The reverberations of the intellectual, artistic and creative tumult of the end of the Habsburg era are often evoked by contemporaries in the myriad of fields that the period profoundly changed, if not founded. The purpose of the Kakania project - over 4 events, over two dozen new commissions, over 4 locales, 4 publications, a vast array of artists - was not just to evoke that era, but to envelope it, to transpose it. To relive it in new colours. New artists making new work, paying their debt to that remarkable period of Austrian history in the writing, performance and artworks they are making, acknowledging that debt by being faithful to the methods and modes of the now.
There has been no one cities culture, at one time in modern history, more widely influential on contemporary thought than that of Habsburg Vienna a century ago. A time so densely constituted with intellectual revolution in fields as diverse as poetry, fiction, journalism, music, composition, philosophy, psychology, art…that it seems it can often only be evoked through a wistfulness that belies the melancholy, the energy and the seismic change that constituted it. Undoubtedly it is a time that draws fascination, but often as a gaze that turns away at the last minute. How is a Schnitzler story or a Schiele painting more raw than the art it influences that acknowledges it, now, in 2014 or 2015? So often Habsburg culture and its powerful figures are pervaded with a nostalgia that obscures its own essential vigour, that is to say, celebrations of this time are often only about the nostalgia for the time itself, and not about the ideas that defined it.
Yet in London, in 2014/2015, we feel the resonance of this intellectual and social ferment in every creative response to civilisation, or over-civilisation, of every work made up of over-analysis and restrained decadence, and find ourselves in a time when possibility for change, out of the excesses of intellectualism and comfort, is both an inspiration and a threat to the poets and artists who make up the current moment. So it is my belief a celebration of the dying of the Habsburg era, that ended 100 years ago, and flared for only a few decades, might be greatly valued when not made up not of panel discussions, exhibitions, stagings, dramatic readings, but utterly new and innovative commissions across genres.
This is a project which explores the legacy of the Habsburg era through decidedly contemporary, original works of text and art which attempted (I would venture with great success) to be as complex and genre testing as the works, and the people, they were responsive to. This was a project where the past, and our understanding of it, was not be refracted through historical analysis, but the creative process, and one that is utterly contemporary. The events were an opportunity for audiences to discover new authors and artists and works, through the process of experiencing contemporary authors and artists and works.
It was a grand and ambitious venture that ultimately proved an equally grand success. My personal thanks to Theodora Danek and the amazing team at Austrian Cultural Forum, to the programmers at four of London's most interesting venues, to the generous people at Pushkin Press for being of the enterprise and to Lisa Stephanides & co at Pomelikanos design agency, who created our beautiful books. And to the artists, 40 strong, who responded so generously to my invitation.