The association “Symposion Europäischer Bildhauer – SEB” (Symposium of European Sculptors) is the founding vessel of an international sculptor’s initiative, fostering new formats of Abstract Art – a sustainable aesthetic and contextual engagement within the exemplary ambience around the hill of St. Margarethen, starting in the historical stone quarry itself. Launched in 1959 by Karl Prantl – doyen of abstract sculpture, SEB is a unique manifesto of Land Art, enhancing the natural space as an Art- & Nature sanctuary (UNESCO Nature World Heritage) for a broad public.
After the death of the founding artist Karl Prantl in 2010, new statutes maintaining the Art- and Nature Sanctuary have been implemented, sharing the responsibilities on a broader board of members and promoting trans-disciplinary, art-historical and museological agendas. Competence in art, science and international networking has been securing and expanding the legacy of the ‘International Sculptor Symposium Movement’ through a variety of activities since then. A consensus within the association – among the protagonists living abroad and the Austrian community – is clearly stated in favour of an extended framework of the association towards international communication rather than fixing the museological agenda on location only. In a complex co-ordination with the Esterhazy-Foundation as the landowner, the cultural department of Burgenland and the federal government of Austria as subsidy providers, supplementary framework conditions with regard to infrastructural optimisation have been generated (partial renovation of the Sculptors’ House) under difficult premises, in order to maintain the unique Art- and Nature Manifesto for a broad public.
2/ AUTHORITY - NEIGHBOURHOOD
SEB as the initiator and author of the ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’, is clearly to be defined without limitations and secured within a future overall infrastructure, neighbouring the other activities, which came later. The additional outdoor ‘Opera Festival’, now produced by the Esterhazy- Foundation in the stone quarry, which overwhelms and dominates the entire area, is thus unimaginable without the initial spark of the founding artists! In concrete terms, short- and long-term agreements need to obey to the founding status of fundamental, nature-protected framework condition. Among the various ‘beneficiaries’ of the multi-layered activities on location, there needs to be improved communication framework with respect to the original manifesto. For example, the changing stage sets for the opera productions are not part of the original art manifesto which has evolved over sixty years, organically – and therefore should not undermine the overall character in place, nor corrupt the ecologically compatibility.
The ambience of a theatre enterprise placed within a fragile nature protected environment is fundamentally questionable and precarious at core. At least it should offer alternatives to a common, urban theatre event with exchangeable stage aesthetic: less is more!
A multitude of sculptural positions created by distinguished international sculptors, form and determine the ambiance of the Art- and Nature Sanctuary on the hill of St. Margarethen. Some few sculptures that remain within the quarry, located in the 'danger zone' of the industry, need to be repositioned on the hill, merging with the current status quo of the sculptural landscape. To protect and emphasise the 'Japanese Line', a unique manifesto from 1970 at its most visible location – an apse of the quarry next to the 'Roman wall' – needs a respectable separation from the industrial zone, which unfortunately comes closer rapidly, destroying the context.
Other locations of SEB work, such as the stone manifesto of Kosso Eloul (Israel) at the ‘Kreuzstadl’ in Rechnitz, is to be included in the overall documentary. Likewise, the twenty sculptures at ‘Mitterberg’ near Pöttsching (birthplace of the initiator), which are now placed according to Karl Prantl’s vision, having been transferred from less attractive locations within Burgenland. A new meaningful art-landscape exists there now, merging with the ‘Grenzstein’ (initial manifesto of Karl Prantl from 1958) at the former k. & k. border Austria/Hungary. Other sculptures owned by Burgenland placed at unattractive crossroads (Herb George/USA, Milos Clupac/Czech Republic, Oleg Truszynski/ Poland ...) should also be transferred to Mitterberg.
4/ MOUNTAIN CROSS
Karl Prantl’s long wish was to replace the large "dogmatic" mountain cross at the hilltop with a universal, abstract symbol. For this, he foresaw his sculpture 'Five Invocations' from 1959, which was destroyed in a demolition at the stone quarry in the sixties and provisionally restored positioned now at the private 'Stone Field of Pöttsching' A copy of the original (St. Margarethen sandstone) should replace the mountain cross!
5/ ENTRANCE - GUIDANCE
An easy traceable routing from the official entrance – coming over the renovated bridge – should open up the hill site in an ecologically compatible manner, thus presenting the sculpture landscape in the least designed fashion (prepared information can be conveyed to an interested broad public through a mobile phone audio guide). A partial enclosure (stone wall) of the area around the Sculptors’ House should provide intimacy for labs and residencies. The current official entrance stating 'PIEDRA - Roman stone quarry' for opera fans should remain apart!
6/ THE SCULPTORS’ HOUSE - ARCHIVE
The Sculptors’ House in its unique architecture shall maintain its identity as a home of creativity for artists, scholars and students. To be optimised for the winter period on the one hand and in order to be able to accommodate the symposium archive (written, photo, film and video material) from 60 years of international symposia activities on the other, it conveys and portrays the (art) historical heritage of the place. Trans-disciplinary art-based research (labs and symposia) are to be generated and implemented onward as time relevant agendas in reference to rural and urban art production need to be discussed and newly informed.
Thus art-historical data in regard to the international symposia movement (most sculptures have been sold and replaced over the years) should be archived: for example, Josef Pillhofers’ sculpture, which went to the Storm King Sculpture Park N.Y., or Joachim Fritz Schulze and Ursula Sachs' work at Lidice (Memorial) in the Czech Republic.
7/ SYMPOSIA / LABS / ARTIST-IN-RESIDENCY
The International symposia movement initiated on trans-disciplinary engagement asks for further evolutionary development. Thus, innovative labs are to be held all year round on time-relevant topics in the fields of art and science in order to generate new (ecological) framework conditions for art-production. Artists, scholars and students residing at the Sculptures’ House are invited to research on site, studying and connecting the ‘regional topics’ transferring them worldwide.
8/ RESPECT & APPRECIATION
Evaluating the impact and contribution of SEB – as a unique stronghold of creativity – in numbers is a way to break the ongoing ignorance of the governmental responsibility. The sculptures of mostly deceased artists are often key works within multi-faceted careers and enjoy international appreciation on the art market. The total volume (single sculptures and land-art-manifestos summarised) is currently estimated at a sum of 50 million Euro value.
For the moment, the legal dissension between the responsible partners SEB, as the founder, the Esterhazy-Foundation as the landowner and the local government creates chaos and disruption due to incompetence and mistrust. Professional knowledge, as regards art historical agendas concerning contemporary sculpture and land art within an international context, is limited and hardly available around the region. In addition, the region-oriented culture administration has been hampering the appropriate framework for years. The financial support at state and federal level is devastating, amounting to a sum of an amateur theatre project on high school level, namely EUR 5,000 annually.
Responsibility as a mediating energy requires considerable effort and time scheme in Austria, i.e. Burgenland. Responsibility as a mediating energy requires considerable effort and time scheme in Austria, i.e. Burgenland. The paramount commercial art tourism feeding the respective consumer rate evaluation (which may be justified at subsidized opera festival enterprises) have little to do with the intention of the founders of SEB, who’s creative effort and entrepreneurial drive contributed to the successful development of an entire region. Thus, unfortunately also the ‘Biggest Family Park of Austria’ around the corner is part of that development. Amidst the ‘nostalgia for Pannonia’- portrait by artificial opera settings each year in an ever new fashion consuming millions of Euros, the exploitation of the nature protected environment of St. Margarethen, caused by profiteering manifold-fold players, is omnipresent and will damage all!
SEB created here a "silent art". It speaks to a universal public triggering content over many decades (without entrance fees!). Paramount beneficiaries have already exploited the place through stolen copy rights and manipulation of all sorts without ever paying tribute to the creators and initiators.
Should not the highly valuable stone material of St. Margarethen be exclusively reserved for the restoration and maintenance of the St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna solely (as the Milan Cathedral has its own reserved stone quarry)? Would it not be reasonable enough to protect the ambience of the place, since it was depicted in such important paintings such as Herbert Boeckl’s and many artists from the Romantic period?
Unfortunately, the legacy of many artists who have forever carved their distinctive trace into the mountain formation in respect to the ‘natural monument’ is still ignored, manipulated and dismantled!
Inseparably connected with the hill site of St. Margarethen in a literal sense of the word, are the stone manifestos by
- Karl Prantl’s ‘Stone in homage to J.M. Hauer’
- Kenjiro Azuma’s ‘Japanese Garden'
- and the 'Japanese Line' by Makoto Fujiwara, Makio Yamaguchi, Tetsuzo Yamamoto, Takao Hirose and Satoru Shoji.
Hope dies last, indeed!
Sebastian Prantl,Choreographer, Chairman SEB
Symposium of European Sculptors
Wr. Neustädterstraße 8
IBAN: AT14 3300 0000 0354 5613