steirischer herbst ’23
Humans and Demons

Ekaterina Degot

Festival dates

Curatorial team
Director and Chief Curator
Ekaterina Degot

Senior Curators
David Riff
Pieternel Vermoortel

Gábor Thury

Assistant Curator
Barbara Seyerl

Humans and Demons is not about “good and evil.” No, Humans and Demons rather means “status quo and evil.”
We know what is horrific, but are often unable to tell what is good—should it be good for the planet in the next century or for our children's vacation today? Good for the rightful victory over the aggressor or for the immediate peace treaty with the aggressor? For our public rejection of the dictatorship or for the safety of our family who still lives under this dictatorship?
As disturbing as it might sound, if we want to understand our free societies, it is time to listen to people who have lived in camps and under dictatorships, to listen to the voices of those who still do, of those who remain in Russia, Belarus, Iran, Afganistan, or even North Korea—we cannot be sure there are no suffocated voices there, voices that very soon will be inaudible.
—Ekaterina Degot

The sixth edition under the directorship of Ekaterina Degot—after five years, her contract was extended for another five—explored ethical gray zones in times of multiple crises and threats. Taking its cue from Primo Levi, who wrote much about the contagious power of evil in the space between victim and perpetrator, about the “line that separates the weak from the wicked,” Humans and Demons dealt with the demonic in humans and vice versa. As if the 20th century would go on forever, our world, as the festival saw it, is still ruled by authoritarian characters—from right-wing populists to libertarian tech gurus. This makes the choice between good and evil obsolete and once again presents us with the absurd situation of making compromises and choosing the lesser of two evils.

Ekaterina Degot opened steirischer herbst ʼ23 at the highest point of central Graz. In front of the historic clock tower, she gave her speech opposite a 1932 monument of a naked soldier, created by Graz sculptor Wilhelm Gösser, who had no qualms about putting his art at the service of any ideology. In Lulu Obermayer’s opera performance Agoraphobia, three garishly costumed performers on lifting platforms and the Grazer Kapellknaben choir confronted the protofascist heroic figure with the theme of male tears in European opera history. The first opening act on the Schloßberg was followed by a second on the other side of the Mur, on Mariahilfplatz. Here, after an interruption by representatives of the Last Generation, local politicians discussed rules and conformity, before Michael Portnoy and his ensemble celebrated the inauguration of a “Director of Behavior” in the windows of adjacent houses in their usual grotesquely exaggerated manner. Finally, choreographer Adrienn Hód and HODWORKS explored how todayʼs resurrected rules, morals, and social norms influence our physical reality with Voice of Power (2023) at Helmut List Halle.

The concept of Humans and Demons developed like a serial novel over four exhibitions spread across the city. In “curatorial interventions,” the narratives revolved around four tragicomic figures (three of them real, one fictional) whose fates are exemplary of the above-mentioned gray zones and whose paths led them through Graz in the 20th century— or ended here.

The chapter Demon Radio in a derelict call center in posh Mariatrost was dedicated to the highly ambivalent figure of Dietrich Schulz-Köhn (1912–1999). Schulz-Köhn was a Nazi party member and storm trooper and later became known as Dr. Jazz, a popular radio presenter. He apparently saw no contradiction between his love of Black jazz and his political views. He bequeathed his archive and record collection to the International Society for Jazz Research, which he cofounded in Graz in 1969. They provided the context for works that revolved around the complex relationship between power and acoustic impulses, including new productions such as Dani Gal's film Dark Continent (2023), based on a Frantz Fanon case study of a racist phobia of the sound of African drums inherited from the colonial era; Anton Katsʼ The Cemetery of Melodies Alive (2023), an auditory foray into a childhood in the Ukrainian city of Kherson; or the video Onset (2023) by Anna Engelhardt and Mark Cinkevich, in which the artists confront the cruel tactics of the Russian military with their practice of “applied demonology.”

In a side wing of Demon Radio, Giacomo Veronesiʼs installation and performance Border EUphoria (2023) with residents of the Estonian-Russian border town Narva offered an impression of the absurd reality of living with a so-called alien passport.

Forum Stadtpark became the Villa Perpetuum Mobile, the fictional residence of physicist, poet, and temporary psychiatric patient Stefan Marinov (1931-1997). Marinov unsuccessfully rebelled against Communist rule in his native Bulgaria, questioned Einsteinʼs theory of relativity, and worked on the development of a perpetuum mobile throughout his life. He founded the Institute of Fundamental Physics in Graz—when his experiments failed, he threw himself to his death from a staircase at Grazʼs University Library. At Forum Stadtpark, Marinovʼs estate was surrounded by artworks—by Alice Creischer, Vadim Fishkin, and Pedro Gómez-Egaña, among others—which dealt with esoteric physics, alternative energies, and failed utopias. In Michael Stevensonʼs pneumatic installation Strategic-Level Spiritual Warfare (2014–23), bots playing computer games decided in which direction two doors opened “as if by magic”—a moment of seeming powerlessness in the face of invisible evil.

The Church of Ruined Modernity conjured up the ghosts of a failed modernity in the Baroque Minoriten Monastery, where AI-generated photographs pictured the abstract painter Mira Schendel (1919–1988), who had immigrated to Brazil. She had undertaken an undocumented journey to Graz in 1944 to obtain emigration papers and had a solo exhibition in the Minoritensaal in 1969. Maria Loboda, Andreas Fogarasi, and choreographer Meg Stuart explored set pieces of modernist architecture in sculpture, assemblage, and dance, with Fogarasi and Stuart interacting directly with Graz’s Vorklinik building, set to be demolished. In contrast, Dana Kavelina investigated the history of the pogroms in the Western Ukrainian city of Lʼviv during World War II in her Expressionist-Surrealist animation film The Lemberg Machine (2023). She worked on the film for four years, repeatedly interrupted by current political events.

A manipulated postcard from a peace demonstration in 1925—an appeal for Friede (peace) was hastily turned into Frieda out of fear of Nazi persecution—provided the inspiration for Submarine Frieda, an imaginary sunken world in an empty supermarket in Gries, with works by Lucile Desamory, Georg Haberler and Shimabuku.

In addition to the exhibitions and performances of Humans and Demons, steirischer herbst once again comprised the discursive series Ideas, herbst education, herbst cabaret, and several herbst bars. The ORF musikprotokoll and the literary festival Out of Joint were also part of steirischer herbst ’23, while the Partner Program included exhibitions, theater, performance, and opera in institutions and artist-run spaces in Graz and Styria.


Humans and Demons



Demon Radio

Villa Perpetuum Mobile

Church of Ruined Modernity

Submarine Frieda


herbst cabaret

Festivals within the festival


Partner Program

Festival opening

17:00, Uhrturm, Schloßberg
Festival opening, act I
With Ekaterina Degotʼs speech
And Lulu Obermayer, Agoraphobia

18:30, Mariahilferplatz
Festival opening, act II
With a political exchange on rules and adaptation
And an inauguration of the director of behavior by Michael Portnoy

20:30, Helmut List Halle (Halle B)
Adrienn Hód / HODWORKS
Voice of Power

22:00, Helmut List Halle (Halle D)
herbst club
Feschak Orkeztra
Grrrls DJ Crew

Exhibition locations
Soft opening


Alte Mühle / Ramsau Rössing


Café Wolf

Camera Austria

Church of Ruined Modernity


Demon Radio

Dom im Berg

Forum Stadtpark

Gatto im Museum (Gastgarten)

Graz Museum

Grazer Kunstverein


HDA – Haus der Architektur

Helmut List Halle


KiG! Kultur in Graz

Kristallwerk Graz

Kunst Klub Kräftner / Rösselmühle

Kunsthaus Graz

Literaturhaus Graz

MUMUTH (György-Ligeti-Saal), Haus für Musik und Musiktheater der Kunstuniversität Graz (KUG)

Minoritenzentrum Graz

ORF-Landesstudio Steiermark


Orpheum Extra

Palais Attems

Palais Trauttmansdorff

Prenningʼs Garten



Radio Österreich 1

Roter Keil

Schauspielhaus Graz


Schloßbergplatz / Palais Attems

Submarine Frieda

Theater am Lend

Theater im Bahnhof

Theater im Palais, Kunstuniversität Graz (KUG)

Uhrturm, Schloßberg

Universität Graz

Verschiedene Orte

Villa Perpetuum Mobile

Volksgarten Pavillon

esc medien kunst labor

Öffentlicher Raum / Forum Stadtpark