steirischer herbst ’22
A War in the Distsance

Ekaterina Degot

Festival dates

Curatorial team
Director and Chief Curator
Ekaterina Degot

Head of Curatorial Affairs
Christoph Platz

Senior Curator
David Riff

Mirela Baciak
Dominik Müller
Gábor Thury

With curatorial advice by Goran Injac

This time, the festival is happening against the background of a war—famously, politics continued with other means, a paroxysm of politics that couldn’t find other means. But this edition is not about the war or wars—the prologue exhibition, focused on films from and about Ukraine, was closer to it. Now, the festival is rather about a place that imagines to be at peace, while in reality it is a deep hinterland, and a war in the distance calls attention to itself now and again.
We here are in the hinterland of past and current wars in Yugoslavia and Chechnya, Ukraine and Lebanon, Abkhazia and Belfast, of World Wars I and II, of colonialism and racism. We do not always hear these battles roar, but we should strain our ears to discern these sounds in our happy everyday life.
—Ekaterina Degot

In the face of the devastating war of aggression in Ukraine and only a few days after Vladimir Putin had declared the partial mobilization of Russia, steirischer herbst ’22 opened with the title A War in the Distance. A “prologue” with video works by Ukrainian artists as well as films about Ukraine before and during the war had already taken place in July. After Popular Fronts, Grand Hotel Abyss, Paranoia TV, and The Way Out, the fifth steirischer herbst under director Ekaterina Degot once again addressed the acute political situation from the perspective of Styria—which, in turn, stands for that of Central Europe. A perspective from which the reality of this war and many preceding ones tends to be located at a safe distance.

In her opening speech, the art historian, who left Russia in 2014, took a clear stand on the absurdity of Putin’s war. Afterwards, Lebanese artist Raed Yassin led a theatrical funeral march with puppets and a brass band from Hauptplatz to Neue Galerie Graz.

After the festival had largely moved online in 2020 due to the pandemic and almost exclusively into public space—onto the streets and squares of Graz—in 2021, A War in the Distance focused, at its core, on a museum exhibition. Curated by Ekaterina Degot with David Riff, Christoph Platz, Mirela Baciak, and Barbara Seyerl (steirischer herbst), with curatorial advice by Gudrun Danzer and Günther Holler-Schuster (Neue Galerie Graz / Universalmuseum Joanneum), its starting point was the collection of Neue Galerie Graz. Hitherto rarely shown works from the 19th and 20th centuries were brought out of storage and critically reexamined by juxtaposing them with contemporary works by international artists, including from Ukraine and Russia. Through nine chapters, the exhibition created associations between various wars and the conflicts and class struggles preceding them, first and foremost the long history of colonial exploitation, exoticization, and othering, very present in the collection. The reappraisal thereby also revealed the traces these “distant wars” left in the region and its cultural production, for example in Karl Jirak’s Landscape with Refugees (ca. 1945–50).

In front of the museum’s historic entrance, which was reopened for this exhibition, Ukrainian artist Zhanna Kadyrova showed geometric sculptures made of metal painted white (Harmless War, 2022). On their smooth surfaces actual bullet holes looked like perforations by Lucio Fontana. “The Whiteness of Modernism” was also the title of the exhibition’s first chapter, which recalled the entanglement of modernism and fascist ideals in the founding of Neue Galerie Graz, which received its name in 1941 after the Anschluss.

“An Alternate History of steirischer herbst” imagined its beginning in 1939: the speculative narrative included, among others, the sculpture To Art (1939 / after 1945) by Hans Mauracher—the swastika under the eagle was replaced by a lyre after the war—or the painting Styrian Autumn (1939) by Fritz Silberbauer, charged with nationalist symbolism. The latter was also one of the main motifs in Assaf Gruber’s film Never Come Back (2022), in which a naked accordion player contemplates various artworks in the museum depot and finally plays a familiar melody. Above the völkisch autumn idyll Silberbauer painted in the year Germany invaded Poland—after he himself had joined the Nazi Party and advocated the annexation of Austria—lyrics from Desireless’ song “Voyage, voyage” revealed its frighteningly imperialist tone.

Among the works commissioned for the exhibition were Keti Chukhrov’s poetic film Undead—a surreal family drama set in the (autonomous) Republic of Abkhazia, devastated by the war with Georgia—and Willem de Rooij’s installation King Vulture. The artist had the Chinese Yunxi Art Studio reproduce photographs of paintings by a 17th-century Dutch artist showing exotic birds; in the juxtaposition of the resulting paintings, a reflection on colonialism, cultural transfer, and appropriation emerged.

Weaving together diverse narratives between fact and fiction, then and now, curatorial interventions brought to light bizarre finds from the collection, including (in the chapter “Catastrophe”) a monumental bust of Archduke Johann, the founder of the Joanneum, that an unknown gunman had shot in the forehead. A series of indoor photographs commissioned by the curators documented the habitats of loans from the collection that hang in administrative and meeting rooms in the Landhaus Graz and elsewhere—for example, Georg Eisler's 1971 painting Belfast (Street Fight), to be found as a misunderstood symbol of police work in the Graz police headquarters.

The exhibition focused in particular on the histories of some lesser-known artworks in the collection and their forgotten political contexts—as in the juxtaposition of Alois Krenn’s portraits and Franz Yang-Močnik’s commissioned portraits of former presidents of the Styrian Provincial Parliament (“Politicians and Their Subjects”).

The program further included the exhibition Harun Farocki against War at Forum Stadtpark, a mini-retrospective of the late filmmaker, as well as a discussion program focusing on Ukraine, performances, cabaret interludes, theater, dance, and music productions. On the opening days, Ming Wong scintillated with Rhapsody in Yellow at Helmut List Halle, a cinematic lecture-performance with live music on two pianos addressing the Chinese-American ping-pong diplomacy, and Boris Charmatz with his dance piece Noli me tangere, shown as a durational performance at the Herz-Jesu Kirche—both commissioned works premiering at steirischer herbst.

In a new collaboration with the literary magazine manuskripte, steirischer herbst contributed a special section with war diaries and poems from Ukraine, selected by the poet Galina Rymbu. The traditional festival-within-a-festival musikprotokoll and the literary festival Out of Joint also took place again.

Collaborations with new and old partner institutions in the extensive parallel program included Hito Steyerl’s installation Animal Spirits, which the artist had withdrawn from documenta fifteen, at Kunsthaus Graz and Maria Toumazou’s first solo exhibition at Grazer Kunstverein.

The group exhibition at Neue Galerie Graz was on view beyond the duration of the festival until February 2023 and ended with a symposium on “Curating on the Minefield.”


Performances within the Framework of the Exhibition

A War in the Distance: Performances


Festivals within the festival

Out of Joint

Festival opening

22.9., 17:00
Opening speech by Director Ekaterina Degot

Raed Yassin, The Theatricality of a Postponed Death
From Hauptplatz to Joanneumsviertel

A War in the Distance
Exhibition opening
Neue Galerie Graz

Augustas Serapinas, Margit, Maya, and Vanessa
Durational performance
Neue Galerie Graz

Ming Wong, Rhapsody in Yellow: A Lecture-Performance with Two Pianos
Helmut List Halle


Akademie Graz

Annenstrasse 53,

BRUSEUM / Neue Galerie Graz

Bildungshaus Retzhof

Botanischer Garten

Die Grazer Märchenbahn

Dom im Berg

Ehemaliges Kaufhaus Angermeier / Kaiser-Franz-Josef-Kai 50

FAST Pichl—Schloss Pichl

Forum Stadtpark

FreiRaum Eisenerz / Volkshaus Graz

Gasthof Holzmann (Kirchenwirt) / Arbeiterheim Fohnsdorf / Gnaser Hof / Dachbodentheater Stainz / Innerberger Gewerkschaftshaus / Grabher-Haus

Graz Museum

Graz Museum Schlossberg

Grazer Kunstverein


HDA – Haus der Architektur


Haus lebt, Temporäres Kulturzentrum

Helmut List Halle


KULTUM. Zentrum für Gegenwart, Kunst und Religion in Graz

Kunsthaus Graz

Literaturhaus Graz

MUMUTH, Haus für Musik und Musiktheater der Kunstuniversität Graz (KUG)

Mühlgang am Rösselmühlpark

Neue Galerie Graz

Palais Attems (styriarte.STUDIO)

Radio Österreich 1

Theater im Palais, Kunstuniversität Graz (KUG)

Universität für Musik und darstellende Kunst Graz (KUG), Palais Meran (Kleiner Saal)

das verMöBL XXL

designforum Steiermark

esc medien kunst labor



Ekaterina Degot, David Riff, and Christoph Platz (eds.), A War in the Distance (Berlin: Hatje Cantz, 2023)

→  Available here

Ekaterina Degot and David Riff (eds.), A War in the Distance (Berlin: Hatje Cantz, 2023)

→  Available here