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Statement on our dismissal from the WIENER FESTWOCHEN (Vienna, Austria)

July 18, 2017

Eleven days after the end of the FESTWOCHEN festival, and one day before the start of our vacation, director Wolfgang Wais ordered us, the co-curators of the WIENER FESTWOCHEN under the artistic directorship of Tomas Zierhofer-Kin, on short notice into his office. Two work-councils were sitting at the table; two letters of termination were placed on our seats. “Please hand over the keys and your mobile phones and clear your office. From now on you are exempted.” One recognizes these kinds of scenes from films about investment bankers, who leave the office after an unexpected termination conversation, with a cardboard box under their arm, like beaten dogs. We were stunned to find that termination behavior characteristic of neoliberal economies is practiced at the WIENER FESTWOCHEN.

We joined the team of Tomas Zierhofer-Kin in 2015 with the task of supporting him in the content and structural adjustment of the WIENER FESTWOCHEN. Our goal was to generate a new and younger audience without losing the “old” audiences. Change is a process that can not be completed after one festival. And it was clear to all of us that a fundamental renewal of such a prestigious festival would be accompanied by critical voices – both from the audience and from the media.

To shape this transition process, we came together and tried to work with the city and the festival team by inspiring them with our program. With astonishment, we read that “on the basis of the experiences and insights” of our first festival edition consequences are drawn. An evaluation or a joint reflection of the festival a few days after the FESTWOCHEN had not yet taken place, at least not with us. We have planned our first edition at the curator’s round table, just as Tomas Zierhofer-Kin wished for the next issue. We were dismissed by the throne of the longtime CEO Wolfgang Wais. A personal conversation with Zierhofer-Kin, which we should mention at this point, has not taken place since then. A few days after the dismissal, he expressed his regret by email. Too bad: we were just about to analyze the past festival, and we reflected on critical voices from the traditional audience and from the media. But there are a lot of things, many of which have received good responses, that we are proud of, such as the “Academy of Unlearning” or the Performeum.

After our dismissal, we again looked at the open letter from Frie Leysen, in which she explained in detail why she did not want to continue working for the festivals despite her successful curation [Leysen left due her criticism that the most of the festival budget was spent on administration rather than on artists and artistic projects]. We could sign this letter today, three years later, or at any time. However, we were convinced that we could develop a vision for the FESTWOCHEN that we could implement in the long term.

We obviously counted our chicken before they were hatched.

The festival’s established power structures have made any renewal impossible. The dramaturgy’s round table, in which Tomas Zierhofer-Kin wants to sit with his new team this autumn, will not produce any dialogue at the eye-level. The newcomers should memorize exactly where the CEO sits, before getting into the WIENER FESTWOCHEN adventure. We wish you all the best. We, on the other hand, are looking forward to work again in the future, in a space where artistic visions are actually wanted and also implemented in a long-term, common learning process.

Nadine Jessen and Johannes Maile

June 29, 2017 

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