GRAZ TWO THOUSAND THREE - Cultural Capital of Europe


Opening: The Island in the Mur

Right from its opening, the Island in the Mur (concept and architectural design: Vito Acconci/Acconci Studio; idea and curatorial development: Robert Punkenhofer/Art & Idea) splendidly fulfilled its function as a plaza of the 21st century.
Reggae sounds by Reggae Explosion featuring Tim Jones had both guests and visitors on their feet at sub zero temperatures, dancing to the hottest rhythms. Right from the planning phase of the Cultural Capital, the team was fascinated by the idea to integrate the River Mur - whose banks are now used as a promenade - into the city life. The River Mur, which both divides and links up the two parts of Graz, was to become an integral part of the city again.

Made to an idea of Graz-born Robert Punkenhofer (Art & Idea), the celebrated artist Vito Acconci from New York planted an island in the Mur, a modern joint linking this piece of wild nature and the grown urban environment, inviting viewers to adopt a new view of their environment while simultaneously adding territory to their rounds that hitherto could not be walked on. Vito Acconci placed an island in the River. But Acconci would not be Acconci, had he just moored a raft in the river between the old town and Mariahilferplatz, a simple vantage point at an unusual place. His island is rather a construction that is absorbed with itself, brilliantly composed from various intertwining shells into a landmark on the water.
The island has a "social-geographical" function, as formulated by Karin Resetarits who presented the opening event. Up until recently, the River had been rather a fence in a steeplechase than a place of relaxation. It divided the city into two parts. This division is now a thing of the past, and the two parts of the city are growing together again. The Island is also a symbol of the River as a treasure. A new district is born, on and in the water, as Graz keeps on growing inwards.

The different sections, whether open or closed, each fulfil specific functions according to their spatial temperament: a small café, an amphitheatre, a children’s playground - all in all a small, only halfway isolated cell of urban culture at a place that never belonged to the city, but which can now be reached at any time via landings, and becomes the centre of the goings-on. The Island will be able to welcome up to 300 visitors at a time.

The shell houses an amphitheatre; and a café is located under a rounded dome. In the twist between the bowl and the dome a fantastic small landscape has been created where children have enough room to play. Acconci has both interior and exterior spaces melt into each other, just as the waters of the River keep on running into each other in an uninterrupted flow. The Island in the Mur thus becomes a whirl of ideas and forms, of functions and contents. "We wanted to design something which clearly demarks two zones and make them interlace with each other" the American borderliner between architecture and art explains his idea for 2003: "People in the theatre see the playground in the background, when in the café, the playground becomes part of the roof. These two functions should not be separated radically, as the waters flows around the island in permanent motion; we wanted to construct something that keeps flowing and changing all the time".

Conception and architectural design: Vito Acconci/Acconci Studio. Idea
and curatorial development: Robert Punkenhofer/Art & Idea