steirischer herbst ’21
The Way Out

Ekaterina Degot

Festival dates

Curatorial team
Director and Chief Curator
Ekaterina Degot

Deputy Director
Henriette Gallus

Head of Curatorial Affairs
Christoph Platz

Senior Curator
David Riff

Mirela Baciak
Dominik Müller

Going to a museum or a theater, we venture out of our everyday lives, into a sphere dedicated to high art. We are excited by the expectation of the new, thrilled by the unknown. But these clean museum rooms or comfortable chairs in a theater also belong to the sphere of the predictable and give us that feeling of safety we are missing in our own lives. White walls tell us that dirt we might meet in a gallery is not real dirt but art. And if we get too emotional with the story onstage, we can always remind ourselves that these people are actors and Desdemona is not dying for real.
This is why the historical European avant-garde always wanted to break out of this safety, to merge art and life, to reach a full existence where art is not a controlled alternative to life but part of it. Life is permeated with art and becomes more aesthetic, but art takes risks that only exist in real life where nothing is guaranteed. And nowadays, when the issue of safety all over the world becomes not only a political but also a hygienic obsession, it is time to remind ourselves that this lack of guarantees is life itself.
As a festival that descends from the historical avant-garde, steirischer herbst has often ventured into the outdoors, the real, the everyday, and the popular. Following this tradition, in many of this year’s projects we are asking you to experience art outside of its rigid frame.
—program booklet

Having been forced by the pandemic to leave physical space and look for new ways to reach audiences in the previous year, steirischer herbst did not return to the protective space of the institutions this year either. Whereas the 2020 festival took place largely online with the streaming service Paranoia TV—and used such unusual distribution channels as a food delivery service—the 2021 program, called The Way Out, shifted entirely to the streets and squares of Graz and Styria. It even found its way into countless households in Graz: under the title To All I Will Love, philosopher Paul B. Preciado sent 90,000 love letters by mail to steirischer herbst visitors and nonvisitors alike.

Through working with amateur actors and involving the public, the festival aimed to achieve the broadest possible impact. “I want out, out of the lockdown, out of pandemics, and out of the measures against them, out of disease, and out of hygiene, out of danger, and out of security,” Ekaterina Degot began her opening speech on Europaplatz, flanked by Marinella Senatore’s colorful fairground scenery with revolutionary slogans and Flo Kasearu’s performers in their fantasy uniforms and oversized hats. Kasearu’s Disorder Patrol afterward patrolled the Volksgarten on horseback—a response to Graz’s controversial Ordnungswache (lit. “order patrol”).

At the same time, the director reminded the audience that, a few weeks after the Taliban took power in Afghanistan, the need to “get out” had an even greater urgency for many people in different contexts. However, for her, The Way Out also stood for a way out of both right-wing and left-wing small-mindedness, and especially out of the elitist art world institutions and into a broader public sphere. “The engagement with the local—its contexts, its stories, its people—is related to the urgency of reducing unnecessary travel, but not just that. It resonates with the strangely painful and sometimes clumsy rediscovery of the outside world after a year of lockdown life and online culture,” said the curators in a press release.

Thomas Hirschhorn had spent a longer time in Graz to erect a Simone Weil Memorial on Esperantoplatz in his signature DIY aesthetic. In addition to cardboard with handwritten quotations from the philosopher’s work and a street library, stuffed animals and declarations of love adorned with little hearts gave the work a kitschy emotionality familiar, for example, from the ad hoc memorials created after the death of Princess Diana. The work, which was built around a public sculpture, was maintained by people from the neighborhood and, along with Senatore’s walk-in installation and the Visitor and Press Center designed by Peter Schloss with Grupa Ee, was the only work of art at steirischer herbst ’21 that was fixed in place for the entire duration of the festival. In addition to these works, ten artists’ posters were hung in various places in public space.

In two parks, Augarten and Stadtpark, passersby could be surprised in a “constructed situation” by Tino Sehgal between sunrise and sunset during the first four days of the festival. Its participants suddenly detached themselves from a particular pose or their dancing “swarm” and approached individuals to tell them a more or less intimate story from their lives. The encounter was less about dialogue than about a direct confrontation with an explicitly subjective experience after years of social isolation.

Lars Cuzner, who had parodied the populist opinion-mongering of right-wing parties in Europe at steirischer herbst ’18 with his Inteligentspartiet (Intelligence Party), explicitly sought a dialogue with the population. For one of five multipart Situation Reports—a new television format following in the footsteps of Paranoia TV—he promoted “a self-help book that doesn't help” in the streets, accompanied by cameras. The sequel to Hiwa K’s early project Cooking with Mama was also based on the active participation of the local audience. Whereas in 2006 the artist himself had cooked with his mother, who had remained in Iraq, via Skype, he now invited people from Graz with different migrant identities to cook in the open air on a food bike with their relatives connected via videophone—probably also as a response to the xenophobic smear campaign on the Freedom Party’s (FPÖ) election posters.

Among the outstanding new productions were the opera performance by Dejan Kaludjerović in collaboration with Marija Balubdžić, Bojan Djordjev, and Tanja Šljivar—staged in the courtyard of Styria’s regional archives and based on interviews with children in Graz and other places on topics such as war, racism or the pandemic—as well as the stage performances I Play, Therefore I Am! A Digital Peasants’ War by Hito Steyerl and Mark Waschke and Chaim Hermann Steinschneider by Yael Bartana at the Orpheum. Steinschneider was an Austrian Jew who sympathized with the Nazis and, under a pseudonym, became a famous clairvoyant in Berlin before he was murdered, presumably for predicting the Reichstag fire of 1933. Bartana had him return to the year 2021 in a séance to see into the future with the help of the audience in the hall and those who saw the livestream.

Outside Graz, the theater collective Die Rabtaldirndln performed a contemporary farce in Hainersdorf, a forty-five-minute drive away from the city, and theater director Felix Hafner visited several locations in Styria to develop a performance about protest culture with local amateur actors.



Installations and interventions


Situation Reports



Conference / podcast

Festivals within the festival

Parallel program

Festival opening

9.9., 17:00
Opening speech by Director Ekaterina Degot

Dejan Kaludjerović in collaboration with Marija Balubdžić, Bojan Djordjev, and Tanja Šljivar, Expressions and Other Curiosities
Concertante teaser to the opera performance Conversations: I don’t know that word . . . yet

From 18:00
Flo Kasearu, Disorder Patrol

Uriel Barthélémi with Sophie Bernado and Salomon Baneck-Asaro, Navigating the Ruins of the Old World



AK-Bibliothek & Infothek / Citypark, EG

Annenstrasse 53,

Augartenbucht & Stadtpark

BRUSEUM / Neue Galerie Graz

Dom im Berg



Forum Stadtpark

Forum Stadtpark & Online

Grazer Kunstverein


HDA – Haus der Architektur

Hauptplatz & Messe Graz

Helmut List Halle

Hoftheater Hainersdorf

KULTUM. Zentrum für Gegenwart, Kunst und Religion in Graz


Kunsthalle Graz


Literaturhaus Graz


MUMUTH (Foyer)


Murgasse 6



Orpheum & online

Palais Attems

Palais Attems & Joanneumsviertel

Schaumbad – Freies Atelierhaus Graz

Steiermärkisches Landesarchiv

Theater am Lend

Theater im Palais, Kunstuniversität Graz (KUG)

Volksgarten und weitere Orte in der Innenstadt

accomplices – Verein zur Erkundung multimedialer Ausdrucksformen

esc medien kunst labor



Ekaterina Degot and David Riff (eds.), The Way Out (Berlin: Hatje Cantz, 2022)

→  Available here

Ekaterina Degot and David Riff (eds.), The Way Out of …. (Berlin: Hatje Cantz, 2022)

→  Available here