Utopia and Monument I

Utopia and Monument I

Steirischer Herbst

Dolores Zinny/Juan Maidagan, Curtain Call for Graz, 2009.

September 19, 2009

Utopia and Monument I
On the validity of art between privatisation and the public sphere

Exhibition for the public space
25/09 – 18/10/2009

Opening: 25/09, 6pm, exhibition pavilion at Platz der Freiwilligen Schützen, Graz

Curated by Sabine Breitwieser


With works by Lara Almarcegui, Nairy Baghramian, Ayse Erkmen, Kooperative für Darstellungspolitik (Jesko Fezer, Anita Kaspar & Andreas Müller), David Maljkovic, Heather and Ivan Morison, Nils Norman, Andreas Siekmann, Michael Zinganel, Dolorez Zinny/Juan Maidagan

“Utopia and Monument” is a two-stage temporary exhibition for the public space in steirischer herbst 2009 and 2010 based on the festival’s annual leitmotif. Following the general leitmotif for 2009 “All the Same”, “Utopia and Monument I” examines the question as to the validity of value systems. Provocatively it focuses the discussion on two concepts that have disappeared from the debate on the public sphere: utopia as a space of thought and the monument as a space of memory. The former circumscribes a desired future state, that, while often arising from an individual’s projection, refers to society as a whole. The monument, in contrast, is a distinctive, permanently objectified site for a collective community that relates to a past event. Two contradictory concepts in dialogue, that have each come in for tough critical analysis in recent years, challenging and questioning their validity.

In Austria revolution did not take place primarily as mobilisation of the masses on the streets and as social upheaval, as in other countries, but rather above all in the form of public art actions. As an annual multi-discipline festival that has been taking place since 1968, steirischer herbst also looks back on a number of innovative, often controversy-sparking art projects in the city, that have as a whole left behind powerful after-images in the public eye. By focusing on commissioning and realising new works, the different manifestations in Graz, spanning more than four decades, reflect all the stages of artistic development that explore the public sphere in general and the public space in particular.

The modernist paradigm of an art that is emancipated from various tutelages and is thus autonomous was criticised as devoid of meaning, being, as it was, without purpose. In recent years, many artists have therefore turned their attention from art in the public space to art of the public spheres, setting out to dispel the contradiction between art and the public sphere with the aid of a changed artistic practice. The aesthetic expertise ascribed to art was often deliberately neglected in favour of strategies of action and communication that set out to tackle new tasks in the form of direct interventions in the city and in socio-political issues.

And yet the public space has undergone particularly radical changes in recent years. Its use by different, mainly commercial, interests is often so far-reaching that other forms of public articulation are left with scant opportunities to define or even just perceive this space for their own purposes. The advancing privatisation of municipal tasks and facilities not only leads to a lack of financial clarity concerning the public budget but also causes uncertainty with regard to the notion of collective community. Some opine that the public space today really only consists of the results of communication and negotiation of various – private and public – interests.

So what is the validity of art – is it still a relevant field of social debate at all? Can the public sphere still be recovered as a space for debates of equal validity, for talk, opinions and interests, given that it is above all commercially governed? How can art today reformulate possibilities of utilising the public space? “Utopia and Monument” examines the genealogy of art in the public space, making the public space and its change the focal topic. This year ten artists were invited to develop new works for the exhibition in the city space of Graz. The result is to be an exhibition for the public space.

steirischer herbst festival Graz / Austria

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Steirischer Herbst
September 19, 2009

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