Counterpositions (Eduard Freudmann, Thomas Geiger, and Elizabeth Ward)

Counterpositions is a group project in public space by CLIO Verein für Geschichts- und Bildungsarbeit, steirischer herbst ’19, and Institut für Kunst im öffentlichen Raum Steiermark. It takes its starting point from three monuments in Graz and Styria that are exemplary of many more throughout the region. Commemorating patriotic heroism and glorifying a national(ist) history, they clearly defy more critical narratives of the past. Three artists respond to such monuments, highlighting Austria’s entanglements with the legacy of National Socialism as well as the self-propagated myth of being the first victim of German expansionism. Heimo Halbrainer and Joachim Hainzl of CLIO contribute to the discussion on the meaning of the monuments under current sociopolitical circumstances, as the past is once again rewritten in the wake of yet another wave of nationalist sentiment.


Graz’s Befreiungsdenkmal (Liberation Monument)—sometimes also called the Freiheitsdenkmal (Freedom Monument)—offers an unexpected account of Austrian history after World War II. Designed by Graz sculptor Wolfgang Skala and erected in 1960, it presents an abstract form often interpreted as representing an eagle escaping from a cage. There are uncertainties about its actual name (Freiheitsdenkmal, according to its plaque, Befreiungsdenkmal according to most historical sources). The date on its base is not 27 April 1945—when Austria proclaimed its independence and formed a provisional government—but 26 October 1955, the date of Austria’s declaration of neutrality. By commemorating the year of Austria’s liberation as 1955 and not 1945, the monument raises the most uncomfortable questions about the country’s self-image in recent history.

Hans Kloepfer (1867–1944) was an important patriotic folk poet who wrote a literary monument to the people of West Styria. Known for being a great supporter of Adolf Hitler and of Austria’s annexation by Nazi Germany, this ambivalent character is still present today. There are two monuments commemorating him in Styria: a small-scale bust on the Schloßberg in Graz as well as a monument in Köflach—the town where he lived and worked most of his life.

The Jahn-Denkmal (Jahn Monument) in Graz was erected in 1902, in memory of Friedrich Ludwig Jahn (1778–1852), the father of German gymnastics. Jahn’s system was developed as a concrete patriotic means to liberate Germany from Napoleonic oppression and to establish a unified, harmonious human education that balanced spiritual development with physical agility. It was intended as a way of shaping individuals, to return them to the communal body of the German people, the Volk—a notion that later took on the darkest connotations.

20.9.–13.10.19

​Eduard Freudmann,
Monument to a Myth (2019)

Installation
20.9.–13.10.

Elizabeth Ward,
Undedication (2019)

Performance
21.9., 10:00

Monuments as Historical Testimonies of Historiography in Graz
Tour with Heimo Halbrainer (historian, Graz) and Joachim Hainzl (social historian, Graz)
22.9., 10:00

Thomas Geiger, A Conversation about the Seasons with the Poet and Doctor Hans Kloepfer (2019)
Performance
22.9., 11:00
29.9., 15:00

Is Austria Really Free? On the Question of Austria’s Liberation in 1945/1955
Discussion with Siegfried Beer (historian, Graz), Eduard Freudmann (artist, Vienna), Erich Klein (journalist, Vienna), and Heidemarie Uhl (historian, Vienna)
Moderated by Gerald Lamprecht
27.9., 19:00

A Monument for the Poet, Doctor, and National Socialist Hans Kloepfer?
Discussion with Uwe Baur (professor emeritus of German literature, University of Graz), Thomas Geiger (artist, Vienna), and Joachim Hainzl (social historian, Graz)
29.9., 16:00

Street Names and Awkward Histories
Discussion with Sonja Mittischek (Omas gegen Rechts [Grannies against the Right], Graz), Peter Piffl-Perčević (municipal council member, Graz), Karin Maria Schmidlechner (historian, Graz), and Florian Wenninger (historian, Vienna)
Moderated by Heimo Halbrainer
8.10., 19:00