steirischer herbst ’21
During the recent lockdowns, theaters and traditional museums were sorely missed; but was it the same for the institutions of contemporary art? The public was painfully oblivious to their absence, and, somehow, the feeling was mutual. Our historical pedigree, the avant-garde, translates into a vivid and explicit, and at times contemptuous, rejection of populism, which often means that art might demand radical change, but in a way that only experts would understand. Today, however, the capacity to effect a radical change may well be in the hands of previously anonymous users, passive viewers, and excluded audiences. Art has to embrace this new balance of power instead of retreating into safe white cubes and black boxes. While still searching for a way to become essential again, art has to infiltrate itself into the new adventure of the everyday.
This year, steirischer herbst, a festival that already has a strong history of engaging with public space, is venturing radically out—outdoors, out of lockdown, but also out of the safe institutional bubble. In a moment when we all are still unsure if we are allowed to meet strangers again, it is time for contemporary art to meet its own invisible and ignored stranger—the non-initiated audience. Can the popular be political without slipping into a populist trap?
The engagement with the local—its contexts, its stories, its people—is related to the urgency of reducing unnecessary travel, but not just that. Even in Hollywood and fashion we see the shift towards non-professional actors and models. This engagement with real people resonates with the current strangely painful and sometimes clumsy rediscovery of outer reality after a year of lockdown life.
All the works shown at steirischer herbst this year are new commissions.