A statement by the Tyrolean Artists’ Association
MEMORY CULTURE AND TYROL
In this statement, Tyrolean Artists’ Association (Verein Tiroler Künstler:innenschaft) is alluding to current observations, developments and findings on the subject of memory in Tyrolean cultural discourse. Specifically, it concerns memory culture and processes of reappraisal in the context of the visual arts in Tyrol, and consequently relates to a discourse we would like to regard ourselves as part of.
Art always opens up space for debate in which themes such as power relations, historiography or identity can be renegotiated. Thus, it makes us look critically at and repeatedly question the world we live in. Criticism is not necessarily directed against (ideological) opposition; instead, we understand criticism as the opposite of indifference, with the potential to initiate positive change. It is also because the past expresses itself not only immaterially but also physically in our present world that the topic of memory culture is so important to art. In this context, remembering represents a translation of history from the past to the present, and the materialisations of these memories reflect how a culture or society remembers. Cultural scientist and memory researcher Ann Rigney describes this as cultivating a relationship with one’s own roots.
What does it say about us as an interest group, and about our society as a whole if we ignore the fact that an influential foundation for contemporary art, one that is extremely important for Tyrol as a location – such as the Komm.Rat Dr. Hans Klocker und Dr. Wolfgang Klocker Stiftung – defines its own task as preserving and honouring the memory of a Nazi partisan and, in doing so, does not sufficiently dispel concerns about the origin of its money, despite the foundation’s own internal research. To play down concerns expressed about the origin of assets as “rumours circulating in small Innsbruck circles” ignores the fact that many present-day privileges and assets are still directly or indirectly attributable to our ancestors’ enrichment during the Nazi regime. As a pioneer of art in architecture and thus of contemporary art promotion in Tyrol, the non-profit housing association Neue Heimat Tirol is another actor with an ambivalent attitude toward coming to terms with its own history. Since its foundation in 1939 with the purpose of “creating living space for the South Tyrolean re-settlers (“optants”)”, Neue Heimat Tirol has been operating without interruption. However, the fact that NHT, as one of Austria’s largest property developers, relies on assets from Nazi times and then profited from forced labour is very rarely discussed. Instead, the company boasts that “since its foundation in 1939 (…) it has been promoting affordable housing”. An investigation by a historian, commissioned on the company’s 80th anniversary, seemed like an initial step toward coming to terms with the past, but it is threatening to lead to nothing due to a lack of transparency and communication.
The last example is the controversial competition for the Landhaus. How should it be interpreted when a memorial to the crimes committed in the Holocaust is rejected as too provocative on National Socialist architecture, and the memory is taken outside of public space and placed inside that very same architecture? Of course, this step inside the building also means an opening out. If it goes ahead in a way that is communicated to a broader public, it will also represent an important step toward more transparency. Nevertheless, with the non-realisation of the competition, one of the greatest potentials offered by art in public space will be lost: a sudden, unasked-for encounter and confrontation.
The topic of memory culture in Tyrol is receiving renewed attention, especially because of the Landhaus competition. In his commentary in the Tiroler Tageszeitung of 26.02.2023, the Dean of the Faculty of Philosophy and History, Dirk Rupnow, feared that this case could have an influence on projects that are still pending. We also see our cited examples as exemplary for a broader discourse on the topic of memory. Being an interest group for visual artists with a connection to Tyrol gives us reason to examine the topic of remembrance and the politics of memory in Tyrol from a cultural-political perspective. This reflection does not presume to successfully present a concrete solution in the debate, but to plead for more transparency and an open dialogue: a dialogue in which we would like to participate as an interest group, also because all the examples here directly affect members of our association.
The politics of memory in a society decisively shape our collective memory and collective identity. They formulate shared values and unifying moments, and power also plays a significant role in this context. Who decides what and who we remember, and how? We need to become aware of these power relations today, for ultimately, they decide what we and following generations will remember in future.
The board and management of Kunstpavillon, Neue Galerie and representation of interests,
Tyrolean Artists’ Association (Tiroler Künstler:innenschaft)