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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

At last, the first in a series of Graz, Austria reports. There will also be some articles and essays appearing in various arts magazines and newspapers, of course the texts will feature a slightly different emphasis, depending on the particular periodical or publication.
Graz is an exceedingly lovely city with a population of about 300,000. Its not far from Wien(Vienna) the old world capital of culture and art. On one of my days off i actually got to be all tourista and mount the 260 famed Schlossberg Steps, and was in awe of the view of this stunning 800 year old city.
Adored the Steirischer Herbst Festival staff, they were all so helpful and accomodating. The serene Sabine Achleitner, project manager and educational coordinator, has been with the festival for over 10 years, and is a font of valued information. Her husband was a leading Graz artist, and they both worked with many legends. The other pretty ladies of the first floor offices also helped to make my three week stay enjoyable. Special kisses and a million thanks to Miss Eva Huber, Edda Krammer, Anja Herman, and Christine Sbaschnigg. I should also mention Richard Schweitzer, the financial director of the festival, who was so encouraging, and festival director Veronika who is very stylish, and looks like a cross between Sophia Loren and Anna Magnani.
The S.H. officina is located in a former palast, that once belonged to a promiscuous duke. The building takes up half a city block in the old towne section, built in 1630, and features hand painted wallpaper that remains intact. Someone from the original family still occupies one of the suites, as well as a right wing Nationalistic Austrian version of the John Birch Society, which is a little creepy.
About 300 years ago a princess in an elaborate ball gown tripped on the main staircase, falling to her death. I´d love to turn that into a performance piece.
Kollective Cheap, and I are part of the Camp Show Styria. From what i can gather, camping in the countryside is a popular past time here. I am not a nature girl, but a glamour girl, so camping holds no fascination for me. The basic premise behind this part of the festival is that 5 groups go out to the small hamlets outside of Graz, to partake in some sort of aktionist contact with the people.
Bringing art to the people is a bit of a bougie conceit, very middleclass, that makes me groan. In America its a big thing, because arts organizations can always get funding for it. Since the 1980s its rarely worked, especially in France where they built all those fancy theatres and homo modern art museums in the boondocks that only busloads of Parisians in fur coats go to. The people they built them for can neither afford to go or desire to go to places that aren´t exactly welcoming.
One of the five art groups in the Camp Show that really interacts with the townspeople in an admirable way is Theater Bahnhof, who are based in Graz. Their camper they used as a casting couch for their production of Steinbeck´s Grapes of Wrath, which had real resonance in that the countryfolk resemble Amerikkka´s Oakies with faces that Fellini would love to buy. I really liked chatting with the leader of Theater Bahnhoff who is this grizzled, good time Gary kind of man, who drinks a lot,just like me.
Plan B, (Sophia,Dan & Missy Baby Ruby Begonia) an endearing British trio, based in Berlin, drove a camper castle inviting people to high tea, and made a series of striking short films from their journeys. One of the sponsors on their transport was from a right wing automobile club, which kept some people from tea time. It would have been nice if someone had been warned them ahead of time about this little fact.
Sweet Doris Dziersk of Germany and her companion the cuddly local intern Johannes Sbaschnigg fashioned their trailer as a traveling greenhouse. Bejamiin Foerster-Baldenius, also of Germany, who is an intermedia architect, and the mastermind of Berlin´s biggest summertime art project The Mountain, from last year, turned his camper into a blow-up planetarium.
A dimunitive, muscular man named Helmut Springer and his lookalike wife built for Cheap Kollective a giant metal ark of the covenant. We were the only ones of the five artist groups that didn´t have a traditional tricked out cammper shell. The original design i was informed of was that the trailer would unfold into a baptismal pool with a stage and ramp. The new designed seemed a little awkward. We had mapped out our strategy in a particular way and the ark didn´t fit with that. I´m tall and it was impossible to stand and look directly into the metal ark. We all decided to be flexible, and work with what was given us.

I was bringing out of retirement my famed persona of the Right Reverend Most High Saint Salicia Tate of the Congregation of Endor. The Cheap Kollective would become her accompany of Comrade Brother/Sisters. A self proclaimed beatified Negro saint would be something that the Austrians would have never experienced.
We figured that a lot of the variables of our akshun would have to be worked out in the field. The local firemen of each town, would be somewhat of a collaborator, but all our contact with them would be as a cold call, which doesn´t qualify to me as a proper collaboration. They were aware of us in advance, but that was about it. They didn´t need to know everything about our project but if one Cheap Kollective member had been able to come out a few weeks in advance as a location scout to make contact with the locals, and the fireman, and get a lay of the land it would have made our piece much better, but now i realize that our aktions weren´t really considered as the important part of the Camp Show Styria project, only the Graz based "Camp Show" was deemed, the actual "Art", which was somewhat insulting. That old "curator/concept as artist" thingy that rears its ugly head in the states and in some circles in Europe, became quite apparent here. Not to be all paranoid, but my red flag alert went off.
Miss "Heike-Heiku" Heiko Pfost-ers Olde Fashion, the dramaturgy/allergy acting here as curatortrix, reminded me of dozens of Amerikan style theatre-queens. Indeed its a universal type of gay man as brittle-blond-woman-careerist. I predict a brilliant future for easy target Heike, in his new 30 year post in Berlin. I´m sure with that sterling, notary public personality, little Miss Heike will transform the o so creative Mitte arts district into the proud new home of flora dora campshow thrills, and crisp strategic air command ballroom dancing eventas. Yippy yi yi!!!!!
"Club Med Real Madrid" of Berlin along with the gallant lady Miss Heike came up with the camp show, and the book report presentations that each group had to make after being in the field. I had been told in advance that Club Real were part of that Berlin based Hetero kitch scene. I felt an instant rapport with Tomas and George of Club Real. George is handsome, sexy and charming. He and Tomas are nice and very low key. Marianne and the small boned Kristof are the groups showboaters. They would make great German TV presenters for an early morning chat show or late nite info-mercial. During the third week of the campshow Marianne retreated to an Austrian version of the Betty Ford Clinic for nervous exhaustion i think. She did have a difficult job hosting 5 days a week, with the scrutiny of a brutal local press. I wish i could have joined her at the Betty Ford Clinic or at least Austrian´s Hazeldine. I didn´t realize driving out in the country so
often would be as taxing as it became.

Next Up: What actually happened in the field, and all about being stopped by the Austrian Police Enforcers