Edwin Stolk: The narratives we tell or have told.
The Supergau Festival in Lungau lies behind us, but on a daily basis I think back with great pleasure. I remember well when the “open call” appeared on the internet. This is a call for artists to express their interest in a particular assignment. In the description was mentioned that they were looking for artists who know how to elevate whole meadows to art. This appealed to me because I organise art projects in outdoor spaces in temporary alliances.
As an artist, I am convinced that the environment and the artwork coincide. In other words, I do not believe in an objectified world furnished with “things” but rather in a complex environment made up of (temporary) “connections”. The question of writing a detailed plan in advance for a space I had not yet “encountered” was therefore impossible to answer. The greatest discoveries were rarely, if ever, conceived or described in detail beforehand.
To the organisation of Supergau, I formulated my relational approach to the environment which roughly consists of three phases: on-site research, the formation of an artistic concept and practical realisation. Together with local “experts”, I organise around a central social question. In doing so, I admittedly did not meet the criteria of the “open call” but I had to take my chance. Tina Heine called me with the invitation to get acquainted first. I would like to thank her for being willing to take this risk and so the opportunity arose to give a still unknown outcome a place in Lungau’s festival.
On a warm June evening in the garden of Hotel Post, under the trees in the twilight of the evening, I wrote postcards in my best German to the 15 mayors of Lungau. One of these postcards was answered. Many other special encounters would follow. A research phase requires time, infrastructure and local “openness”. An empty house had been rented as accommodation and there were (limited) financial resources to work on the spot. My latitude and its limits I tried to explore. Daring to make mistakes in the broad sense of the word is an essential part of this process.
As an artist, I look for the scarce opportunities to use my expertise socially. The position I want to take in the social debate is far from excepted. The outsider that I was in Lungau learned about the importance of ancient rituals (the social value), but without becoming a tourist I also saw the risk of these performances as entertainment (in the service of economic value). How do you facilitate cultural innovation when it does not meet the expectations of regional marketing? If the creative space for this is lacking, a risky imbalance can arise. Some people then cling with all their might to what once was, while others lose themselves. If we organise and adjust society on the basis of our observations, isn’t it strange that we keep visual artists out of this design process?
The article “Ein Kunstraum, so gross wie die Lungau” in Saltzburger Nachrichten described my contribution to the festival as utopian. This qualification takes away the possibility of seeing the artwork as food for the imagination that enables us to think something as possible. History shows that the costly A10 could be built. Today, all of Lungau agrees that was positive and collectively turns a blind eye to the negative consequences of our car dependency. So why is a fast train connection or university unthinkably “utopian” in times of climate change?
The power of my work reveals itself when we do not limit our thinking and actions with these kinds of qualifications. The potential is released when we work together to explore and question a certain common reality. That is essentially my role as an organiser of these visuals, as an outsider and an infiltrator. A great example is “Lungauer Bürgermeister*innen 2030” where a special energy emerged. Imagine today an imposing painting was made of a group portrait with the 14 male mayors and 1 female mayor of Lungau. Can we hang this painting on the wall without discussion?
Mayor Georg Gappmayer of Tamsweg spoke at the opening of the Supergau Festival about the existence of a culture of fear or space of fear. Small communities care for each other but also keep an eye on the other and the collective narrative. Then it is most important to facilitate a sustainable dialogue (democratic space) where everyone dares to speak out. I also learnt about the existence of the space of fear during my research. Why must the boss be asked for permission for something you do in your free time? I can only see this boss as a guard of a narrative.
With artistic interventions, I try to create meaning for local issues in temporary alliances. I do not paint landscapes on a canvas but try to become part of the environment with my work. At the moment, I use the temporary infrastructure of art such as at festivals like Supergau for this purpose. It is urgent to facilitate these kind of artistic practices in a more structural way. I see public space as an interesting laboratory in which the common mindset is determined with which we act. This process never stands still but is always in motion. Culture is pre-eminently the word for shared meaning.
That is why I was delighted to read Dominik Jellen’s article on the Supergau Festival. He asks an important question: how can sustainable dialogues between arts and culture and municipalities be shaped? To formulate an answer it is very important to share experiences, reflect and learn together both before, during and after the festival. Is it possible for a temporary festival to be sustainable? When the environment “opens up” towards the possibilities of artistic practises the answer is yes.
Looking back at the realization of “Conversation Pieces” this “openness” I experienced especially on the topic of gender inequality. I actually dare to say that all the topics related to rural exodus somehow also relate to the imbalance between men and women. When people feel the urge to participate in a certain work of art (as happened in Lungau) it should be an important signal for local politicians. Time was short for me to organise a debate on the need to redress the gender balance. But if the mayors of Lungau take their job serious it is their sustainable task to facilitate this dialogue. A pollical artwork alone can’t change a situation but it can address the importance of invisible narratives to become visible. Without “openness” or the political sensitivity to the outcome of this artistic research, the wish for sustainability in our actions might be yet a bridge too far.
We should have no fear of sketching new vistas together, as I tried to organize with “Conversation Pieces” at the Supergau Festival. It is all about the narratives we tell or have told.
Warm regards, Edwin Stolk