Austrian Cultural Forum - Kakania / Feinde / Illuminations

One of the most intelligently and resonantly supportive partners I've had on my literary journey, the Austrian Cultural Forum in London, and beyond, have been like a home to me - encouraging my projects since 2014 with generous support and the kind of multifaceted and brave taste in art and writing that has allowed work like mine to flourish. From the Kakania project, which drew in over 60 of artists over three years of events, publications and symposia, celebrating the Habsburg Era of artists, to Feinde: a contemporary collaborative poetry project which toured, to Illuminations, running from 2017, evoking post-war Austrian authors with more new commissions, my work with the ACF has been formative and exciting.

Illuminations : celebrating modern Austrian writers

A new series of innovative events bringing to light, in London, the work of writers fundamental to the unique Austrian contribution to world literature in the post-war era. These events, by commissioning contemporary artists, writers, poets and theatre makers to each make a new work responding to the works or life of the celebrated figure in question, aim to transpose the brilliance of the original into a new moment – one that will stimulate as well as illuminate. Featuring entirely new commissions from a host of artists and writers from Austria, the UK and across Europe.

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Illuminations II: Celebrating Erich Fried - July 6th 2017

The second of the Illuminations series took place at Kensal Green Cemetery Dissenter’s Chapel this past Thursday. It was unique for a number of reasons. The first, is that it celebrated Erich Fried. His poetry has been special to me since I began reading poetry because it is indelibly tied to where I have lived for a decade, West London. He was recommended to me by Sheila Ramage of the legendary Notting Hill bookshop, one of the very many writers Sheila gifted me and so many others over many decades, and then, by chance, exploring Kensal Green Cemetery, just over the canal from where I live, I came across his grave, by accident. Pure chance led me to find his burial site and then go deeper, beyond the Calder books of his love and political poems, into exploring his life. For years his presence has been there with me, writing poetry as I have done, in the cemetery and being concerned with the middle European post war aesthetic more than any other. Then this past year the very generous Austrian Cultural Forum allowed me to develop the Illumination series, and I choose Fried immediately.

What followed deepened the aforementioned connection even further. I was able to secure the Dissenter’s Chapel through my collaborative exhibition with Tereza Stehlikova, so host the event in the place of Erich’s burial, which he choose over Austria, as London was his home in exile. I ran the entire event alone, getting in early to set up projections, seats, switching off alarms and locking catacombs. It was well worth it, the audience was able to take in the most beautiful view of the cemetery after hours, sneaking in through a small gate on Ladbroke grove. And vitally, the connection Stephen Watts gave me to John Parham and then David Fried and Kathy Fried, Erich’s children, allowed me to bring the Fried family to the event. Generations of the family were there, with even Maeve Fried contributing, two generations removed from Erich.

A personal affair for me, one tied intimately to the west London literary history I am value so much and feel myself to be in the lineage of. And the performances were really great, full of different, not too reverential to Erich, but not completely oblique either. All the videos can be seen here and some pictures too by Madeleine Elliott who was kind enough to attend and document.

Illuminations begins at Austrian Cultural Forum : Elfriede Jelinek - April 27, 2017

The beginning of the Illuminations project, a new initiative Im curating with the Austrian Cultural Forum in London, to bring light to some of the most important European writers of the 20th century, who aren’t known as they should be in the UK, in my, and many others, opinion. We began with an event around Elfriede Jelinek, and I commissioned five artists / writers to create new works responding to her, however they wished to, however obliquely. Jen Calleja, David Rickard, Patrick Coyle, Esther Strauss and Hannah Silva, all of them are genuine originals and some of the most generous and decent people I’ve worked with, all friends. We had a grand day on Wednesday April 26th, spending the whole afternoon in the rarefied and beautiful Cultural Forum just off Hyde Park, coming up with final details for the performances, improvising them on the day in many cases. Petra Freimund. Tunde Huber and all the staff at the ACF couldn’t have been more supportive, the ACF remains arguably the most progressive and interesting nation based cultural institute in all of London.

It was a great beginning to the series, as all the videos of the performances attest, available here . I took special pleasure from David Rickard’s performance, with the assistant of Lena Trost. A squid was compressed beneath a grand piano, as Lena and Patrick Coyle dueted, a video showing slugs mating was screened and David read a redacted scientific paper about the slugs. It was a beautiful and aromatic multifaceted performance, completely memorable and like all the works on the night, respectfully subtle, ambiguous and oblique, as is appropriate, in its reflection on the work of Elfriede Jelinek.

Illuminations poster Jelinek.jpg

Kakania - contemporary artists celebrating Habsburg Vienna: London & Berlin 2014 to 2016

Kakania is one of the most satisfying and ambitious curatorial projects I have undertaken, supported, extraordinarily, by the Austrian Cultural Forum London and the Österreichisches Kulturforum Berlin. I have commissioned over 60 contemporary artists from all over Europe to each create a new work based on one figure from the Habsburg milieu, across the fields of art, literature, science, politics and more. The project has taken place over 8 major events at the Freud Museum, Rich Mix, The Horse Hospital, and produced two beautiful publications, including an anthology of all the works. You can scroll down to watch all the videos and reports from the events, or visit

There has been no one city's culture, at one singular time in modern history, more widely influential on contemporary thought than that of Habsburg Vienna a century ago. A time so densely constituted with intellectual revolution in fields as diverse as poetry, fiction, journalism, music, composition, philosophy, psychology, art…that it seems it can often only be evoked through a wistfulness that belies the melancholy, the energy and the seismic change that constituted it. Against these reverberations, Kakania - over 5 events, over forty new commissions, two original publications and an array of contemporary artists - aimed to not just to evoke that era, but to envelope it, to transpose it. To relive it in new colours. Kakania in it's first incarnation began in November 2014 and closed in March 2015. It was new artists making new work, paying their debt to that remarkable period of Austrian history in the writing, performance and artworks they were, and are, making. Supported by the Austrian Cultural Forum.

Kakania in London was one of the most satisfying curatorial experiences of my career, perhaps the most satisfying. It's not just that the concept was so lovingly taken up by all the artists I approached, and that there was such a groundswell of positive responses from the extensive audiences and readers and creative folk involved, but because it began ambitious, almost intimidatingly so, and yet it came to a close feeling intimate, careful and thoroughly realised. It's hard to marry one's ambition to reality in these kind of art projects, but four events in, two books, 40 artists each with a new commission and it felt as though I barely broke a sweat. Without being cloy, the genuinely amazing support of the Austrian Cultural Forum was a huge part of this.


Kakania in Berlin - October 11th 2016

At Lettretage, Kreuzberg. Supported by Österreichisches Kulturforum Berlin 

Kakania continued in Berlin, with five new literary performance commissions from contemporary artists, each of whom presented a work that celebrated / responded to a figure from the Habsburg era. Featuring Lea Schneider on Bertha Eckstein-Diener / Kinga Toth on 'Sissi' Empress Elisabeth of Austria / Rike Scheffler on Marie Pappenheim / Fabian Faltin on Ernst Mach / Norbert Lange on Rainer Maria Rilke

Kakania in Berlin - May 9th 2016

at Österreichisches Kulturforum Berlin 

Kakania debuted in Berlin, with six new literary performance commissions from contemporary artists, each of whom presented a work that celebrated / responded to a figure from the Habsburg era. Featuring Max Höfler on Ludwig Wittgenstein, Maja Jantar on Lou Andreas Salome, Tomomi Adachi on Josef Matthias Hauer, Ernesto Estrella on Gustav Mahler & Ann Cotten on Otto Neurath

Kakania in London – March 31st 2016: 7pm at Austrian Cultural Forum, London

The Kakania project returned to the Austrian Cultural Forum for a night of brand new performances, each from a contemporary artist or writer responding to a figure of Habsburg Era Vienna. The great, groundbreaking personas of 100 years past are made new by some of the most dynamic and innovative performers and thinkers of our day, without nostalgia, but with faithful invention and intensity. for more information on the project.

Featuring Harry Man on Erwin Schrodinger  ~ Daniela Cascella on Hugo von Hofmannstahl ~ Steve Beresford on Arnold Schoenberg ~ Thomas Havlik on Walter Serner ~ SJ Fowler on Robert Musil ~ Declan Ryan on Egon Schiele

The Kakania Symposium - March 31st at ACF London
2pm, 3pm, 4pm in 3 sessions

Address: 28 Rutland Gate, London SW7 1PQ. Phone020 7225 730

Preceding the evening’s performances there was a symposium on Habsburg Vienna, through the kaleidoscope of Kakania’s inventive approach, led and curated by Dr.Diane Silverthorne, a leading voice in Habsburg Viennese studies. The Symposium featured informal and academic talks about the era, interspersed with poetry and text art readings from poets and writers involved in the first year of the Kakania project, who will also give context to their process. The Symposium saw a screening of the acclaimed film Altenberg: The Little Pocket Mirror. 

A talk by Dr. Diane Silverthorne on expressionist  landscapes in music and art. / A talk by Dr. Leslie Topp, on madness, architecture and Vienna. / A talk by Jamie Ruers on Cabaret Fledermaus, by Eley Williams on Broncia Koller-Pinel,  by Vicky Sparrow on Margarethe Wittgenstein, byStephen Emmerson on his multi-part performance art response on Rainer Maria Rilke, by Marcus Slease, adjunct assistant professor in English at Richmond, The American International University in London, on writing a new poetry commission on Max Kurzweil.

A screening of ALTENBERG: The Little Pocket Mirror  A documentary by David Bickerstaff and Gemma Blackshaw  

Kakania at the Austrian Cultural Forum, London - March 26th 2015

The end, for now. But as Kakania ended with war, perhaps our hopes should be too high. This incarnation of the time certainly ended with a beautiful, graceful, varied and dynamic evening of works in the appropriately resplendent salon-like surroundings of the Austrian Cultural Forum. A night for me personally to appreciate just how extraordinary the project has been, and how much this is owed to the generosity of the artists and the almost unheard of support, trust and enthusiasm of the Austrian Cultural Forum itself. Theodora Danek and her colleagues have been remarkable, and this was a night where I able to thank them.

The final event was not to be a culmination, it was, as each event has been, it's own entity, curated with it's own rhythm and feel, relative to the venue and artists. Yet, there was a natural build towards it. It was built on language works, poets, both new to Kakania and those who have acted as a sort of creative spine to the project, read - Stephen Emmerson so beautifully engaging with Rilke (his son is called Rainer), Colin Herd so brilliantly evoking Kokoschka, George Szirtes born to write about Schnitzler. These poets were complimented with some radically different mediums, Josh Alexander with his abstract film on Paul Wittgenstein, which when screened in the dark of that room genuinely moved me, Fabian Faltin with a conceptual performance on Otto Wagner which was utterly unforgettable and witty and energetic, and finally Ben Morris, a sound art beast, on Ernst Krenek. 

The point was to create a specific energy and experience throughout the evening that rested upon complimentary and responsive artforms, artworks and artists. And more than that to show how powerful the connection is in 21st century London to the iconoclasts of early 20th century Vienna. Each work spoke to the next, as together they were far more about the artists through the ghost voices of their Habsburg predecessors, than the details of the individual artworks themselves. It was like all of Kakania, unique, and warm hearted and brilliant.

On the publication of Oberwildling: the life of Oskar Kokoschka by Colin Herd & I

88 pages, available to buy £5:

A necessarily aberrant love letter to the life, art & thoughts of the great Austrian artist Oskar Kokoschka, comprising of a poem for every year of his long, era spanning existence, written by the brilliant Scottish poet Colin Herd. We began writing this book while touring Scotland for the Auld Enemies project in summer 2014, coming close to Ullapool, where Kokoschka resided during the war, and our mutual passion for the iconoclastic nature of Kokoschka's works had us write in exchanged poems and missives for nine months, a human term, until the book was published as part of the Kakania project in early 2015.

The book was beautifully set by Lisa Stephanides & Stefan Kraus ofPolimekanos design agency, who rendered the book with the professional care and rare eye of an artist and bookmaker, and the volume was published by the Austrian Cultural Forum, as part of their Occasions series. To Theodora Danek, and the whole team at theAustrian Cultural Forum, we owe a great debt. They have allowed our testament to an Austrian master, a true modern, find permanent form.

The book will be officially launched May 14th 2015 at the Sutton Gallery, in Edinburgh, as part of the UNESCO European Literature Night, but you can watch Colin reading from the book as part of the Kakania project below.

Kakania at the Horse Hospital - February 19th 2015

The third installment of Kakania was held in the legendary avant-garde hub the Horse Hospital right in the heart of Bloomsbury London. It featured some of the most interesting live artists from across the continent, including Joerg Zemmler, Caroline Bergvall, Martin Bakero and Damir Sodan. The rhythm between the performances, and the originality of the work, really created a cohesive and engaged feeling throughout the night, experienced as a whole.

Kakania at the Freud Museum - January 22nd 2015

A more beautiful, more fitting setting could not be found for Kakania than the house of Sigmund Freud during his last days in London, now a museum. The Freud Museum showed us the same generosity so many have around the Kakania project and we were allowed to commission five new works, each by a contemporary artist, each taking place in a different room of the house. It's very rare to be able to present works in such a rarified space, one curated so carefully, but also one that maintains a fluency that would us to walk nearly 60 people from room to room on a tour of performances.

We began with Emily Berry reading beautiful new poems appropriated from Sigmund Freud's beautiful correspondence before moving onto Tom Jenks new conceptual work on Otto Gross, read in the exhibition room, Eros around him. We then moved into Anna Freud's study, where the remarkable performance artist Esther Strauss was asleep on Anna's original couch. Esther had stayed up for a whole day to make herself tired enough to sleep, to dream in Anna's room. It was a mesmerising and unforgettable performance. We then moved downstairs where Dylan Nyoukis resurrected Raoul Hausmann in the dining room before Jeff Hilson finished the event, reading his Wittgenstein poems in the landing. 

A major highlight for me, as the first Kakania had been, as a curator. To be able to work with such a calibre of artists, thanks to the Austrian Cultural Forum's generosity, and to launch our two new original Kakania publications too, it was a satisfying feeling. I've long wanted to perform or organise in the Freud Museum also in fact it was a motivation for me to develop Kakania to work in that space, having had a long relationship with Freud's text. In the light of these artists works, the museum became something new to me, and Im sure the audience too felt this was a special evening.

Thanks to Lili Spain for all her support. Pictures below by Wanda O'Connor.

Kakania - the opening event {the rich mix arts centre Nov 25th 2014}

One of my happiest nights as a curator. One of the most gratifying, in having the extraordinary support of the Austrian Cultural Forum, I finally possessed the platform to bring together seven of my favourites artists across sound, visual art, poetry and the academy, all creating new work toward a notion I am excited by, Habsburg Vienna, in a beautiful, sprawling venue with amazing support. It was an amazing night, at times moving, challenging, profound and intense. & very much on point of evoking the dying Habsburg milieu eye to eye, rather than in sepia tones.

We began by laying out a beautiful array of Pushkin press books which had been generously made available for the evening, to root the audience into the space, with the literature of the Habsburg era, and I piped in Webern and Schoenberg over the speakers as people milled. Over a three figure attendance on a dark dank tuesday November night was pleasing.

Sharon Gal, resplendent on stage in an amazing headpiece and backed by morphing video art, took the work of Anton Webern, worked upon it, reworking it into an ethereal piece of sound and then adding her singular voice live, managed to create a moving and powerful song, both a technical and aesthetic achievement. Her absolute command of her medium and her great charisma gave the event its grand beginning.

Marcus Slease followed with some typically brilliant and idiosyncratic poetry that reflected in narrative sweep his experience of the London sunset against the artworks of Max Kurzweil, blending expressionist and existentialist syntax with a unique poetic vernacular.

Then Diane Silverthorne & Ariade Radi Cor collaborated to evoke the milieu of Alma Mahler, Diane excerpted Alma's diary while reflecting on the vivacity and wry innocence of this Habsburg exemplar while Ariadne wrote live calligraphy which both accentuated and evidenced Diane's beautiful words, before propping those artworks up for exhibition.

Dylan Nyoukis was immense in his loyalty to the energy and intensity of Raoul Hausmann, using pure sound poetry alongside feedback tape loops to beast the audience into place, to remind them the breaking of artistic ground is not always cushioning, and that bourgeois platitude has a janus face.

Stephen Emmerson brought his conceptual exactitude and wit to bear with a thrice translations of Rilke. The first, a pill. The second, a seedball, from which Rainer flowers would sprout, And finally, a Rilke cake, baked in poems to translate the great Habsburg poet into human faeces.

& finally the astounding Maja Jantar, with the countenance of of a countess and the force of a cannon finished the night on the highest of notes, a moving, deeply felt rendition of the lives and loves of Lou Andreas Salome in sound.

It made me feel quite proud to be part of this project, to have begun this endeavour with such an exciting group of artists and performances which left me assured that this was a powerful time, this moment now, in London, that reflected upon another from the past. This was always the idea, no nostalgia, little history, no lectures - just vibrant artworks and brilliant artists.

Sharon Gal on Anton Webern
Marcus Slease on Max Kurzweil
Diane Silverthorne & Ariadne Radi Cor on Alma Mahler Kakania - Diane Silverthorne & Ariadne Radi Cor on Alma Mahler
Dylan Nyoukis on Raoul Hausmann
Stephen Emmerson on Rainer Maria Rilke
Maja Jantar on Lou Andreas Salome