The heritage of Vuk Karadžić and Paja Jovanović, of Nikola Tesla and Milutin Milanković helps to bring our nations together
We talked with Mr. Adrien Feix, Director of the Austrian Cultural Forum in Belgrade, about two important anniversaries that Serbia and Austria are celebrating this year, about the programs of the Austrian Cultural Forum in Belgrade in the field of culture and education, about Serbia, but also about future plans.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the founding of the Austrian Cultural Forum in Belgrade. How did that journey transpire from 2001 to date? What were your key projects that have made a difference?
It was a successful and diverse journey, which I am currently retracing with partners and former directors of the Cultural Forum. We will highlight 20 outstanding projects that left a mark in Serbia in a publication later this year, and I can mention only a few of them here to illustrate our work: the regional educational youth programme developed in the mid-2000s, the “Street car Performance/ “Peške kroz Beograd” on Europe Day 2009, the exhibition of Gottfried Helnwein at the Museum of Contemporary Art in 2015, or the guest performance from the Klagenfurt Theatre with a play by Peter Handke in the National Theatre in February 2020, just before the pandemic broke out.
Serbia is small, but a very diverse geographically, culturally and in terms of mentality
Also, this year marks the 185th anniversary of bilateral relations between Austria and Serbia. In what way has cultural exchange contributed to the improvement of our relations? Will there be any special programmes to celebrate this jubilee?
The Austrian Consulate opened in September 1836 – as the very first foreign mission in Belgrade. It is fascinating to read the reports of the time, to realize that the Consul paid his first visit to Miloš Obrenović and not to the representative of the Sultan Yusuf Pasa, which demonstrates that Austria already then considered Serbia to be a fully independent state. The bilateral relations are excellent also today and much of it is due to the sustained cultural exchange of the past centuries. The knowledge that we share the heritage of Vuk Karadžić and Paja Jovanović, of Nikola Tesla and Milutin Milanković helps to bring our nations together, even today. Regarding celebrations, we hope to organize events in September, but it is still too early to predict what format will be appropriate in the light of the pandemic.
During the pandemic, and in order to mark important anniversaries of the past year, you have implemented a unique project called ‘Ode to Beethoven’. This is a 3D installation mounted on the building of the Austrian Embassy in Belgrade. Tell us a bit more about this project, how the coronavirus has affected your work and how did you adapt your operations to the ongoing situation?
Our “Ode to Beethoven” was born of necessity, and sometimes necessity creates the most amazing projects. We worked together with the FDU Interactive Arts Laboratory to organize the student “hackathon” and the (fully virtual) mentoring of the best two teams. The inclusion of students and the open-air format were essential, because they led to immense public interest. Building upon this experience, we are working on a similar project this year.
In addition to culture, the Austrian Cultural Forum also facilitates science and education cooperation. What is the cooperation with Serbia like in these segments?
Science and education have gained in importance of Austrian diplomacy worldwide as Austria has progressed as a nation of excellence in research and development; since my background is scientific, I have an added personal affection for the topic. The Cultural Forum has a longstanding cooperation with the Center for the Promotion of Science and we recently developed two traveling exhibitions, one about Geology, the other about Nikola Tesla. We also have an excellent mobility and research cooperation through bilateral project and the regional CEEPUS network and I am delighted to note that the recently established Science Fund actively seeks to connect with Serbian researchers in Austria, with our support.
Our “Ode to Beethoven” was born of necessity, and sometimes necessity creates the most amazing projects
You have been living in Serbia for about a year now. What are your impressions of our country, people and culture?
In the six months before the pandemic I tried to meet with as many people as possible, visit galleries, museums, and concerts, travel throughout Serbia. This has all come to a halt and unfortunately also slowed down my getting acquainted with the country and the people, but I tried my best to continue this process through literature, films and music. A few points struck me as a relative newcomer. First, Serbia is small, but a very diverse geographically, culturally and in terms of mentality and it takes some adjustment when traveling from Pirot to Subotica. Second, Serbian culture is – with a little effort – actually quite accessible from a central European perspective, because we share very similar references and the same intellectual history. Third, and on a more personal note, the work mentality in Serbia is an unsettling mixture of being very open and relaxed but also highly demanding – with extended lunch and coffee breaks, but work also blending into private life, into evenings and weekends.
We know that it is difficult to plan anything in the current conditions, but can you give us at least a hint of some of the planned activities for this year?
We have just opened a digital visual arts platform “At Second Glance // Na drugi pogled // Auf den zweiten Blick” (secondglance.rs) which hosts a curated online exhibition of ten Austrian and ten Serbian art works (selected among over 300 submissions!) dealing with clichés that exist on both sides. The topic really resonates with artists and the public, and I am very pleased to see that the selected art works have something substantial to say on the topic and will promote the dialogue between Austria and Serbia. Another highlight of this year is the Austrian Film Festival “Great Expectations” which will feature films with a female perspective and tour the country from end of September. Since film is maybe the most straightforward medium to connect two cultures, we put a lot of effort into a selection that that showcases the quality and energy of contemporary Austrian cinema, besides giants like Michael Haneke and Ulrich Seidl.