A massive environmentally conscious art installation in Austria is now being guarded around the clock after being targeted by right-wing politicians.
Two hard right parties, the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ) and the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ), have publicly criticized the project, which is the brainchild of Swiss curator Klaus Littmann. Among other things, they have falsely claimed that the installation, which fills a local soccer stadium with a grove of 300 trees, was taxpayer-funded.
The resulting public controversy has taken on alarming dimensions. In a recent profile in Der Standard, Littmann claimed that he has not only faced verbal criticism for the project, but was also physically attacked on the street and pushed into traffic. According to the curator, his assailant shouted, “Go away and take your shitty forest!”
Before the September 8 opening, the BZÖ rallied supporters on social media, instructing them to gather in front of the stadium during Littmann’s opening and make a statement with “non-functional chainsaws.” In the end, the debut was a largely celebratory occasion, but as a result of the furor the stadium is now being guarded day and night, according to Deutsche Welle.
“I had not previously experienced such reactions,” the curator told the publication. “Meanwhile people have come to thank me and talk about the project. The reactions are still bitter on social media though, where it’s obviously easier to lash out.”
Littman’s project, called For Forest–The Unending Attraction of Nature, has been years in the making. Despite the careful planning, it seems that the location he chose in the city of Klagenfurt made it a target for the central European nation’s right-wing parties. The stadium, which can hold 30,000 people, was constructed for the European Championships in 2008, and is considered part of the legacy of the late right-wing populist politician Jörg Haider.
According to Littman, part of the controversy has to do with the fact that the area soccer team, Wolfsberger AC, entered the Europa League and wanted to use the stadium, but couldn’t because of the already-scheduled art installation. “Political parties picked that up and instrumentalized the issue in their election campaigns,” said Littman.
Mainly, however, the curator sees the uproar as political grandstanding, with the right-wing parties spreading rumors that the project was sucking public resources, when in fact he has funded For Forest through private donations. “In the middle of the project, there’s Sunday’s upcoming election,” he explained to DW. “Representatives of these parties were asked if they’d go see this installation and they said: No! And it was apparently impossible to eradicate the falsehoods they kept chanting like prayers.”
The ambitious installation is based on a 1970/71 pencil drawing by Austrian artist and architect Max Peintner, with Littman setting out to bring his vision to life as a statement on present-day ecological concerns. “With this art intervention I would like to challenge our perception of nature and sharpen our awareness of the future relationship between nature and humankind,” he told artnet News ahead of the opening. “This project is also a warning. Nature, which we now take for granted, might someday only be found in specially assigned spaces, as is already the case with zoo animals.”
Nevertheless, the right-wing parties chose to direct their anger at the trees. “I directly asked the woman in charge of arts and culture at the FPÖ what her party had against my project,” Littman claimed to DW, “and she replied that it was simply because they were in the opposition.”
Admission to the public art installation is free. The trees in Wörthersee Stadium will remain on view until October 27, naturally changing with the season. Afterwards, the forest is scheduled to be removed and replanted somewhere public.