10 October 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the Carinthian plebiscite. “Performing Reality” is an arts-based and cultural-science research project by the author and director Bernd Liepold-Mosser, who wants to reactivate and shed new light on this point of transformation in the history of Carinthia. Uniting researchers and students of the Institute for Cultural Analysis at the University of Klagenfurt and Carinthian creative artists, the project focuses on the concept of dispositif as coined by Michel Foucault. “In Foucault’s terminology, a dispositif is the specific historical constellation of concepts, discourses and activities that frame the possibilities and impossibilities of thought at a certain time,” explains Bernd Liepold-Mosser.
In Carinthia, the dispositif was marked then – and is still marked today – by the 1920 plebiscite and the defensive campaign that was started in 1918 to repudiate territorial claims of the later Yugoslavia. These two events are points of reference for tendencies of political division brandishing slogans such as “Carinthia must be German” and “Carinthia’s borders are being challenged”. Liepold-Mosser, the principal investigator, was raised, socialised and politicised in Carinthia. As director of the Peter Handke Archive in Griffen he experienced the political tensions at first hand. At the edge of the bilingual area, the pressure for assimilation exerted on people to give up the Slovenian language and culture was particularly massive. German nationalist attitudes survived the Second World War and found expression, for instance, in the skirmishes about bi-lingual place names and the populist era under Governor Jörg Haider.
In the context of the project, Bernd Liepold-Mosser developed three plays designed to suggest alternative perspectives: “We see the 1920 plebiscite as a point of transformation at which narratives and discourses could have taken a different turn: the powers that won the First World War resolved the territorial questions in a democratic vote – that was an exemplary use of direct democracy.” In 1920, two thirds of the population voted in favour of Lower Carinthia remaining with Austria, including a high proportion of Carinthian Slovenes. Without the latter, the result would have been different.
It is only in recent years that people have begun to look at our common history from alternative viewpoints. Liepold-Mosser suspects that a combination of different factors has influenced this development: in addition to the distance in time, these factors include official policies and their perspectives and discourses, the collapse of Yugoslavia and the accession of Austria and Slovenia to the EU. When national borders lose their significance, or so it seems, old enmities and conflicts can become less substantial. Another contributing factor is probably the fact that quite a large number of Carinthians with a minority background have famously risen through the ranks of society.
The theatre as laboratory and education
And how do art and science interact in the context of this project funded by the Austrian Science Fund FWF under its Programme for Arts-based Research (PEEK)? As Liepold-Mosser explains: “It is my understanding of theatre that it is engaged in a kind of research. It represents a laboratory in which a situation can be explored. This does not happen exclusively on a scholarly methodological basis and through purely rational argumentation, but with methods of exploration that include emotional and aesthetic criteria.” He is engaged in a transdisciplinary investigation with Ute Holfelder, Roland W. Peball and Klaus Schönberger from the Department of Cultural Analysis at the University of Klagenfurt, as well as the literary scholar Wilhelm Kuehs and Ute Liepold from Theater Wolkenflug.
In this investigation, the various approaches and findings are mutually enriching. In addition to scientific publications and exhibitions, the three-year project has also engendered three plays: “Das andere Land”, “Fluid Identities” and “Kärntenpark”. They are being staged at three Carinthian venues with three ensembles. Owing to the corona pandemic, the performance of “Fluid Identities”, a play that deals with new ways of forging identities, has had to be postponed until April 2021.
The glamour is gone in Historyland
At the moment, rehearsals are taking place for the play “Servus Srečno Kärntenpark”, which will have its premiere on 1 October 2020 at the Klagenfurt Stadttheater. The play portrays Carinthia as a somewhat rundown, underfinanced theme park with historical stations, where cracks appear in the surface of the glorifying presentation of the past. Through the medium of music and acting, scientific results reach people directly, inspiring them to engage in debate. For the Carinthian director, the question: “How do you reach the ones who are not convinced anyway?” is at the centre of any kind of political theatre. Hence, Liepold-Mosser felt it was important not to perform in the off-theatre scene or in the ivory tower, but to use significant venues of cultural life to reach out to a broad audience. “However, even those who are already convinced do need some encouragement. Humour can help to crack open encrusted structures in a different way, without a lot of arguing. One can try to throw the burdensome heritage overboard in a joint effort,” says Liepold-Mosser.
Bernd Liepold-Mosser has been working as a freelance director, producer and author for the theatre, opera and film with production venues in Germany, Austria and Slovenia since 2001. He is the principal investigator of the FWF-funded arts-based research project (PEEK) “Performing Reality” (2018-2021). Liepold-Mosser is also a lecturer at the Alpen-Adria-Universität Klagenfurt; he was artistic director of the EU Interreg project “Brezmejnost – Grenzenlos” (2009-2012) and director of the Peter Handke Archive in Stift Griffen in Carinthia from 1996 to 2001. He is now artistic director of the newly founded “Klagenfurt Festival”.
“Performing Reality” project website: http://volksabstimmung2020.aau.at/