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Graz is a cool and sometimes attractive little Austrian hill city

By Juliana Engberg

Graz is a cool and sometimes attractive little Austrian hill city. A UNESCO site, it has one of Europe’s most intact old towns, having been spared massive bombing during the World War 2. Graz combines its historical self with a contemporary infill of recently made contemporary buildings, many devoted to culture, and some rather controversial – for instance Vito Acconci’s ‘Mur Island’ – a steel and light construction that straddles the River Mur which runs through the middle of Graz, and the Peter Cook and Colin Fournier designed Kunsthaus – a strangely armored skin of a building that resembles a spikey vegetable or fruit – some call it the friendly alien – others just scoff.

Graz

Graz

These contemporary urban provocations give Graz an interesting edge and show it, and the people that govern it, to be finding a way to co-exist future thinking and newer urban fabric with a past – essential if a city is to thrive into the 21st century.

Graz has been and continues to be a place of study, and amongst its alumni can be noted Victor Franz Hess, Nobel price winning physicist who worked on Cosmic Rays, and Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, who worked on bodies (yep him).

Rich in minerals the area has been a place of mining and smelter, and since 2003 when Graz was an ECoC, a place determined to push its contemporary culture.

I’m here to cheer for the team of artists pals (Mikala Dwyer, Mikhail Karikis, Gerard Byrne and Ulla von Brandenburgh, and newer artist friends) and curator, Tessa Giblin who has put together an intriguing set of exhibitions, performances and events which form a central visual arts platform within the bigger Steirischer Herbst – festival of new art – now 40 years old, but still young at heart.

Tessa’s exhibition – Hall of a Half -Life – is a thoughtful and nicely crafted, aesthetically continuous collection of works that link in ways to time through a material engagement with geologies, excavated spaces, entropic movements and a shifting humanity. She has found a good story-telling here that works with site specificity, yet broadens out to a greater dimension of existence.

The exhibition is both centrally located in the GrazMuseum and pushed to the regions in a number of other occupations and installations.

In the chilly mountain ex-mining town of Vordernburg, Mikala Dwyer has worked with a number of transient residents in the town’s newer industry – asylum detention. Mikala was in residence in Graz and surrounds for a period of weeks and the outcome of her investigations, discussions and contacts is to be found in an LED work that speaks to the history and stories of certain colours. A tans-national translation, this is a both personal and political work, and uses a strong poetic to move past the didactical approach to bring participants and audience closer together.

Mikala Dwyer

Mikala Dwyer, Radwerk III, 2015

Set on the exterior of a stone industrial ruin, the ‘Radwerk III’, the strong red lumens of the LED transport a blaze from the memory of the past place to the present heated issue – currently at a tipping point in Europe as boarders are melted in the mass movement of people seeking refuge. Inside the Radwerk III the remnant molten stone has been dramatically lit by Mikala to assert it’s active presence. From this off-cast of casting Mikala has pressed one of her acrylic sculpture masses which has been sent to the Graz Museum.

Mikala Dwyer, Radwerk III, 2015

Mikala Dwyer, Radwerk III, 2015

One of Mikala’s cloaked performances forms a part of Ulla von Brandenburgh’s large installation – Clouds dissolve in water – in the town of Leoben, where Ulla has created a set of unfolding spaces that accommodate both her own and others works – a kind of reprise of the GrazMuseum collection. This neatly brings together aspects of each venue and provides an additional temporal and physical distance in Tessa’s exploration of the time/space continuum.

Mikala Dwyer's performers in Ulla von Brandenburgh installation - Clouds dissolve in water, 2015

Mikala Dwyer’s performers in Ulla von Brandenburgh installation – Clouds dissolve in water, 2015

The transfer and transformation of materials was wonderfully explicated in a ‘vomit’ performance by Irish artist, Sam Keogh; Mikhail Karikis used sound to explore the particles of time, geothermal properties and the transposition of sub terrain spaces in a work which brings sounds from Devil’s Valley in Tuscany to the Schloßberg tunnel, which runs from the town to the top of the hill and the Schloßberg clock tower. Geoffery Farmer’s ‘Broom’ work, is a work in progress, trapped between beginning and end time; and Gerard Byrne, in his ever quest to re-examine the historical prophecies of science and psychology, explored the ideas of Wilhelm Reich who sought to legitimize his theories about ‘orgone energy’. French artist, Simon Boudvin revisions caves and excavated spaces with the simple tool of light, rendering space uncanny. There re many more …check the works out here.

Meanwhile in an almost simultaneous translation ACCA welcomes Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg with their wonderful Secret Garden from which they leap to Aarhus and their new exhibition at ARoS…small world, isn’t it?

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