Austrian artists often deftly manage to build upon our rich cultural history without rendering it sacred – in my view, this approach is an invaluable asset
The Austrian Cultural Forum’s presence in the life of Belgrade has become a daily and important element, particularly for the culture scene of the Serbian capital. For example, from the beginning of autumn – despite the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic – contemporary Austrian art has been present at many local festivals, included in projects and events, while many interesting projects will emerge thanks to an open invitation to everyone planning to cooperate with Austrian participants in the areas of culture and science. Apart from the topics noted, here we speak with Adrien Feix primarily about his working experiences in Serbia to date.
We spoke a year ago, immediately after your arrival to take on the position of director of the Austrian Cultural Forum in Belgrade. Given that you stated at the time that you had high expectations of your new environment, we must pose the question of whether those expectations have been met?
– Those expectations have not only been met, but far exceeded. I realised that although I travelled across Serbia as much as possible and met with hundreds of people active in culture, one year is only enough to scratch the surface of the diversity of cultural and scientific life in Serbia. One surprise for me was to discover the density of the Serbian cultural network throughout the country, with very dedicated culture centres, libraries and archives. Of course, the pandemic made things more difficult – and it is a challenge to catch up on the time lost.
October was a very active month for the ACF. You organised three events in the first week alone that had an impact on the life of Belgrade, including the Weekend of Street Art and the “Overview Effect” programme, which deals with environmental issues. I get the impression that the ACF sees its mission in Serbia as extending beyond cultural exchanges between our two countries. Could you please comment?
– Our primary mission is indeed to support cultural exchange between Austria and Serbia, and I was delighted to see that – despite the pandemic – we managed to be very active in September and October, with Beldocs, Danube Dialogues, digitally at the SAXperience festival, as well as with the street art programme and the first part of “Overview Effect” at the Belgrade Museum of Contemporary Art. But you are right that we have also been working during the pandemic to extend and deepen our partnerships by supporting projects that deal with current challenges – related to the pandemic, climate change, innovation and regional cooperation. We are convinced that broadening the scope of our activities is an investment in the future.
One surprise for me was to discover the density of the Serbian cultural network throughout the country, with very dedicated culture centres, libraries and archives
Austria has a rich tradition in all areas of culture. You have noticed that in Serbia there is a prevailing opinion among part of the public that the legacies of the past hinder contemporary creativity. What is the stance of Austrian artists regarding this issue?
– We try to square the circle between valuing tradition and fostering innovation, as expressed in our motto IZvan tradicije. On our social media channels, through which we have expanded our activity dramatically during past months, you will see this blend of old and new, of excellence and provocation, of traditional beauty and irreverence. Austrian artists often deftly manage to build upon our rich cultural history without rendering it sacred – in my view, this approach is an invaluable asset.
According to the ACF website, Serbia is among the geographical priorities in the scope of your foreign cultural policy. How precisely is this position reflected?
– Besides the Austrian Cultural Forum, we have Austrian libraries and Austrian lecturers in Belgrade and Novi Sad. There are a great number of scholarship recipients and artist-in-residence programmes for artists from the Balkans, not only through the Foreign Ministry, but also through Austrian provinces such as Styria, Lower Austria and Vienna.
Additionally, our universities cooperate on dozens of research projects through the CEEPUS network and Austrian partners are deeply involved in developing dual education programmes with Serbia. Clearly, not all of these programmes are suitable for front page news, but they make a real difference and are effective at establishing lasting connections.
The ACF has invited all those planning to cooperate with Austrian participants in culture and science to apply for your support. What kind of response have you received; what are the most common projects in which cooperation takes place?
– After the first phase of shock in spring, we are receiving ever more proposals for excellent, innovative and ambitious projects. We have created very good experiences with professional digital or hybrid formats, such as the AloneTogether series with KC Grad, the opening concert of SAXperience or the four Austrian documentaries shown at Beldocs, as well as a screening at this year’s Festival of Children’s Theatre in Subotica.
We try to square the circle between valuing tradition and fostering innovation, as expressed in our motto Izvan tradicije
German language courses represent an important part of the ACF’s mission. How did you implement those courses under the conditions of the pandemic?
– We have excellent cooperation with the Austrian Institute, which proposes language courses and which has made a very smooth and successful transition to online courses – so if you’re interested in learning German, the pandemic is no excuse not to enrol! Our Austrian lecturers at the universities of Belgrade and Novi Sad continue to do an excellent job of teaching German and Austrian culture and engaging with their students despite the difficult situation. And the Cultural Forum is working increasingly with schools through travelling exhibitions, film programmes and teaching materials – one of my priorities is to initiate a dialogue between our cultures and people at the earliest age.
It is highly likely that this year’s International Book Fair in Belgrade, which is as important as, for example, the Leipzig Book Fair, won’t even be held in December. How would you evaluate the translating of literary works between our two countries?
– The cancellation of major book fairs throughout Europe and the world is a huge blow to the book industry and to literature. We are very lucky to be able to rely on the Traduki-network, supporting translations from German to the languages of Southeast Europe, and on our strong ties with Serbian publishers, a number of which publish Austrian literature. Nevertheless, we are working on strengthening these ties with specific programmes and events for literary translators.
With the end of the year fast approaching, which programmes of the Austrian Cultural Forum would you recommend to our readers?
– With the project “Ode to Beethoven”, commemorating the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, we joined forces with the Laboratory for Interactive Arts of the Belgrade Faculty of Dramatic Arts to invite students from all over Serbia to work in teams and develop their ideas related to Beethoven, Europe and Austria during a hackathon. With over 60 participants and a lot of excellent ideas, it was a great success. We rewarded the two best projects and they will be presented as an audio-visual 3D show on our embassy building. I think this is a great way to combine music, art and diplomacy, and to involve the vast creative potential available in Serbia. Furthermore, we are planning a number of exciting hybrid formats in theatre, dance, science and literature (with an exceptional culinary aspect!), as well as a digital platform for exhibitions and exchanges of artists between Austria and Serbia. Due to the current situation, the precise dates are still not set in stone, so be sure to follow us on social media to get the latest updates!