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August 12, 2022

Thomas Kloiber, Director, Austrian Cultural Forum: The pleasure of mutual exchange

It’s kind of a paradox: Austria and Romania in principle  have everything at their disposal to enjoy one of the closest bilateral relations in Europe: history, heritage (architectural, gastronomic, intangible, linguistic…), traditions,  personalities in so many domains we jointly lay claim to, mutual influences of all kinds. Countless are the elements we have in common, in addition to  geographical proximity. Separated by only  a few hours  by car and just over an  hour  by plane, Austrians and Romanians visit one another very often on holidays, for study purposes or they work together in the most diverse sectors.

However, having now lived for nearly two years  already  between the two countries, I have come to realize that our compatriots rub shoulders, certainly, but do not know each other quite well. This is a reality that we regularly observe in our activity at the Austrian Cultural Forum Bucharest. That’s why we propose and try to implement, in everyday life – more than just  building those bridges of which we hear too often in the public discourse, bridges that sometimes lead to clichés or reinforce them – the renewal of  links, the weaving of invisible threads directly  between Austrians and Romanians, rather than between more or less abstract and impersonal institutions.

I think, for instance, of the project “Josef & Josef”, which was more than an exhibition of contemporary art, painting, drawing and lithography. Dieter Josef (Austria) and Horst F. Josef (Germany) are not only brilliant artists – they are cousins and have returned to Braşov and Sibiu to show their creations which have an extraordinary impact, but mostly to find a community, a part of their own personal story, their family coming from the center of Transylvania. We counted both a success of attendance and a touching reunion of people who had not met for a while. These exhibitions have returned two artists to Romania and Romania has become better anchored in the personal lives of two human beings. This is not a small achievement at all!

This is because the relationship between two countries, as well as “the great history”, as it is called, is in fact composed of our personal stories. It therefore seems important to us to immerse ourselves in this experience, to present life-stories  that portray our common experiences. This was the case, for example, of “Romanian Roulette”, the autobiographical spectacle-testimony of Mercedes Echerer,  one of the most interesting artists of the Austrian cultural scene. We were very proud that “Romanian Roulette” opened the 2019 edition of the great Sibiu Theater Festival, a must-see theatrical event in Europe. This show speaks about  all of us, about the puzzle of cultural experiences and, in particular, the origins  we represent and  must rediscover. Accompanied by musicians from almost all the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, Mercedes Echerer – herself of Austrian, Hungarian and Romanian roots – received the standing ovation of a packed hall for her evocation of a common past, for the emotion of  living together, for reminding the public that we share, in fact, much more than we think.

We believe, therefore, to have contributed to the weakening of at least some cultural prejudices and shown how much we all resemble each other, and I do not think of physical similarities. A project we set up in cooperation with our EUNIC partners, the network of EU cultural institutes, the exhibition “Another Europe” was a wonderful example of awareness of a common, bilateral and cultural heritage. “These images seem to be taken in our country!”, said many hundreds of thousands of visitors – tourists and locals – in front of the creations of the best photographers representing all EU member states. This ambitious exhibition was prepared in cooperation with the Atelier Jungwirth Gallery in Graz and presented outdoors, on the pedestrian avenue of Sibiu, within the frame of the Sibiu Summit . For a whole month, this project, carried out on the occasion of the Romanian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, brought together people of all ages and backgrounds, surprised and delighted by our cultural proximity. “Why don´t you leave it here, to remind us of it?”, we were asked many times during the dismantling. This sentence requires no further  comment.

I have mentioned here only three of the very numerous examples of the action of the Austrian Cultural Forum in pursuit of the cultural exchange  we wish to strengthen through all our mission goals (promotion of contemporary arts, strengthening civil society, support for minorities, exchange of experience, research, literary encounters etc.).

In this regard, I wish to acknowledge and thank all our partners – artists, festival organizers, art gallery managers, researchers, experts, technical staff, writers, museographers, curators, theatrical creative teams, journalists and so many more – without whom our work would not only be very difficult, but simply would lack  sense. A special thought for our Austrian lecturers and the heads of the Austrian Libraries across the country, who commit themselves on a daily base to deepen the intercultural dialogue between Austria and Romania. Because rediscovering the taste and the pleasure of exchanging with each other has to be done little by little and with joint forces…


Photo: Another Europe Exhibition – credit Austrian Cultural Forum


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