2019

steirischer herbst ’19
Grand Hotel Abyss

Director
Ekaterina Degot

Festival dates
19.9.–13.10.2019

Curatorial team
Director and Chief Curator
Ekaterina Degot

Deputy Director
Henriette Gallus

Head of Curatorial Affairs
Christoph Platz

Senior Curator
David Riff

Curators
Mirela Baciak
Dominik Müller

“The title of the festival’s program this year is Grand Hotel Abyss—a striking metaphor used by philosopher Georg Lukács. Lukács described the European intellectual and cultural scene as ‘a beautiful hotel, equipped with every comfort, on the edge of an abyss, of nothingness, of absurdity. And the daily contemplation of the abyss between excellent meals or artistic entertainments, can only heighten the enjoyment of the subtle comforts offered.’ Lukács’s image rhymes with the self-presentation of Graz and the surrounding Austrian county of Styria as a Genussregion, a culinary and aesthetic pleasure zone. It is one of many bubbles of sublime gastronomy, wellness, and organic comfort arising in times of heightened inequality—places custom-tailored for business travelers and cultural tourists, where praise of heirloom products has creepy crypto-nationalist undertones, and where the abyss of radical social exclusion, economic crisis, and all-out military conflict is lurking just around the corner, approaching in slow motion.
The contrast between a comfortable life and the fear of apocalypse, the relation between pleasure (Genuss, as one likes to put it in Styria) and oblivion can be found everywhere. This year, the performances, installations, and films will transport you from Brexit-tormented Britain to a bizarre modernist hotel in former Yugoslavia, from the opulent Austrian spa Bad Gastein to remote Zugdidi in Georgia. It will involve Albrecht Dürer, the French Revolution, spy stories, apples, a game in which you try to avoid poverty, and a dance that tells us something about the future of sex. Georg Lukács … will wink at us, too, through a collection of singular objects we assembled, which may or may not relate to his adventurous life.”
—e-flux newsletter

"The contrast between a comfortable life and the fear of apocalypse, the relation between pleasure (Genuss, as one likes to put it in Styria) and oblivion can be found everywhere. This year, the performances, installations, and films will transport you from Brexit-tormented Britain to a bizarre modernist hotel in former Yugoslavia, from the opulent Austrian spa Bad Gastein to remote Zugdidi in Georgia. It will involve Albrecht Dürer, the French Revolution, spy stories, apples, a game in which you try to avoid poverty, and a dance that tells us something about the future of sex. Georg Lukácz (…) will wink at us, too, through a collection of singular objects we assembled, which may or may not relate to his adventurous life."
—guide book

In her second year as artistic director and chief curator of steirischer herbst, Ekaterina Degot and her team built upon the meaning of “pleasure” in the context of Styria and invited visitors to the Grand Hotel Abyss. The title was borrowed from the Marxist philosopher Georg Lukács, who, in his critique of the Frankfurt School, described left-wing intellectuals sitting in the abyss in a fictitious luxury resort and losing themselves in theoretical disputes, while capitalism and fascism seize power outside. The image aptly reflects the conformist hedonism of affluent European society and the jet-setting art world, which leads to the compartmentalizing of a lifestyle shaped by consumption, while ever-faster progressing climate change is threatening life on Earth, the Mediterranean is becoming a mass grave for refugees, and right-wing nationalistic powers are advancing around the world. The Styrian “capital of pleasure” provided a suitable backdrop for such a decadent hotel in the (European) abyss.

The opening speech by Degot and the opening performance by Zorka Wollny took place in the deliberately selected Renaissance courtyard of the stately Grazer Landhaus, a symbol for the “conspiracy of culture and power,” where Hanns Koren also gave the first festival speech in 1968. An “opening extravaganza” followed at the ostentatious Congress Graz, where liveried waiters served champagne and hors d’oeuvres (as part of the performance Tricks for Tips by Manuel Pelmuş), while artists such as Cibelle Cavalli Bastos, Jakob Lena Knebl and Markus Pires Mata, Gernot Wieland, and Erna Ómarsdóttir & Valdimar Jóhannsson presented performative speeches, installations, performances, and dance theater. The edition Echte Grazer Bernhardkugeln by Elmgreen & Dragset was also offered here—Welcome to the “Pleasant Apocalypse.”

Oscar Murillo’s installation at the Palais Attems referred to the politics of the Counter-Reformation and the colonial past of the Baroque city palace, which once housed the most important art collection in Styria (and was where, after the war, the British occupying forces brought the first Graz Festival into being). Social, economic, and private abysses also opened up at other places in Graz: in Jeremy Deller’s film Putin’s Happy, about the chaos of the pro-Brexit demonstrations on Parliament Square in London, and Jasmina Cibic’s multipart film essay on architecture as a political gift at the Künstlerhaus; in Artur Żmijewski’s bleakly ambivalent installation Plan B, inspired by the prepper scene, in the cellar of a staged clothing alteration shop on Girardigasse (the artist’s very first installation); in Andreas Siekmann’s monument Nach Dürer (After Dürer) on Griesplatz, a contemporary interpretation of Albrecht Dürer’s unrealized design for a Monument to the Vanquished Peasants (1525); and in Michael Portnoy’s four-channel installation Progressive Touch: Series 1 at the Helmut List Halle, in which dancers performed acrobatically perfected “better” sex.

At Orpheum, Keti Chukhrov and Guram Matskhonashvili staged the Global Congress of Post-Prostitution, and, at the Literaturhaus, Ekaterina Degot and David Riff narrated a fictionalized version of the life of Georg Lukács in the installation The Life and Adventures of GL.

Besides the installations, performances, and ideas in the core program of the Grand Hotel Abyss, interventions and counter-positions were added to the parallel program and musikprotokoll this year with the Murau-based project STUBENrein “as a festival within the festival.” As in the previous year, the herbstkantine (formerly the herbst Bar) was again part of the program.

Program

Grand Hotel Abyss

Opening ceremony

Opening Extravaganza

Installations

Performances

opposite positions

Visual Identity and Spatial Intervention

Interventions

Ideas

STUBENrein

Parallel Program

Festival opening

19.9., 5 pm
Landhaushof, Landhaus Graz
Zorka Wollny Voicers - Oratorio for Five Speakers and a Listening Crowd

7-9 pm
Congress Graz
Opening-Extravaganza: Performances, installations und surprise appearanes by Cibelle Cavalli Bastos, Alexander Brener und Barbara Schurz, Das Planetenparty Prinzip, Elmgreen & Dragset, Jule Flierl, Jakob Lena Knebl und Markus Pires Mata, and Manuel Pelmuș

9 pm
Special Performances by 
Gernot Wieland 
Erna Ómarsdottir & Vladimar Jóhannsson 

11 pm
Concert by Fatima Spar & The Freedom Fries


 

Venues

Akademie Graz

Alte Galerie in Schloss Eggenberg

Congress Graz

Congress Graz, Kammermusiksaal

Congress Graz, Saal Steiermark

Congress Graz, Stefaniensaal

Dom im Berg

Forum Stadtpark

Girardigasse 8 & Palais Attems

Grand Hôtel Wiesler

Grazer Kunstverein

Griesplatz

Großer Minoritensaal

Helmut List Halle

Kunsthaus Graz

Künstlerhaus, Halle für Kunst und Medien

Landhaushof

Literaturhaus Graz

MUMUTH, Haus für Musik und Musiktheater

Maria Verkündigungskirche

Markthalle Eggenberg

Museum für Geschichte (Prunkraum 207)

Next Liberty

Orpheum

Orpheum Extra

Palais Attems

Schlossberghotel–Das Kunsthotel

Theater im Palais

esc medien kunst labor

herbstkantine, Kaiser-Josef-Platz 4

Publications

steirischer herbst festival gmbh, Guide Book steirischer herbst ’19 (Graz: 2019)

→  Available here

Ekaterina Degot and David Riff (Eds.), A Pleasant Apocalypse. Notes from the Grand Hotel Abyss (Berlin: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2020)

→  Available here

Retrospective
Retrospective
Retrospective