhorn’s parasitic extension of Jesper Neergaard’s 1987 permanent sculpture Espero into a Simone Weil Memorial (2021) served as another of his large, improvised, handcrafte­d homages to formative thinkers of the last century.

Expectatio­ns were ramped up by composer/ drummer Uriel Barthélémi’s festival-opening Navigating the Ruins of the Old World (2021) and inaugural performanc­es by Tino Sehgal and Flo Kasearu. In Kasearu’s Disorder Patrol (2021), security guards dressed in black accompanie­d a mounted group of uniformed colleagues in oversize headgear, continuous­ly (and with only superficia­l politeness) asking the audience to clear the public space in the park that the horses and actors claimed for their performanc­e: a smart exposure of spatial forces in the game between viewer and performer. Contrary to the security promised by the guards’ presence, the work served to instill fear, and to remind viewers of the very real counterpar­ts to Kasearu’s fantasy troop who usually patrol parks like this.

Amid its food stalls and busy tram tra¨c, the main square provided the stage for the opening musical performanc­e, a joint production by Barthélémi, singer and bassoonist Sophie Bernado, and dancer and choreograp­her Salomon Baneck-asaro. The variety of topics listed in the programme – in the form of many urgent questions concerning colonialis­m, digitisati­on, monitoring and consumeris­m

– seemingly couldn’t all be fitted into the performanc­e. But the lively interplay between musicians and dancers – the movement, coordinate­d above all with Barthélémi’s drumming, between improvisat­ion, breakdance and acting – was undeniable; and the audience, who’d been denied such performanc­es due to restrictio­ns, were clearly hungry for it. The sound of beer bottles falling over and trams arriving and departing onsite supported the piece acoustical­ly, and to some extent reflected the interactio­n between art and public life intended by the festival.

The popular city parks Augarten and Stadtpark served, from sunrise to sunset, as the backdrop for Tino Sehgal’s characteri­stic constructe­d situations. Within his choreograp­hed exercises – the chants and movements of the performers – the viewer was always addressed; if they gave consent, they were told a personal story, which in turn was an answer to a question formulated beforehand by the artist and given to the performers. Another inevitable question, however, was to what extent the context for fine, understate­d interventi­ons like this has changed due to the emergence and consequenc­es of the pandemic. More pronounced than the contrast his work provided to the usual bustle of the parks was the fact of a Sehgal performanc­e even taking place nowadays, simulating a pre-‘’“”•-19 normality. Less happily, in his first opera production, Conversati­ons: I don’t know that word… yet (2021), Dejan Kaludjerov­ic´ proved how source material that was presumably originally interestin­g loses all tension when converted into an unsuitable performanc­e format. The results of his research project Conversati­ons, for which he has so far interviewe­d 49 children between the ages of six and ten, in seven countries, about integratio­n, language, isolation, war, money, poverty, work, etc, and which have so far been presented in site-specific sound installati­ons, now evaporated in a potpourri of monotonous sonic wallpaper spearheade­d by four actors.

Originally developed during his studies, Hiwa K’s Cooking with Mama (2005 –) received a postpandem­ic update: now, a Graz-based cook with a migrant background cooks at the same time as her mother, in Turkey, cooks the same dish, the pair linked by video conference. Geographic­al and cultural distances are cooked away again. Elsewhere, the local artist group ±.².³.´. succeeded in creating a moment of surprise and sensual lightness, as 13 colourful so-called skydancers – usually hired for advertisin­g purposes – danced to Graz-based musician Rainer Binder-krieglstei­n’s song

Radieschen on the roof of Kunsthaus Graz, a building also known as the ‘friendly alien’. The universal imagery of friendly aliens dancing on the friendly alien that flashed up in the brief performanc­e made for some spontaneou­s fun at an edition of a festival whose programmin­g, due to changeable restrictio­ns, was surely not easy to put together, but whose orientatio­n was much more diverse in the past.

There were notable exhibition­s within the parallel programme – such as, at the ¶³··¸

¹ ² »¼½¾¿ Steiermark, the impressive insight into Kevin Jerome Everson’s diverse cinematic ouevre, Recover, and, running concurrent­ly, Doreen Garner’s brutal sculptural confrontat­ion with the history of medical experiment­s on Black bodies in America, Steal, Kill and Destroy: A Thief Who Intended Them Maximum Harm – and outside, such as Oliver Ressler’s

Barricadin­g the Ice Sheets at Camera Austria, a research project based on the recent actions of the climate justice movement and one that intriguing­ly explores the boundaries between activism and art production. Elsewhere were urban interventi­ons such as the poster series that dotted the city – with contributi­ons by artists including Nilbar Güres¸, Hans Haacke, Boris Mikhailov, Dana Sherwood, Mounira Al Solh and Rosemarie Trockel – and a moving, telepathic confession of love in letter form to all inhabitant­s of Graz by the Spanish philosophe­r and queer theorist Paul B. Preciado, To all I will love (2021). But neither of these was able to distract from the fact that, as the festival got underway,   appeared to excessivel­y limit itself to one critical/didactic form of performanc­e art, while at the same time looking both overcurate­d – aside from that of ±.².³.´., how every performanc­e would go was described upfront – and, for a specialist audience, also a bit predictabl­e. Christian Egger

facing page, top Marinella Senatore, Assembly, 2021 (installati­on view). Photo: Johanna Lamprecht facing page, bottom Hiwa K, Cooking with Mama, 2021, performanc­e with Zeynep Aygan Romaner. Photo: Mathias Völzke

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