Balkon sucht Gemeinschaft

‘Balkon sucht Gemeinschaft’ (‘Balcony looking for community’) was the culmination of a project commissioned by the sterischer herbst 2013, exploring every-day power relations within (and in relation to) a block of flats adjacent to the festival. We were particularly interested in three balconies to the rear of the house with a view over the festival center, balconies that were previously used as communal spaces, for both residents and customs control employees who previously occupied the premises.

Our original proposal involved local residents appearing briefly each evening on one of the balconies to greet festival visitors who had gathered beneath the balcony, reminiscent of the way a pope, royal family, football team or celebrity might greet an audience. The house and those who live there would temporarily take center stage, allocated a status that renegotiates spatial and performative relationships. This proposal was no longer possible after the new landlord at the site decided to lock the communal balconies, while removing communal garden spaces, cutting down trees planted by residents, etc. Our efforts to reverse this process were unsuccessful.

The balcony became the starting point for discussions with residents, lawyers, festival employees and archivists, revealing a complex net of hierarchical relationships and conflicting interests, demographic and infrastructural changes in the local area, the continued reduction in communal facilities available to tenants and the challenges and politics of shared space.

To us, the balcony became a symbol for the difficulties faced when confronted with a new style of leadership or ownership, the day-to-day challenges of living alongside one another and our own situation as artists working with both the residents and the festival to realise a presentable project.

Our research process led to the presentation of a macro-symposium to discuss our process and the notion of communal architectures with an audience, a neighborhood BBQ and a bronze 1:25 replica of the balcony that was installed as an ashtray for festival visitors.

The ashtray

The sculptural work ‘Balkon sucht Gemeinschaft’ is a small (anti-)monument to the seemingly mundane, the often unnoticed and ultimately unsuccessful struggles with every-day hierarchical situations. The balcony represented as a work of public art also points to the notion of communal space, regaining its social function by forming or servicing a temporary community of smokers, reminiscent of how the balcony was once used by customs administrators taking a cigarette break.

At the end of the festival we asked the steirischer herbst to donate the artwork to the city of Graz, as a counterweight to traditional monuments that celebrate individuals, victories and successes (in a similar way to the ‘balcony scenes’ we were originally considering). Following a period of negotiation a new home in the Johanneumsviertel was found for the sculpture. A plaque will be provided that contextualises the work.

We would like to thank all those who supported the research process and the Universalmuseum Joanneum for accepting and installing the gift on behalf of the city of Graz.

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Susanne Kudielka and Kaspar Wimberley work internationally as interventionists and performance researchers specialising in site-specific and site-responsive art, alternative strategies for audience interaction and new forms of artistic collaboration.

The artistic process usually begins with a given site, and a process of observation and dialogue that analyses, and eventually responds, to the architectural, socio-political, geographical, mythological, connotative and historical narratives that can be found there.

Projects are quietly subversive, playfully readjusting the narrative and appreciation of a particular activity or a given site. The working process often involves those that live in an area, and aims to be accessible and relevant.

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