steirischer herbst ’19—Grand Hotel Abyss
Opening days: 19.–22.9.19
Various venues in Graz and Styria, Austria

The title of the core program of steirischer herbst ’19 is Grand Hotel Abyss—a striking metaphor used by philosopher Georg Lukács to describe the European intellectual and cultural scene as it faced the approach of fascism. “The Grand Hotel Abyss has been thoughtfully decorated for every taste and every direction,” he wrote in an unpublished manuscript of the same name, dated 1933. “Both intellectual intoxication and asceticism or self-flagellation are not only permitted in all their forms; there are brilliantly stocked bars for one purpose and amazingly manufactured exercise equipment and torture chambers for the other. Not only solitude but sociality too is on offer. […] The danse macabre of worldviews plays out every day and every evening in this hotel. It becomes a jazz band both pleasant and thrilling, providing the guests with some rest after their exhausting daily regimen at the spa.”

This hotel is still open today, although it no longer caters to intellectuals alone. Instead, cultural tourists, business travelers, and hipsters are also always welcome. There is a general aesthetic interest and even some nostalgia for not only the conservatism but also the hedonism of the early 1930s in the air, while dysfunctional authoritarian governance wreaks havoc, bringing new fears of catastrophe. At the same time, life is made evermore comfortable and pleasurable for the privileged. One sees this clearly in the many culinary and cultural comfort zones arising like bubbles all over the world, and Graz is one of them, especially when it is packaged as the “pleasure capital” of the “pleasure region” of Styria. Enjoyment- and wellness-based lifestyles serviced by an outsourced and invisible underclass blur the boundary between work and play. Precisely such a blurring of work and play on vacation led to the downfall of Austria’s ruling coalition in the spring of 2019.

This backdrop of pleasure and political crisis is the point of departure for the core program of steirischer herbst this year. It offers an extended and expansive meditation on hedonism in troubled times, leading well beyond Lukács’s metaphor. Engaging with the historical and historicist architectures of the city, it asks what it means to make a festival of contemporary art in the midst of former grandeur and old-world charm. What dark memories does this architecture contain from the age of colonial empires? The same grand architecture was the perfect backdrop for the Cold War (supposedly also back today), when the city was the seat of the British occupation forces’ headquarters and rife with real and imaginary spies. This period after World War II also saw the renewed emergence of “soft power” cultural politics whose results, both actual and mythic, are another theme in the festival. These politics took the form of tourism and wellness, but agriculture and food production as we know them also emerged from the ruins of the war, providing the basis for today’s latter-day happiness-industry.

It is on the cutting edge of this industry that self-improvement pushes beyond its previous boundaries, breaking the repetitive factory-style rhythms of travel, mealtimes, or sex. It does so with elaborate new creative propositions, while possibly hiding or even glorifying a reality where prostitution and exploitation are ubiquitous. In such a reality, there is an even starker chasm between the haves and the have-nots, another recurring theme in the program. Especially from the high vantage of privilege, it appears as a source of possible apocalyptic fantasies. Many of the contributions to steirischer herbst engage with this apocalyptic imaginary, not only as a mirror of dystopian tendencies in the present, but as a space for hope and renewal.

Director and Chief Curator: Ekaterina Degot
Concept: Ekaterina Degot and David Riff
Curatorial Team: Mirela Baciak, Ekaterina Degot, Henriette Gallus, Dominik Müller, Christoph Platz, and David Riff

Participating Artists
Grand Hotel Abyss

Ariel Efraim Ashbel and friends
Alexander Brener and Barbara Schurz
Cibelle Cavalli Bastos
Jasmina Cibic
Keti Chukhrov / Guram Matskhonashvili
Counterpositions (Eduard Freudmann, Thomas Geiger, Marlene Haring, Elizabeth Ward)
Jeremy Deller
Bojan Djordjev / Goran Ferčec
Elmgreen & Dragset
Ian Hamilton Finlay
Jule Flierl
Giorgi Gago Gagoshidze
Riccardo Giacconi
Grupa Ee
Jakob Lena Knebl and Markus Pires Mata
The Life and Adventures of GL
Daniel Mann and Eitan Efrat
Oscar Murillo
Erna Ómarsdóttir & Valdimar Jóhannsson
Boris Ondreička
Manuel Pelmuș
Michael Portnoy
Blanka Rádóczy / Vladimir Sorokin
Hanna Rohn
Andreas Siekmann
Nedko Solakov
Andrei Stadnikov with Vanya Bowden, Shifra Kazhdan and Dmitry Vlasik
Theater im Bahnhof
Michiel Vandevelde
Gernot Wieland
Jaśmina Wójcik
Zorka Wollny
Artur Żmijewski

More about the participating artists

Program Preview
Grand Hotel Abyss

Almost exclusively presenting new commissions and its own productions, steirischer herbst blasts off on 19 September 2019 at 17:00 with an evening-long extravaganza. It opens in Landhaushof with a political opera by Zorka Wollny, and then moves to the sumptuous ballroom interior of Congress Graz with an immersive installation by Brazilian-born singer and artist Cibelle Cavalli Bastos and one of their most exciting avatars, the seductive Sonja Khalekallon. This will be presented alongside tableaux vivants by Vienna-based artist Jakob Lena Knebl (who is collaborating with musician Markus Pires Mata), and Graz-based artist and sex educator Hanna Rohn. The program unfolds with several surprise interventions, including Berlin-based experimental vocalist and dancer Jule Flierl, choreographer Manuel Pelmuș, and disruptive global nomads Alexander Brener and Barbara Schurz, while the famous artistic duo Elmgreen & Dragset make an ironic contribution to Austria’s confectionary landscape. The evening culminates with a lecture performance on Austria and the culture of pleasure by Gernot Wieland and a playfully apocalyptic performance choreographed by the flamboyant Icelandic duo Erna Ómarsdóttir & Valdimar Jóhannsson.

By way of installation projects at various locations, steirischer herbst transcends many historical contexts and unveils buried conflicts. An installation in Palais Attems—once the headquarters of the British occupation forces and now home to the festival’s offices—comments on the grandiose decay of Counter-Reformation aesthetics with contributions by Colombian-born, internationally acclaimed artist Oscar Murillo (this year’s Turner Prize nominee) and Georgian filmmaker Giorgi Gago Gagoshidze, among others.

An exhibition in Graz’s Künstlerhaus includes new films by Jasmina Cibic and Jeremy Deller, as well as works by the late British maverick Ian Hamilton Finlay. By showing these artists together, the curators speculate on the role that the British occupation of Austria played in shaping cultural politics, including the architectural style of the building itself. Artist Nedko Solakov also returns to the Cold War and its spy stories with interventions in various local hotel lobbies.

Riccardo Giacconi looks at the abysmal “option” between fascism and fascism in 1940s Southern Tyrol through a research-based installation and performance. A curatorial fantasy on the life and times of Georg Lukács, the author who coined the Grand Hotel Abyss metaphor, at Graz’s Literaturhaus looks to Thomas Mann’s novel The Magic Mountain, a theme it shares with a filmic installation by Daniel Mann and Eitan Efrat at Forum Stadtpark. This new film investigates the hidden Nazi histories of radioactive gas used therapeutically by officers during the Third Reich. Andreas Siekmann, one of the most prominent activist-artists addressing the rise of the right wing today and a veteran of steirischer herbst, returns with a remake of Albrecht Dürer’s never-realized victory column Monument to the Vanquished Peasants. Artur Żmijewski, one of the best-known contemporary artists from Poland, is looking for a place to hide from current political disaster in his own country as well as in others, while a new monumental video work by New York–based artist and stand-up comedian Michael Portnoy deploys tongue-in-cheek optimism to show us the rather bizarre future of sex. Portnoy made an unforgettable appearance in steirischer herbst ’18 and the festival continues its creative collaboration with him.

In a special work by artist Jaśmina Wójcik, developed for the municipality of Puch bei Weiz, steirischer herbst again turns to the surrounding region of Styria. A deeper collaboration will be also established with STUBENrein Festival who will be hosting our education program Office for Open Questions at various locations throughout Styria. Meanwhile, in Köflach, an artistic performance will take place along with a discussion as part of the project Counterpositions, developed with publishing house CLIO and the Institute for Art in Public Space Styria. Counterpositions is a cluster of performative as well as installative interventions around political monuments, which take place in Graz as well as the greater region of Styria and features projects by Eduard Freudmann, Thomas Geiger, Marlene Haring, and Elizabeth Ward.

A set of newly commissioned performative works complete the program. Georgian director Guram Matskhonashvili stages the newest piece by London-based, Georgian-born author and philosopher Keti Chukhrov: a biting satire of the faux-internationalism of cultural theory today, in which the stars of the exotic contemporary discipline of post-prostitution studies converge for a congress in a small town in Georgia (Orpheum Graz, 20./21.9.19). Theater im Bahnhof from Graz invites the audience to join actors in a game that entails trying to escape the vicious circle of poverty (Bauernmarkt Eggenberg, 21./25./28.9.19, and 2./5./9./12.10.19). For his adaption of Nâzım Hikmet’s second book, Human Landscapes, choreographer, theater director, and curator Michiel Vandevelde builds on his participation in steirischer herbst ’18, this time focusing on the luxuries of the elite and offsetting the voices of the privileged against a choir representing the masses (Orpheum Graz, 21./22./23.9.19). Director Bojan Djordjev and writer Goran Ferčec imagine an alternate utopian history of Yugoslavia for a luxury suite in Graz’s Grand Hôtel Wiesler (27./28./29.9.19). In a synthesis of theater, visual art, and live music, Ariel Efraim Ashbel and friends joyously tackle nothing less than the end of civilization, inspired by Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (Orpheum Graz, 28./29.9.19). In his latest novel Russian author Vladimir Sorokin also envisions a postapocalyptic world, in which books are rare commodities and chefs prepare lush meals on their burning pages. Director Blanka Rádóczy stages an expanded monologue following one of these culinary adventures (Museum für Geschichte, 9./11./12.10.19). Food and its politics are the topic of the theatrical text montage by Moscow-based director Andrei Stadnikov and his collaborators, which closes the festival’s performative program (Maria Verkündigungskirche in Kroisbach, 11./12.10.19).

Grand Hotel Abyss

Bauernmarkt Hofbauerplatz
Franz-Steiner-Gasse 18-20, 8020 Graz

Congress Graz
Sparkassenplatz 1, 8010 Graz

Forum Stadtpark
Stadtpark 1, 8010 Graz

Großer Minoritensaal
Mariahilferplatz 3, 8020 Graz

Giradigasse 8
8010 Graz

Grand Hotel Wiesler
Grieskai 4-8, 8020 Graz

Grazer Kunstverein
Burggasse 4, 8010 Graz

Helmut List Halle
Waagner-Biro-Straße 98a, 8020 Graz

Hotel Mariahilf
Mariahilferstraße 9, 8020 Graz

Hotel Weitzer
Grieskai 12-14, 8020 Graz

Künstlerhaus, Halle für Kunst und Medien
Burgring 2, 8010 Graz

Kunsthaus Graz
Lendkai 1, 8020 Graz

Grazer Landhaus, Herrengasse 16, 8010 Graz

Literaturhaus Graz
Elisabethstraße 30, 8010 Graz

Maria Verkündigungskirche
Kroisbach, Am Rehgrund 2, 8043 Graz

Museum für Geschichte
Prunkraum 207
Sackstraße 16, 8010 Graz

Orpheum Graz
Orpheumgasse 8, 8020 Graz

Palais Attems
Sackstrasse 17, 8010 Graz

Palais-Hotel Erzherzog Johann Graz
Sackstraße 3, 8010 Graz

Schlossberghotel – Das Kunsthotel
Kaiser-Franz-Josef-Kai 30, 8010 Graz

Schloss Eggenberg
Eggenberger Allee 90, 8020 Graz


As always, steirischer herbst will include talks by important international writers and researchers along the season’s theme. Since 2018, this part of the program has been called Ideas.

In 2019, Graz will host Eva Illouz, the acclaimed anthropologist and theorist of today’s emotional capitalism, with a keynote about her forthcoming work on happiness.

At Forum Stadtpark, responding to a work dealing with post-war radon therapy and the biopolitics of wellness, researcher Hasso Spode, who specializes in tourism and alcohol consumption, will report on the emergence of the tourist industry after World War II and its ongoing transformations.

At Künstlerhaus, Halle für Kunst und Medien, in dialogue with a cluster of works addressing the persistent rumor that the building itself was a gift by the British, anthropologist of architecture Michał Murawski will speak about the politics and effects of cultural gifting in Warsaw and elsewhere during the Cold War. Against the backdrop of today’s political turmoil and Brexit-style movements, writer and artist Evan Calder Williams will look more broadly at how the world is already apocalyptic.

At Helmut List Halle, performance artists and sex-therapists Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens imagine how sex will be improved in the future and share their ecosexual adventures.

In collaboration with Literaturhaus, the symposium Weltmaschine Österreich (World Machine Austria) will analyse Austrian literature and theory, unveiling it as a site of productive megalomania. Among other figures, it grapples with the legacy of Hungarian Marxist philosopher Georg Lukács. The anecdotes and myths around his life are also the subject of a special artistic-curatorial installation. There will also be day trips to the Viennese apartment of idiosyncratic avant-garde writer Marianne Fritz, and to southern Styria to visit the Atomium-inspired art brut World Machine built by local farmer Franz Gsellmann.

Two extremely politically and socially focused discussions will be held as part of the project Counterpositions, curated with publishing house CLIO and Institute for Art in Public Space Styria in relation to monuments in Graz: a public discussion about the controversial topic of the "Austrian liberation" in a public discussion about the controversial topic of the "Austrian liberation" by the Allied forces in 1955 and its repercussions today; and a debate on street names in Graz that commemorate historical figures related to the Nazi regime.

The program concludes with a final discussion titled La Grande Bouffe, Homéopathique curated by Michael Zinganel. It takes a critical-anthropological and homeopathic approach to both global and local fixations on culinary pleasure.

We will release the full program of Ideen closer to the opening of the festival.

Office of Open Questions

The Office of Open Questions opens its doors once again! Anyone interested in exploring steirischer herbst ’19 through questions and dialogue is invited to take part in our program. We look forward to your visit!

We provide three different formats of guided tours for visitors who would like to engage with this year’s edition, titled Grand Hotel Abyss: With Im Fokus (In Focus) we spend an hour examining the work of one single artist in detail and investigate this position in conversation with experts. Allianzen (Alliances) explores multiple sites along the exhibition itinerary—often in discussion with artists or members of the curatorial team. Anyone who loves striking panoramic views is welcome to take part in Landschaften (Landscapes), an eight-hour day that offers an overview of the entire exhibition—and includes joint meals and breaks.

For school groups that would like to take a look at selected artworks in a playful manner, we recommend our escape tour through downtown Graz, Spy and Escape—Rein ins Hotel und Raus aus der Bubble (Spy and Escape—Into the Hotel and Out of the Bubble).For schools located outside of Graz, there are two special programs: All of the region’s Dieselkino cinemas are participating in the popular series Festivalfilme auf Steiermarktour (Festival Films Touring Styria). The installation Schulausflug, which was initially developed by Michael Hieslmair and Michael Zinganel for the last edition of the festival, has now been expanded for steirischer herbst ’19 and can be booked as a traveling exhibition with an accompanying workshop.

If you are hungry for even more steirischer herbst, take home our Grand Hotel Abyss Quartett edition, a card game in which one aims to match four cards. You will be a winner, no matter what.

Contact Office of Open Questions
Elke Murlasits, Markus Boxler and Isabel Toccafondi
education [​at​]
t +43 664 24 500 89