A curious ecological art exhibition has opened in Austria. Curator Klaus Littmann has filled a soccer stadium with 299 living trees, inspired by “The Unending Attraction of Nature,” a 1970/71 drawing by Austrian artist and architect Max Peintner. The sketch shows a thicket growing from the pitch of a sports stadium, with thousands of people watching in the stands. Littmann has crafted a near-perfect replica for the exhibition FOR FOREST – The Unending Attraction of Nature, installed in the 30,000-seat Wörthersee Stadium in the Austrian city of Klagenfurt.
“I first saw the picture 30 years ago and was fascinated by Max Peintner’s vision that one day we would only be able to view nature in assigned locations, in crater-like buildings,” Littmann told German publication DW. “The wonderful title of the painting, The unbroken attraction of nature, expresses a longing. And I’m not ruling out that the world could further evolve in that direction.”
However, The exhibition has drawn the ire of two rightwing parties — Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ) and the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) — who falsely claim the installation is funded by tax dollars. DW reports that BZÖ urged people to show up outside the stadium in the day of the exhibition’s September 8 opening with chainsaws. The exhibition is now closely guarded.
Artnet reports that in addition to verbal attacks chastising the project, Littmann was accosted on the street and pushed into traffic by a vexed individual who shouted: “Go away and take your shitty forest!”
Littmann believes the political backlash is based on the support he has received from Klagenfurt’s mayor, Maria-Luise Mathiaschitz, who is a member of the Social Democratic Party (SPÖ). “That’s why the rejection of my project has nothing to do with the installation in terms of content,” the curator says.
Adding to the contention, he says, “Wolfsberger AC, a club from the region, slipped into the Europa League and suddenly wanted to use the stadium for their games. But of course that was no longer possible because our project was already well underway. Political parties picked that up and instrumentalized the issue in their election campaigns.” He adds that “[t]he stadium cost nearly €100 million and the population is still paying for it; it’s still an extreme burden on the city budget and for the citizens.”
In spite of the ongoing backlash, Littmann asserts that the stadium is now safe to visit. His hope for the project is that the living artwork will attract wildlife, and change with the seasons as autumn approaches.
“I have been working on this idea for 30 years, and the fact that it landed right on the dot amid this whole climate discussion feels a bit eerie to me,” he says. “ […] I am producing a radical image through relatively simple means: by taking something and setting it in a new context, it challenges people’s perception. I want them to reflect on how they deal with nature.”
FOR FOREST – The Unending Attraction of Nature is on view at Wörthersee Stadium through October 27, 2019. It will then be replanted at a public site.