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Department of Ultimology

Ultimology is the study of that which is dead or dying. The Department of Ultimology is an ongoing project by curator Kate Strain (Grazer Kunstverein) and artist Fiona Hallinan (doctoral candidate at LUCA School of Arts, KU Leuven), which proposes Ultimology as a curatorial strategy and educational tool for transformative discourse. As a tool it can be used to gain insight into subjective experience of progress through analysing what is at risk, endangered or extinct. Ultimology can be applied as a service, to existing practices, systems, or situations, to facilitate a greater understanding of the evolution of knowledge production. The first Department of Ultimology was established at Trinity College Dublin, and is hosted by CONNECT Research Centre.

In 2018 Grazer Kunstverein together with steirischer herbst ’18, invited the Department to initiate a working group and research project addressing what is missing, or what perhaps should be missing, in our contemporary experience of tradition, ritual, and heritage. The resulting research project, titled What Where was a collaboration between artists/researchers Nina Höchtl and Julia Wieger, of the Secretariat for Ghosts, Archival Politics & Gaps, and Fiona Hallinan and Kate Strain, of the Department of Ultimology.

The project applied a reflexive approach to knowledge production to the rituals, ceremonies, specialties, and seasonal traditions of Styria. It explored the construction, maintenance and preservation of Trachten, the so-called traditional clothing or folk costumes of Austria, which today see a resurgence in popularity. The project comprised an installation including historical and contemporary visual documents along with a script and a questionnaire, as well as a lecture performance intervening in the closing discussion Conchita vs. Gabalier of steirischer herbst 2018.

The installation and the lecture performance emerge from the discovery of a travelling slide show of 1959, aimed at promoting and reigniting interest in women’s Dirndl throughout Styria. They highlight the Dirndl’s re-introduction as a pillar of Austrian identity, its relation to National Socialism, the structural hierarchies it had helped to establish between the countryside and the city, as well as its role in the construction of gender identities. The questionnaire invited the audience to “choose a specific tradition, ritual or speciality that you consider unique to your environment, region or calendar” and to reflect upon ambient culture, questioning how it is constructed, consumed, advanced, practiced and preserved, and how in doing so, it can evade extinction, intentionally or not.