One of the many beautiful aspects of a festival is to create a temporary space of ‘exception’. Festivals are used to exist only for a certain amount of time. Then they disappear until their next iteration. Every year since 1951, the Wiener Festwochen have taken place within the city of Vienna. But that will not be the case in 2020. And we all know why.
The unique coincidence between an artistic programme, a specific time and a specific place cannot be replaced or re-created. Nothing can compensate for this absence. As we look forward to the future, we are now preparing a new edition of the Wiener Festwochen, with theatrical and musical performances, movements, words and sounds to be collectively experienced. But this year, we are trying to look for alternative ways of sharing our artistic programme with you.
On 16 May, the opening speech by Milo Rau and Kay Sara that should have taken place at the Burgtheater will be revealed online and through the media. This will mark the ‘start’ of the festival. On the same day, we will publish a printed supplement with Der Standard that explores the festival’s programme and content in 2020, and echoes the voices from some of the artists we intended to invite in Vienna this May/June. Rather than having a promotional intention, it serves as a testimony to a festival that doesn’t happen …
Another platform for sharing our programme with you are digital tools, which over the last few weeks have been experiencing their ‘big moment’: a vast quantity of artistic projects has been happening online since the confinement measures began. From 15 May to 20 June, we will use the internet and social media, but in moderation. Every day, following the chronology of their appearance at the festival, each piece of the programme will be virtually evoked. A collection of ‘small gestures’ will occur. They refer to every work that can’t be presented. They may be taken from existing material or they can give insight to a creation still to be realised. Moving images, musical fragments, short texts. They take the form of conversations, workshops, video clips. Traces or promises, together they form a kind of archive for a festival that doesn’t happen …
But we do not want to forget the real, public space. From 2 June, Ho Tzu Nyen’s No Man II will animate the Kärntnertorpassage on Karlsplatz. Also at the beginning of June, curator Miguel A. López will transpose to the public space a prologue for the exhibition And if I devoted my life to one of its feathers?, a joint project by the Wiener Festwochen and Kunsthalle Wien, in the form of a poster ‘Aktion’.
Finally, depending on what will be allowed and possible to realise, a small programme of performances, comprised of a few pieces that were supposed to have been presented this spring at the Wiener Festwochen will take place later in the year. After months of lockdowns and restrictions, this should be a celebration of the importance of the live arts and their ability to broaden the physical public space and strengthen direct social interaction.
Christophe Slagmuylder, Artistic Director
Statement by Christophe Slagmuylder, Artistic Director (March 2020):
‘A few weeks ago, on 27 February, the Wiener Festwochen announced their 2020 programme under the motto Last Time, This Time, Next Time. A quote from Bertolt Brecht was published on the first page of our printed programme, asking ‘In the dark times / Will there also be singing?’ . The poster campaign that was designed to promote the Festival through out Vienna featured a photograph of an abandoned cinema, empty seats in the middle of a deserted landscape where no humans are to be seen anywhere.
Among the diversity of artistic projects to be conceived for the Festival, many underline the urgent necessity of a transformation in the way human beings live: to make a future possible there must be a change.
Today we have to accept that the Festival we were intending will not take place, at least not in the form in which it was initially conceived.
For health reasons, access to public spaces has been drastically reduced; people are being asked to self-isolate; and borders are shutting down all over the world. Theatres and opera houses, concert halls and museums are closed. People are not allowed to travel anymore. Public life is on hold. Without knowing when the situation will return to normal, but knowing that it will never return to what we were experiencing as being ‘normal’ a few weeks ago, we have no choice but to reassess and reinvent the Festival we intended to make.
Commissioning new works and premiering them is one of the focus of the Wiener Festwochen (as we write this statement today, 21 of the 28 new artistic works co-produced by the Festival are yet to premiere). Currently, these pieces cannot be rehearsed, and all the work needed for them to see the light of day in May-June 2020 cannot be completed in time. The Festival is an international project, and yet the majority of the artists involved in our programme will probably be unable to travel over the coming weeks or months.
Lockdowns should remind us, beyond any celebration of quiet domesticity, that the world does not end with the walls of our homes. They should remind us of the importance of social interactions and international connections, not just as virtual experiences. They should emphasize how enriching it is to hear diverse spoken languages, stories from other parts of the world. Social Distancing should remind us how essential the places dedicated to the arts actually are. Festivals, theatres, operas and cinemas are social spaces that bring people together, that generate encounters between people, and help circulate ideas.
To date, a great deal of work has already been done to prepare for this forthcoming Festival. Many artists, technical crews and other staffmembers were planning to collaborate on a large and diverse programme spread right across the city. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of them for their efforts.
The 2020 Wiener Festwochen will have to remain a Festival that is to be imagined, yet never experienced. The Festival programme had been conceived as a whole, as a complete score which, sadly, cannot take place the way it was imagined. That’s why we are considering the possibility of sharing some small or larger ‘gestures’ with our audiences, parts of the original score that could be particularly relevant to the current situation. But not everything is in our hands.
Social Distancing should be followed by a large movement of solidarity with our colleagues, partners and artists in order to guarantee the sustainability of our actions.’