dOCUMENTA (13). Day One. And so it begins.
June 06, 2012 by Christy Lange
You can liken the first day of dOCUMENTA (13) to any endurance sport and the metaphor still works. First try: I feel like I’ve been running a marathon, and I’ve still got 25.9 miles to go. Or even: I’ve been in a hotdog-eating contest, and I’m so full I can’t eat another bite, but I’ve still got another 40 hotdogs waiting. Just pick any event in which you feel you’ve taken in is as much as you can without having taken in even a small fraction of what there is to see or do, and that’s dOCUMENTA, Day One.
But, you still have to take that first bite. The best decision of my day turned out to be arbitrarily choosing to start on the top floor of the Fridericianum and working my way down. Before I could get orientated on the museum’s second floor, I found myself being ushered into a room lined with black curtains where a man was sitting behind what looked like a cross between the front of a school bus and a drum kit painted red, mounted with bicycle horns, pipes, trombones, cowbells, cymbals, tambourines and a xylophone. Well, here was something I didn’t expect. Not a bad way to start.
This, it turned out, was Lynn Foulkes’s Self-Made Instrument (1979–2012), also known as The Machine. And sitting behind this elaborate contraption, playing it like an accomplished orchestra of one, singing jazz songs punctuated by his own plaintive moaning and syncopated clucking and whiz-bang sounds, was Foulkes himself, though I only figured that all out after someone whispered it to me (the wall texts in this particular room hadn’t been glued on yet).
Not only was the instrument a marvel, but the performance itself was also virtuosic, polished, and impromptu all at once. In between songs, Foulkes paused to confide to the audience that in the 1960s in Los Angeles he played in a rock band alongside The Doors and The Byrds, but, he admitted, ‘My roots are in music like this – jazz music and cartoon music’. Then he went on to sing ‘I have no name / I have no fame / I didn’t make it / I’m ashamed. / But as a ghost / you’ll hear me boast / that I’m the toast / of Hollywood.’ The lines seemed fitting for an artist who was a pioneer of the LA art scene in the 1960s but remained somewhat obscure until recently being ‘rediscovered’. (Two of Foulkes’s incredible, 3-D, Combine-esque paintings are on view in adjoining rooms). Imagine Ed Ruscha or Ed Kienholz crooning Frank Sinatra-style and wailing away on a drum sit like this. It’s impossible to be cynical in a presence like Foulkes’s. The performance will take place twice daily, so don’t miss it.
The rest of the Fridericianum proved somewhat uneven in tone: lurching from Goshka Macuga’s large-scale digitally-printed black and white tapestry of a tableaux at a dOCUMENTA-related event in Kabul (featuring an oversized cobra front and centre), to the delicate and haunting hand-woven tapestries of Hannah Ryggen (1894–1970), who reproduced violent scenes of wars and conflicts in a medium that few in the 1930s and 40s would have thought to use to do so.
Both of these works focusing on weaving dovetailed nicely (if not a bit obviously) with one of the venue’s highlights: Mario Garcia Torres’s installation, which documented his search for the One Hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan, a lodging house run by and resided in by Alighiero Boetti from 1971 until 1977, where Boetti worked to produce his famous series of tapestries made by Afghan weavers (which were supposed to appear in documenta 5, but never did).
Downstairs, in the Fridericianum’s cramped Rotunda space, the exhibition displayed the kinds of curatorial flourishes that often seem to accompany a certain kind of anthropological curating that capriciously mixes anthropological artefacts and found objects with art works. This kind of museological, cabinet-of-curiosities approach, having already been a trope of contemporary artists for a while now, seems especially dated in the hands of a curator. In this darkened space crammed with spot-lit vitrines, I had trouble making the connections between Giorgio Morandi’s paintings, displayed along with actual objects from his studio, and the neighbouring vitrines containing ‘Bactrian Princesses’ – a series of small sculptures of seated women created in the late 3rd and early 2nd century BC in what is now modern day Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Afghanistan. While these art works and artefacts are no doubt fascinating, there is no apparent justification for their inclusion together, other than their need to be housed in vitrines, and the fact they probably couldn’t have been procured for any contemporary art exhibition other than this one.
Another curious vitrine included, on it’s top shelf, metronome sculptures by Man Ray, and on the bottom shelf, items labelled as ‘Eva Braun’s powder compact’ and ‘Eva Braun’s perfume bottle’, along with a porcelain statue by the artist Rudolf Kaesbach (1873–1955), which once sat in Adolf Hitler’s apartment, and a towel with the initials ‘AH’. Still reeling from this discordant Wunderkammer, I turned around to find, on a wall opposite, a stunning collection of photographs taken by Lee Miller, some of which were published in the July 1945 issue of Vogue (original copies of which are also displayed in yet another vitrine). Shortly after the war ended, Miller obtained access to Hitler’s apartment in Munich and photographed herself in his bathtub. In the foreground her muddy boots sit on the bathmat and her coat and watch are draped on the chair beside. Together the photographs and objects make a fascinating collection, but it was difficult to make sense of the concept of this curated space as a whole, other than it reflected a certain documenta-esque curatorial tendency to show all kinds of things, all together, as new and as old as possible, just because you can.
Next stop: a quick trip to the Ottoneum yielded some predictable ‘eco-related’ contributions scattered among the natural history museum displays of taxidermied animals and animal skeletons. But Jimmie Durham’s 1996 video Stoning the Refrigerator playing on a monitor above the gift-shop kiosk was an unexpected treat, and it’s worth the trip upstairs to see Mark Dion’s specially commissioned installation. Here he designed an elaborate wooden display case to house the Ottoneum’s unique ‘Schildbach Xylotheque’ – a ‘wood library’ made in 1771–79 of several hundred books carved out of different species of trees. The books are actually boxes that house dioramas inside. Dion’s installation and Schildbach’s library is a felicitous match made in nerd heaven.
Nearby in the Neue Galerie, several visitors were fawning in unabashed awe and wonder over Geoffrey Farmer’s impressive installation, which evokes that same sort instantaneous reaction that Christian Marclay’s The Clock recently did, perhaps because of its sheer scale, meticulous detail and the obvious time and manual labour it took to create it. In the basement, Wael Shawky’s two uncanny puppet-show films are similarly impressive, though demanded more time for viewing than the ticking clock was allowing me.
By now the residual joy I’d been experiencing from recounting Llyn Foulkes’s performance to everyone I ran into was beginning to wear off, so it was fitting that my day closed with two more musical performances, both in off-site pavilions. On a sidestreet near the Rathaus, in a dark hall in a backyard of a house, was Tino Sehgal’s installation, in which, as it only became clear once my eyes adjusted to the darkness, are about 20 young men and women in a circle chanting, singing, marching, and slouching against the wall. At a certain point, still in the dark, they start conversing about ‘income’ and ‘output’ and ‘satisfaction’ – I guess the point at which it starts to feel like a Tino Sehgal performance? But the performance still captivates for two main reasons: though it takes place in darkness, it unexpectedly becomes about our vision, or the limits thereof, more than any of our other senses. And because it still has that skillful Sehgal twist, which all his best piece have, by which you, the audience member, suddenly and unexpectedly find yourself centrestage, playing the somewhat sheepish performer.
And finally, in the Huguenot House next door, I had my second stroke of dumb luck of the day, stumbling in during Theaster Gates’s musical performance with The Black Monks. Crowded into one of the decrepit rooms of this abandoned house, the musicians chanted, sang, drummed, and clapped while moving on and off the stage and then through the hallways of the house. At this point I was more than happy to fold up my enormous dOCUMENTA (13) map – which all day had been serving as a reminder of the long stretches I had yet to run, installations not seen, performances not experienced, parks not traversed – and was actually content to put it in my back pocket while I just listened. A couple people even clapped along to the music, totally un-self-consciously.
dOCUMENTA (13). Day Two: Hauptbahnhof and Neue Galerie
June 07, 2012 by Dan Fox
Visiting Kassel for a documenta is a little like visiting, say, Swindon or Slough for a biennial: a small town, characterized by grim postwar architecture (with a few exceptions in Kassel’s case) and the faint feeling of wanting to escape elsewhere. There are none of the distractions of a Venice, Berlin, Sydney or New York. I thought this as I wandered through the drizzle up to the Hauptbahnnof – where works by 29 artists could be found in the old buildings and storage areas of Kassel’s local train station, and where I spent the bulk of my second day at dOCUMENTA (13). Whilst it’s true that you’re not going to find yourself sipping Campari sodas by the side of astonishingly beautiful canals, you’re also unlikely to find at a documenta any of the fluff and nonsense that gloms onto events such as Venice; no blue-chip fashion brands hiring expensive palazzos to exhibit the work of some Russian oligarch’s girlfriend’s pet poodle, no collectors with dazzling perma-tans shoving their Damien Hirst dot-decorated yachts in everyone’s line of vision. And God bless documenta founder Arnold Bode’s cotton socks for that.
dOCUMENTA (13) has so far – but boy do I still have a great deal of ground to cover – proved itself to be a surprisingly thoughtful and complex show. I say ‘surprising’ since what scant pre-exhibition information there was that drifted from dOCUMENTA (13) has – if we’re being polite – been as opaque and overblown as many a common-or-garden biennial, what with its claims to being ‘driven by a holistic and non-logocentric vision that is skeptical of the persisting belief in economic growth’ and recognizing ‘the shapes and practices of knowing of all the animate and inanimate makers of the world, including people’. (Not to mention curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev’s insistence on the similarities between women and dogs in a recent German newspaper interview…) Punch-drunk with politically hectoring or ‘we are the world’ approaches to large-scale exhibition making that would make even Bono seem modest in his outlook, I expected more of the same, yet dOCUMENTA (13) is an exhibition of subtlety and imagination, if somewhat over-optimistic in its attempts to get audiences to engage with other areas of intellectual activity, such as quantum physicists (as could be found in the Fridericianum, next to Mario Garcia Torres’ work about Alighiero Boetti’s One Hotel in Kabul).
Highlights of the Hauptbahnhof began with the first work I encountered this morning, a sound piece by Florian Hecker. Three speakers hung from the ceiling in a small room, each emitting a series of electronic tones and textures, sound that created as much a sculptural space in the room as it did an auditory or psychological one. Where Hecker’s work concerned itself with the ear, Rabih Mroué’s installation was about the eye, in particular looking at depiction of conflict in the Middle East through the prism of 19th-century investigations into ‘optography’ and the idea that the last thing a murdered person sees before their death is their assassin, an image that was somehow imprinted in the eyeball and salvageable by medical and photographic science. A series of garments made by Seth Price resembling military aviator jumpsuits fused with stationery envelopes (I realize that sounds like an unlikely combination, but think along the lines of the patterning inside an envelope) were an intriguing teaser for a catwalk show the artist is putting on this evening. Jessica Warboys’ video, sculpture and large wall painting also seemed beguiling at first glance, as it purported to connect the work of an early 20th-century dancer with megalithic standing stones in Cornwall, UK. However, her video of said standing stones seemed to fall a little too much into the current modish obsession with ‘mystic modernist Britain’ that characterizes a certain strain of British art right now.
There were a good number of engaging and sophisticated artists videos to be found, from Tejal Shah’s Between the Waves (2012) – a fusion of animation, choreography and stark imagery of vast acres of waste dumps – through to William Kentridge’s The Refusal of Time (2012) an energetic steampunk opera piece with parping tubas and scenes straight out of an early Surrealist film; enjoyable although a little overwrought with its metaphors. A three-channel film by Clemens von Wedemeyer (Muster (Rushes), 2012) was a sophisticated and beautifully directed look at how historical meaning is established and grows across generations; its first chapter looks at Nazi atrocities committed in an old building in Kassel, then looks at a group of young actors attempting to make radical work in that venue, followed by a group of teenagers being taken on a tour of the grounds as an audio guide tells them of the horrors that had occurred there. Also of note was Javier Téllez’s film Artaud’s Cave (2012), elaborately installed in an imitation cave-cum-Aztec temple, and made in collaboration with residents of a psychiatric hospital in Mexico City; a film that excavated Antonin Artaud’s experiences in Mexico.
Other installations of note were those by Lara Favaretto (a vast scrapyard, through which one could hear mournful cello music, an experience that seemed extra charged walking through it in the rain having just watched the Von Wedemeyer film) and Michael Portnoy (a huge, intimidating pyramid of mud and clay in the centre of which, and accessed by a special staircase, was a small circular arena filled with a set of shelves and plinths, and which will each day play venue to a game show hosted by the artist and designed to create an atmosphere both ‘exhilarating and fright-inducing’).
The afternoon took me to the clean, white gallery spaces of the Neue Galerie. A very brief rundown of highlights from here would have to include Geoffrey Farmer’s installation (written about by my colleague Christy Lange yesterday); landscape and still-life paintings by the Canadian Emily Carr, and Australian artist Margaret Preston; Stuart Ringholt’s anger therapy classes (a strange echo, perhaps, of Portnoy’s participatory work), and Andrea Büttner’s screenprints, video and sculpture looking at a sisterhood of nuns who live in and around communities of, amongst other groups, fairground workers.
Tomorrow I am going to tackle the Karlsaue which contains more than 50 different works spread throughout the park; if the exhibition so far is anything to go by, then I am excited to see what is in store. (However, one crucial question remains. Does the overlaboured spelling ‘dOCUMENTA (13)’ herald a return of the early 1990s exhibition title? ‘Site/[in–]Sight’, ‘(in–)TERRA–gating Gender’…)
About the author
Dan Fox is senior editor of frieze and is based in New York.
dOCUMENTA(13) day three: off the main sites, central Kassel
June 08, 2012 by Jörg Heiser
This is a documenta of many surprises, not least pleasant ones thanks to artists being given the opportunity to realize ambitious projects. But even with the positively large critical mass of good artists included, it also brings up structural questions about conceptualization, editing (editing as in film or text editing, the shaping of footage), and economy of means that may linger on for years to come. Both in terms of the overall scope (there are roughly 2000 events scheduled in the course of this documenta) as well as in the form individual works take. Some operate with overabundance and confusion (sometimes for better, and often for worse), and a few I have seen so far are based on a clear and strict aesthetic economy of means, including my highlight so far, a theatre dance performance by French choreographer Jérôme Bel.
But before discussing Bel, let me first tell you what a naive plan I had made for myself yesterday; I devoted myself to visit the projects taking place outside of the main sites but in the centre of the city, mostly featuring works by single artists in closed down cinemas, bunkers, or vacant buildings – I thought I could easily do these in half a day or so, but it almost took the whole day. Given that there are 30 documenta sites in Kassel – one of which, the vast Karlsaue park, features 53 projects alone – you might be tempted to skip these off-the-main-sites ones. Especially if you also planned to take a few weeks off and devote a lot of time and money to also visit the official documenta events scheduled to take place in Egypt, Afghanistan, and rural Canada. (There seems to be a logic of overbidding in place: not only more, but evermore remote and difficult sites; in 2002, there were documenta ‘platforms’ in Lagos or the Caribbean; in 2007, ElBulli restaurant in Spain was declared a site; so how could the director of the next documenta in 2017 top that – Antarctica? Waziristan? Chernobyl? The moon?)
But skipping the ‘off-the-main-sites’ projects in Kassel, you’d miss not only some great stuff, but also a chance to look at work generously allowed to flourish outside of overarching and sometimes overbearing curatorial postulations, such as they were in place at the Ottoneum natural history museum where – thinking especially of Claire Pentecost’s bricks of compost stacked on gilded tables (Soil-erg, 2012), meant to represent a currency based on the exchange and recycling of ‘soil’, or of AndAndAnd’s herb garden – mushy, heavy-handed, and largely humorless suggestions of ecological healing were put forth (on that note, there is generally a lot of gardening in this documenta, as if in the pious vein of the quote often ascribed to Martin Luther that ‘if the world would go to pieces tomorrow, I’d still plant my apple tree’).
But again, there is some great stuff; in the first frieze blog from documenta Christy Lange already discussed Tino Sehgal’s twenty protagonists chanting and talking in the dark, and Theaster Gates’ Jazz approach to dwelling and sculpting in an abandoned house. Just a few houses down the street is an elegantly modest presentation by Francis Alÿs of postcard-size paintings juxtaposing fragmented scenes from Kabul with abstract colour studies reminiscent of television test screens, testifying to doubts about the possibilities of ‘appropriately’ representing a war-torn nation but the need to still do so (while a simple note pinned to a board read, line after line, ’1943, I think about Morandi paiting on top of a hill surrounded by fascism, I think about Picabia finding inspiration in soft porn magazines on the Côte d’Azur… I think about Leni Riefenstahl filming Tiefland with extras from concentration camps… I think about Blinky Palermo born in the rubbles of Leipzig…’).
You might have been mistaken to think that Trisha Donelly presented work in a similar vein, approaching the classic cinema space with big letters announcing Salmon Fishing in the Yemen outside, but that was of course the title of a recent Lasse Halström movie; inside, instead, Donelly’s opaquely beautiful abstract, silent film loop was screened continuously. Darkly grey flickering and shining patterns suggested, in equal measures, veils in a breeze and digital error, as if one was watching not a film but the ghost of a film. I enjoyed that piece, not only because it managed to strangely mesmerize and puzzle my eyes but also because it also seemed to comment on the demise of cinema without the least bit of sentimentalism or nostalgia.
A film project by Tacita Dean involving a camera man commissioned to film in various locations in Kabul didn’t come through because the footage turned out to be flawed, but Dean made the best of it by realizing a whole set of large-scale chalk on blackboard ‘murals’ filling most walls in a former tax office space dominated by a beautiful brass-railed stair case and balustrade.
These delicate and unsealed drawings of Afghan mountain and river landscapes, in the vein of previous works of Dean’s, included fragmentary allusions to handwritten storyboard instructions (‘a pan’, ‘Anglo Afghan War 2’); one of them felt like a comment on documenta: placed between snow-covered mountain peaks, a horizontal arrow and the words ‘narrative direction’.
Next I got a hard hat and entered the vaults of a bunker underneath the Kassel city vineyard terraces. Here, Allora & Calzadilla’s film Raptor’s Rapture (2012) was congenially placed: its point of departure is the unearthing, in 2009 in a cave in Southern Germany, of a flute that was carved 35000 years ago from a griffon vulture’s bone. The artists asked a flutist to try playing the flute in a studio setting confronting her with the presence of a living griffon vulture. The animal reacted rather stoically to the flutist’s systematic probing of different techniques of blowing, suggesting a time capsule being opened for the first time (the equivalent of archeologists in the distant future retrieving data from an ancient computer hard drive). Given that the griffon vulture itself is a highly endangered species, the staging of the animal listening to an eery tune whistled on a bone of its one species nevertheless had a intentionally perverse and tautological undertone, emphasized by the slow and painstakingly precise camera work.
While the placing of Allora & Calzadilla in the tunnels immediately convinced, the Afghan-American artist Aman Mojadidi’s installation remained puzzling: Resolution (2012) seems to be a fairy tale story about war (featuring dragons in place of military planes etc.) creating allegorical links between contemporary wartime Kabul and the Brothers Grimm city of Kassel. Even disregarding the meaning of the story around a female cigarette seller (which I couldn’t quite figure out even though I spend quite some time in the installation), it was difficult to understand why the book was put on display to be leaved through, but on a plinth and in a tunnel, with a voiceover of the text of that same book as well, as if the act of reading itself had to be somehow doubled and staged as a torturous lesson (if that was the intended meaning of the installation, I surely got it). All of which is to say that I’m sure there are interesting observations included in Mojadidi’s book, but sometimes the way things are presented make it excessively hard to appreciate their possible merits.
That feeling lingered on when after giving back the hard hat I made my way up the steep vineyard terraces which didn’t include vineyards however but a huge number of monumental outdoor sculptures by Adrián Villar Rojas seemingly made of wood, rock and cement covered with unfired clay. They surely are intended to look like ancient excavations as if covered in ash, however they also look like very contemporary neo-surrealism suggesting all sorts of confused tropes of nature (newborn in an eggshell) or technology (a big cogwheel).
These kinds of experiences made me all the more ready for the simple, stripped down conceptual clarity of Jérome Bêl’s performance piece Disabled Theatre (2012) that carried it all the way through 90 minutes of uneasy, preconception-probing estrangement and empathy. (The piece is scheduled for three performances per day during the opening period of documenta to be followed by screenings of a cinematic version entitled 2 Dances .)
The curtain opens and a stoically calm ‘instructor’ seated at the side of the stage, operating a simple p.a. system and also doubling as a translator from German into English, announces that the actors of the piece have been asked by Bel to first appear, one at a time, on stage to stand still for about a minute. The eleven protagonists do so, and after a short while it becomes clear that the title of the piece is to be taken literal: a majority of them appear to be handicapped given the physical attributes of Down Syndrome. This creates obvious unease on the part of a self-assumingly ‘intelligent’ audience in terms of staring at a supposedly ‘handicapped’ person in such a way, as if subjected to enforced voyeurism. But this was only the first of five stages that gradually unravelled that very unease, however never giving in to simple comic relief, cynicism, or sentimentality. The second part, again announced and explained in simple terms just as the following ones, involved a microphone stand being put up at the same spot at the centre of the stage, this time involving the protagonists giving their name, age, and profession. As for profession, all of them said “actor” – which is indeed the case, since they are members of the Zurich-based theatre group HORA (and which also explains their Swiss German idiom). The third part involved the question of them being asked what their disability was – and they simply stated it on a spectrum from learning disability to the different terminologies of ‘Down Syndrome’, ‘Trisomy 21’, or, as one protagonist said of herself in a proud retort to medicinal as well as derogative terminology, ‘I’m a fucking mongoloid’.
The forth and fifth part followed essentially the classic logic of climax and denouement: the fourth involved seven of the actors doing short dance performances according to their individual musical choreographical choices. Michael Jackson’s ‘They Don’t Really Care About Us’ was performed with skill and intensity, but of course not the kind of perfection expected of professional dancers; but still you didn’t feel like just wanting to appreciate ‘good will’ – your own, that of the protagonist – but genuine love for music and dance. ‘Dancing Queen’ by Abba is a song that moves me even if it is played in a Muzak version in a hotel lobby; here the same performer who had described herself as ‘mongoloid’ danced to it with Heavy Metal dedication – the applause was roaring, and mixed feelings gave way to a momentary rush of shared enthusiasm. But the fifth and last act involved the simple question put to the performers what they thought of Bel’s piece: some simply said ‘great’ or ‘good’, while others went into detail and told little stories. One of them quoted his mother saying she thought it was a freakshow but that she liked it anyway. Another said his sister cried in the car, saying he had been put on display like in a circus. This was not just a tired exercise of deconstructive self-reflection (as is so often the case with contemporary work) but a gradual shift from the authoritative, absent voice of Bel (the ‘instructor’ continuously using the phrase ‘Jérôme Bel would like you to do this or that’ etc.) to the autonomous voices of the protagonists themselves, who elegantly frustrate precisely the freak show tendency by taking the opportunity to voice their observations or, simply, performing their very own dance.
There is a number of artists who could learn a lesson or two from Jérôme Bel’s piece, in terms of how it doesn’t shy away from difficult confrontations and yet steers clear of simplistic demonstrations of ‘taboo-breaking’ or – equally annoying – moralist complacency. I’m glad I didn’t miss it.
About the author
- Jörg Heiser is co-editor of frieze and co-publisher of frieze d/e.
99 More Days to Go…
June 07, 2012 by Jennifer AllenFridericianum, Kassel
So far, documenta 13 has been defined by the personality of its artistic director Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev. And that is a tragedy for the art and the artists, whose names were finally released yesterday. What has been described as one of the most exceptional exhibitions in the world – in a painstakingly careful and strikingly intelligent way by Christov-Bakargiev herself – has been overshadowed by antics.
A perfect example is the opening press conference, which must have left the German government officials on stage wondering why they had given millions to the event. I wondered why the head of the German Federal Cultural Foundation Hortensia Völckers sent her colleague Alexander Farenholtz to talk on stage instead of talking herself. Christov-Bakargiev – who believes dogs should have the vote – did refrain from bringing along her best friend Darcy, as she has done in the past.
After offering a round of thanks, she delivered a long-winded lecture, which even she seemed to find boring. As she kept on skipping through pages and pages of her monologue – which touched on everything from dancing protons to social networking – the audience laughed and then applauded. In fact, this 16-page lecture was not only intriguing but also in the press kit. Why read the text aloud to hundreds of journalists?
During the Q&A, most of their questions were equally long-winded and hard to follow: from the danger of digital exhibition guides to the (im)possibility of attracting a million visitors. Serious questions were brushed aside, including one about Stephan Balkenhol. Last month, the artist installed a sculpture of a man in the tower of the Sankt Elisabeth church located just across from the Fridericianum – much to the dismay of Christov-Bakargiev. Soon after, the long tradition of the church complaining about art came to a swift end.
In a press statement, d13’s managing director Bernd Leifeld said she felt ‘threatened’ by Balkenhol’s work, which she qualified as ‘an intrusion upon documenta’s freedom.’ At yesterday’s press conference, she didn’t have any clarifications to add because she had been too busy to follow the ensuing scandal – an answer that provoked boos from the audience.
Perhaps what’s most offending about Balkenhol’s sculpture – a little man atop a golden globe – is its symbolization of the anthropocentrism that Christov-Bakargiev is trying to take apart with this documenta. That’s why dogs are like people who are in turn like plants and objects who should all have the right to vote.
The problem is that a human cannot decentralize anthropocentrism, nor tell animals, plants and objects to vote, let alone equate their struggles. When one human being decides that humanity should be displaced from the centre of the world – when one curator feels threatened by a sculpted man in a church tower – that’s not only anthropocentric but also over-controlling, if not somehow dictatorial.
The most surprising revelation from the press conferences is that much of the exhibition is still to come. documenta 13 runs in Kabul from 21 June to 19 July; in Cairo from 1 July to 8 July and in Banff, Canada, from 2 August to 15 August. Alas, there’s no shuttle bus… The calendar of public events When What is as thick as a national train schedule. The slowest day – September 3 – has eight events, from Alberta Serra’s performance The Three Little Pigs to a screening of films from Afghanistan. In short: Forget trying to see everything.
And some of the exhibition has already taken place – without public knowledge yet with public funding. Last February, there was a seminar at Kabul University with speakers like Christoph Menke, Goshka Macuga and Hameed Naweed. Soon after, Mousse magazine from Milan ran a seminar in Kabul about ‘Creating an art magazine: Testing the grounds/Finding the language’.
Such projects – not really public, not quite transparent, not fully accessible, already over – are the real intrusion upon the freedom of documenta which began as an attempt to reunite art and democracy after the excesses of fascism, like disenfranchisement. At a time when many people around the world still cannot vote – including many American citizens who are serving or have once served jail terms – to call for canine suffrage is embarrassing. To use documenta to make such statements is just sad.
There was an explanation for the antics – sort of. Christov-Bakagiev spoke of sending out decoys so the artists could work undisturbed by the press. But how could such interruptions occur when the artists list was just released? And shouldn’t the artists be allowed to determine their relations with the press? Shouldn’t the centralism of the curator fall with anthropocentrism?
Towards the end of the press conference, Christov-Bakagiev criticized that 1970s feminist motto: the personal is the political. Here, the personality took over the politics of the exhibition. On the good side, someone’s personality can resemble what many consider good art: provocative, annoyingly hard to forget, leaving you squirming or hopeful in an embarassing way that reminds you of all the hopeful yet embarassing things that you’ve ever said and done in your own life, or totally kitschy in a way that combines the beautiful and the grotesque, the intelligent and the silly.
On the downside, the art works start to be understood through the curator instead of through the artists. To her credit, Christov-Bakagiev noted that her opinions were not necessarily those of the artists. It remains to be seen if the rest of the show can rise above the antics. With 99 days left – and hundreds of events – such a revamp is possible, although it will be hard to liberate the art from the massive theoretical framework that has been created by the artistic director, from dTours to conferences to notebooks.
One could argue that documenta 12 never fully recovered from the media troubles that seemed to plague Roger M. Buergel who was known to look at ceiling during press conferences. In contrast to Jens Hoffmann, I would not argue that the next documenta should be curated by an artist. But the next director should start with a course in public and international relations. While documenta has remained in Kassel, the art world has gone global – an expansion that brings massive media attention and demands to each artistic director. Today, curating documenta is like heading an international public relations organization – except the candidates don’t get years of diplomatic training before taking on the job.
Christov-Bakargiev did make one great comment which also brought a round of laughter from the audience. ‘This is serious – this is documenta!’ Yes, exactly. Please close the curtain and let show begin.
About the author
- Jennifer Allen is the Editor of frieze d/e.
dOCUMENTA (13): Around the park
June 10, 2012 by Sam ThorneAerial view of Karlsaue park in Kassel, taken from a helicopter. Part of Critical Art Ensemble’s work A Public Misery Message: A Temporary Monument to Global Economic Inequality, Critical Art Ensemble (2012). Photo: Christy Lange
Monday morning and I’m en route to Basel from Zurich, almost recovered after three days of dOCUMENTA (13).
My colleagues Christy Lange, Dan Fox, Jennifer Allen and Jörg Heiser have already done a sterling job of filing reports from the main venues and smaller spaces around Kassel, so it falls to me to deal with Karlsaue. As I headed out on Friday morning, I immediately ran into Ryan Gander who cheerfully informed me that seeing all of the 50+ pieces dotted around the vast public park means walking some 17 miles. Foolishly not believing him, I set off.Thea Djordjadze
For many of the works in Karlsaue, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev offered artists a prefab house to work with. Responses range from Pedro Reyes’s ‘sanatorium’ (offering art-themed counselling) and Raimundas Malašauskas and Marcos Lutyens’s hypnosis sessions, to mini solo presentations, by artists including Rosemarie Trockel and Joan Jonas. Elsewhere, there are various takes on public sculpture, from gimmicky pieces like Massimo Bartolini’s wave pool and Anri Sala’s perspectivally-skewed clock to a characteristically elegant collection of works by Carol Bove. Along the river side of the park, small solo presentations by Thea Djordjadze and Jimmy Durham were installed in sweltering greenhouses, while one of several jukeboxes by Susan Hiller could be found in a café.Carol Bove, Flora’s Garden (2012)Pierre Huyghe
Highlights for me included Pierre Huyghe’s beehive-headed (Maillol?) sculpture, installed in a swampy copse and invigilated by a pink-legged dog, in earshot of an immersive, atavistic sound piece by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller. More difficult to locate is a shaded house crammed full of new and old work by the Brazilian septuagenarian Anna Maria Maiolino – though it’s well worth finding.Anna Maria MaiolinoThe pathway leading to Gareth Moore’s work in the park
Close by is the largest project in the park, a vast long-term work by Canadian artist Gareth Moore, who has apparently been living in Karlsaue for a year, constructing a whimsical commune. The entrance fee was one coin (of any currency), though phones and cameras had to be checked on the way in, so I unfortunately don’t have any photos. Once inside, a series of weaving paths lead to cutesy shacks, lean-toes, gardens and a shop, selling a small selection of wares, from socks woven from local wool to – incongruously – Mr Tom peanut bars and Fisherman’s Friends lozenges. Twee survivalism or a grandly scaled joke about hippie fascism? The jury was out, but it was a lovely place to while away an afternoon.Omer Fast, Continuity (2012), DVD still
Of the several films shown in the park, Omer Fast’s new piece, a 40-minute work titled Continuity, stood out. It follows a young German soldier returning to his parents’ house after serving in Afghanistan; the action repeats three times, with the soldier played by a different actor in each version. According to the press materials, and to several people I spoke to about the film, this is the story of a family seeking to reconstruct their lost son’s return by hiring a series of male prostitutes. Certainly this implication is there: incest thrums throughout, like a threat; the father exploring the younger man’s mouth with his fingers, the mother climbing into his bed. But it seems to me that Continuity is more obviously involved with Fast’s enduring themes of repetition, trauma and the fraught ways in which conflict becomes news, fiction or documentary. Its ambition perhaps doesn’t match that of his previous film, 5,000 Feet is Best, first shown at the Venice Biennale last year, but it remains a significant work from one of the few artists to continue to deal with contemporary conflict in a sophisticated way.
About the author
Sam Thorne is associate editor of frieze and is based in London.
How can we begin to unpack the complex, multilayered, plural and expansive dOCUMENTA (13)? As the paranormal researcher Charles Fort wrote ‘One measures acircle, beginning anywhere‘. We photodocumented some of the works on view, and read (and still reading, therefore this blog will evolve over time by incorporating quotations from newly published commentary) several reviews by art writers and critics throughout the past few days which deserve re-reading and further sharing. Here are some highlights of the 2013 iteration.
The New York Times‘ review by Robert Smith sets the tone: “Ms. Christov-Bakargiev has assembled an immense, unruly organism of a show. It is alternately inspiring — almost visionary — and insufferable, innovative and predictable, meticulous and sentimentally precious. I would not have missed this seething, shape-shifting extravaganza for the world, and I’d rather not see its like again, at least not on this dwarfing, imperious, self-canceling scale.”
(…) the total bareness of the first rooms of the canonical core, the Kunsthalle Fridericianum, is broken by the display of Kai Althoff’s letter to Christov-Bakargiev explaining his decision not to take part in the exhibition (“life” was more important)—although a work of Althoff’s is, despite this, still featured in the Rotunda [not in the catalogue].
More images of Altoff’s letter here via Contemporary Art Daily.
The Guardian‘s critic Adrian Searle, also highlighted one of wonderful treats in the Fridericianum, the “(…) 400 beautiful, modest postcard-sized paintings of different varieties of apple, by Bavarian pastor and artist Korbinian Aigner. Imprisoned for his anti-Nazi sermons, Aigner worked as a gardener in Dachau and Sachsenhausen, where he cultivated several new varieties, one for each year of his internment. There’s pathos here, among these rows of painted apples.”
“Nearby in the Neue Galerie, several visitors were fawning in unabashed awe and wonder over Geoffrey Farmer’s impressive installation, which evokes that same sort instantaneous reaction that Christian Marclay’s The Clock recently did, perhaps because of its sheer scale, meticulous detail and the obvious time and manual labour it took to create it.”
Rossella Biscotti, The Trial, 2010-12, in the Neue Gallerie. Concrete sculptures made from casts from the architectural features of the court-room where members of the extra-parliamentary left wing Autonomia Operaia (including Antonio Negri and other intellectuals), were accused of being ideologically and morally responsible for Italian terrorism in the 1970s.
(…) On a sidestreet near the Rathaus, in a dark hall in a backyard of a house, was Tino Sehgal’s installation, in which, as it only became clear once my eyes adjusted to the darkness, are about 20 young men and women in a circle chanting, singing, marching, and slouching against the wall. At a certain point, still in the dark, they start conversing about ‘income’ and ‘output’ and ‘satisfaction’ – I guess the point at which it starts to feel like a Tino Sehgal performance? But the performance still captivates for two main reasons: though it takes place in darkness, it unexpectedly becomes about our vision, or the limits thereof, more than any of our other senses. And because it still has that skillful Sehgal twist, which all his best piece have, by which you, the audience member, suddenly and unexpectedly find yourself centrestage, playing the somewhat sheepish performer.
Adrian Searle also favourited Sehgal‘s “(…) magnificent performance piece behind a decaying Huguenot house. Performers stamp and sing, whisper, holler and dance. They go through little routines as I stumble between them. Sehgal’s exhilarating ‘This Variation’ is among the best things in Documenta, as is choreographer Jérôme Bel‘s Disabled Theatre, a confrontational performance made in collaboration with actors with learning difficulties. Both Bel‘s and Sehgal’s work concern presence and presentness, what it means to be a spectator.” [In depth text on Sehgal’s ‘This variation’ art-dance-music piece also by Adrian Searle here].
More images herevia Contemporary Art Daily.
Carol Bove’s tableau of elements in the Flora garden of the Karlsaue Park.
Additional images here by Contemporary Art Daily.
More detailed photos via Contemporary Art Daily.
And then concludes with a long description of his experience when seeing Jérome Bêl’s ‘Disabled Theatre‘ (2012) performance piece which “carried all the way through 90 minutes of uneasy, preconception-probing estrangement and empathy.”
Michael Rakowitz, an artist who led a stone-carving seminar in Bamiyan near the site of the stone Buddhas destroyed in 2001, was equally frank. “To ask how art might be enlisted in the service of rebuilding the culture of a devastated land and people,” he said, is “an incredibly problematic gesture, and that is what makes it good and important.” He sourced his decision to participate in the program to the realization that not participating would be a submission to his own sense of guilt, “which is related to political correctness,” which he sees as a sort of reverse-racism.
More detailed images herevia Contemporary Art Daily.
Detail of Rakowitz’s installation.
Lara Favaretto‘s “Momentary Monument IV (Kassel)”, 2012.
A lot more detailed images here by Contemporary Art Daily.
Fully comprehensive website here (with videos, agenda, blog…).
One final observation from Quinn Latimer’s review on Art Agenda:
“(…) despite the attention fostered by both Christov-Bakargiev herself and her critics on her vaunted interest in the nonhuman world, what I found most startling about Documenta 13 was how entirely human it was, and how engaged with the world that we (joyfully, sorrowfully, weirdly) inhabit. If that sounds lamely human-centric and passé, so be it. It’s a deeply intelligent, stringent, surprising, and entirely committed (yes, that word again) showing of the potentiality of private lives accorded the most public of stages.”
And, more final statements by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev when interviewed by Rotterdam artists Bik Van der Pol: (…) “In order for democracy to move forward, we have to constitute the subject as a subject, and give up any pretension of ownership and exclusivity that we might have about subjectivity. It is about empowering, and the right to determine the environment in which we all live.”
Below a slideshow with over 200 pictures:
June 9, 2012
“When we read, there is a voice inside our minds that narrates aloud, but silently, in what has been termed ‘subvocalization.’ Our accelerated way of life—the dissemination of speed-reading techniques, for example—dissolves that voice. In response, the Writers Residency seeks moments of ‘chorality’: instances of mutual commitment, whether loud or muted … through its location in the Dschinghis Khan Restaurant, the Writers’ Residency investigates the possibilities of privacy in a public space.”
Why did this passage in Documenta 13’s flood of press materials so hook me? Perhaps because as I moved through the mega-exhibition and its installations and performances and archives of artists, poets, musicians, theorists, feminists, physicists, and art-world drop-outs that comprise the participants of Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev’s supremely impressive and affecting show, the words “commitment” and “privacy” kept appearing refrain-like in my thoughts. Certainly this was the most politically committed exhibition I could remember ever seeing (the tired and exploitive “political” theatrics of the recent Berlin Biennale notwithstanding). And certainly the radical intimacy of so many of the works and creative lives on view at Documenta 13 presented an expanded definition of the role of the internal life within institutional space. That their Writers’ Residency takes place in a restaurant called Dschinghis Khan situated in Mittel-Deutschland only added the entirely welcome note of humor, which the seriousness of this endeavor necessitated and thankfully did not lack.
The opening halls and rooms of the late 18th-century Fridericianum, with Ceal Floyer’s sound piece and Ryan Gander’s gusty corridor, were a bit of a bait-and-switch: things quickly got much more material. In the glass-enclosed rotunda, a constellation of disparate works carried on an entirely elliptical conversation (or chorus) as poetic and strange as one might encounter. Here that chorus included two Judiths’ delicate works in paper (with Hopf contributing modernist-cum-technological white masks printed by a 3-D printer and stemming from an unattributed mask found at a German girl’s school and Barry offering polyhedron models featuring an encyclopedic admixture of images and text); Giorgio Morandi’s vases; Mohammed Yusuf Asefi’s oil landscapes; and Lee Miller’s infamously indiscreet and weirdly powerful images of Hitler’s Munich apartment, among others.
Upstairs I encountered my favorite works: Hannah Ryggen’s series of anti-fascist, tapestries from the 1930s and ’40s. Evoking the lineation of Käthe Kollwitz and the penetrating breadth of Guernica, they blew my mind. So too did the alarmingly comprehensive and nuanced series of apples painted by the Bavarian priest and gardener Korbinian Aigner, who created four new strains of apples while he was held prisoner at Dachau. In both Ryggen’s and Aigner’s cases, and as with so many of the Documenta 13 participants, the private and sterling commitment of their lives did not overshadow the peculiar and unarguable strength of their works. Instead the public and the intimate, their art and their life, revealed themselves to be patently, genetically entwined, one impossible to regard without its mirroring and enabling other.
These two artists were also emblematic of certain strains of Christov-Bakargiev’s curatorial style here (if style is character, as the saying goes, then hers is defiantly revealed). More of the Documenta participants are removed or estranged from the Western art-historical canon and capital- and hype-infused present than I have ever encountered in a biennial-like show before. This is either by age and politics and medium—as is the case with Ryggen and Aigner and so many of the other included artists who were born nowhere near the much-favored 1970s and ’80s—or by geography. Or it is by choice: one of my favorite moments was while sitting on the floor of a blacked-out room while the American West Coast musician, artist, and literal one-man-band Llyn Foulkes (born 1934) serenaded us with his jazzy improvisations on “The Machine,” a self-made musical sculpture of scavenged horns, drums, whistles, and the like. If its look conjured Lee Bontecou’s violent 1960s-era wall reliefs, the machine’s sound suggested a marriage of Bertolt Brecht’s noir-ish “Hollywood Elegies” poems (limning swimming pools, film directors, cars, fast ladies, and fascism) and Randy Newman’s coy “I Love LA” balladry. Foulkes’s early departure from the famed Ferus Gallery, and his recent three-dimensional paintings of speculative, planetary landscapes, make him both iconic and iconoclastic.
The sprawling grounds of the Karlsaue Park, meanwhile, is punctuated by small huts and greenhouses that feature a more familiar bag of contemporary video art and installation. If Omer Fast’s creepy and incestuous Continuity (2012) made me want to take a shower (the expert film follows a bourgeois German couple as they hire male escorts to enact the speculative homecoming of the son that they lost in Afghanistan), then Joan Jonas’s spellbinding fragments of films and installation video-clips mixing sound, text, sculpture, drawing, and video made me want to stay at her white-painted cabin for hours. In between were greenhouses filled with Thea Djordjadze’s and Jimmie Durham’s delicate museological tableaux of objects, at once poetic and wryly political.
Nevertheless, the exhibition’s near-hysterical number of participants, venues, and performances means that every critic writing so far has included a preface or a coda releasing them from the responsibility of thoroughness. I too will play that card here. But let me mention a few standouts that stood in relief against the dusky masses. In the Documenta Hall, I found an installation of petite, color-soaked paintings by poet, painter, and activist Etel Adnan; on the Konigsplatz, in a small, surreal red-and-silver theater worthy of David Lynch, I watched Alexandra Bachzetsis’s new performative work Etude (2012), in which a cast of dancers and musicians perform their autonomous selves through sport, krumping, looped guitar, and vocal recitation. Its actors enacted both the self-striving needed to distinguish itself from the chorus-like crowd, and the crowd itself, in which the self is at times destined to disappear.
Likewise was the case with Charlotte Salomon’s epic and seminal “Life? or Theater? A Play with Music” series of gouaches and text on paper: a story of love and family and persecution and supplication. Finished in 1942, they were found in France after she was killed at Auschwitz. The sympathetic, engrossing, and entirely singular voice that narrates Salomon’s work, manifested in a blocky, modernist scrawl of paint across her pages, is at once the interior voice of the author’s characters and, as the spectator moves slowly past the glass vitrines reading the story, the voice of the reader absorbed in it. Here, then, Christov-Bakargiev’s stated intention to create “chorality” was conjured, in the charged moment when the voice of the artist and the voice of the audience, the speaker and the receiver, briefly syncs. If the sound that results is not the fey and outdated humanist’s ideal of harmonics and complete fusion—Salomon’s work is too dark for that, as is the space in which it is shown at Documenta, infused as it is with the history of Nationalist Socialism—then it is something newer and stranger, older and more familiar, autonomous and potent. It is the sound of the mutual commitment (to art, to life, to history, and to death) that Christov-Bakargiev incisively wrote of in the ever-profane space of a press release.
Much has already been writ about the artistic director’s infamous spirituality, and her interest in animals, the immaterial, and nonhuman life. If her remark equating women and dogs (via the question of suffrage) is getting much enjoyable media play, it strikes me as odd that no one has connected its sad wit with Lee Lozano’s equally sharp and incendiary feminist statement/project that found her declaring that she would no longer speak to women. In any case, much of the critique leading up to this Documenta has had more than a whiff of the easy and automatic misogyny that so many in the art world (and without) hold on to like priests clutching their rosaries. Accordingly, before I began writing the review you are reading now, I considered only writing about the women artists included in the show, as a sign of solidarity with this exemplary feminist exhibition—but then I couldn’t bear to ignore a certain Bavarian apple painter, nor a certain LA art-world dropout, nor others. In any case, despite the attention fostered by both Christov-Bakargiev herself and her critics on her vaunted interest in the nonhuman world, what I found most startling about Documenta 13 was how entirely human it was, and how engaged with the world that we (joyfully, sorrowfully, weirdly) inhabit. If that sounds lamely human-centric and passé, so be it. It’s a deeply intelligent, stringent, surprising, and entirely committed (yes, that word again) showing of the potentiality of private lives accorded the most public of stages.
Quinn Latimer is an American poet and critic based in Basel, Switzerland. She is a regular contributor to Artforum and frieze, and her poetry has appeared in Boston Review, The Last Magazine, The Paris Review, and elsewhere. She was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize and her first book, titled Rumored Animals, was published in February 2012.
1Kunsthalle Fridericianum Rotunda, Kassel.
2Lee Miller in Hitler’s bath, Munich, 1945.
3Hannah Ryggen, Documenta 13.
4Korbinian Aigner “Apples,” 1912–1960s.
5Llyn Foulkes performance, Documenta 13.
6Omer Fast, Continuity, 2012.
7Joan Jonas, Reanimation (In a Meadow), 2010–12.
8Thea Djordjadze, As sagas sa, 2012.
9Etel Adnan “Utitled,” 1959–2010.
10Charlotte Salomon “Leben? Oder Theater? Ein Singspiel (Life? or Theater? A Play with Music),” 1941–42.
- 1Kunsthalle Fridericianum Rotunda, Kassel. Photo by Filipa Ramos.
- 2Lee Miller in Hitler’s bath, Munich, 1945. Copyright, Lee Miller Archive, East Sussex.
- 3Hannah Ryggen, Documenta 13. Courtesy of Documenta 13. Photo by Roman März.
- 4Korbinian Aigner “Apples,” 1912–1960s. 372 drawings, gouache and pencil or watercolor and colored pencil on cardboard, each 12 cm x 15.5 cm. Courtesy of Historisches Archiv der Technischen Universität München. Photo by Mariana Silva.
- 5Llyn Foulkes performance, Documenta 13.
- 6Omer Fast, Continuity, 2012. Stills from digital film, color, sound. 40 minutes. Courtesy of Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary, Austria.
- 7Joan Jonas, Reanimation (In a Meadow), 2010–12. With excerpts from Melancholia, 2004, Disturbances, 1973, The Shape, the Scent, the Feel of Things, 2004; and text from Under the Glacier by Halldor Laxness. Sound arranged by Joan Jonas. Mixed media (wooden house, video, sound, garden), dimensions variable. Commissioned and produced by Documenta 13 with the support of ArtVest Ltd.; video production United States Artists Fellowship. Courtesy of Wilkinson Gallery, London and Yvon Lambert, Paris. Photo by Mariana Silva.
- 8Thea Djordjadze, As sagas sa, 2012. Site-specific sculpture in greenhouse, mixed media. Commissioned and produced by Documenta 13 with support by Aloys. F. Dornbracht GmbH & Co KG, Iserlohn. Courtesy Sprüth Magers Berlin / London, Galerie Michy Schubert, Berlin; and Kaufmann Repetto, Milan. Photo by Mariana Silva.
- 9Etel Adnan “Utitled,” 1959–2010. 38 untitled paintings, oil on canvas, dimensions variable. Commissioned by Documenta 13 with the support of Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Beirut – Hamburg. Courtesy of Documenta 13 and Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Beirut – Hamburg. Photo by Anders Sune Berg.
- 10Charlotte Salomon “Leben? Oder Theater? Ein Singspiel (Life? or Theater? A Play with Music),” 1941–42. Gouaches, each 32.5 cm x 25 cm or 25 x 32.5 cm. From the Collection of the Jewish Historical Museum, Amsterdam. Courtesy of the Charlotte Salomon Foundation and Documenta 13. Photo by Roman März.
by Filipa Ramos
June 7, 2012
Postcards from Kassel
Postcard 1: The Format
Dear reader, I hope these lines find you well, wherever you are right now. I have decided to address you through postcards, as to remain on Documenta 13’s wavelength. In fact, those who have followed the development of this Documenta may have noticed that the format of the letter was, from an early stage, the preferred means of communication. It was used during the preparation of the show, to give insight into the working processes and to outline some key issues of the exhibition (signed by the Artistic Director, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev and originally distributed as Letter to a friend, it was subsequently published as Number 003 in the series: Documenta 13: 100 Notes – 100 Thoughts).
Now, here in Kassel, the total bareness of the first rooms of the canonical core, the Kunsthalle Fridericianum, is broken by the display of Kai Althoff’s letter to Christov-Bakargiev explaining his decision not to take part in the exhibition (“life” was more important)—although a work of Althoff’s is, despite this, still featured in the Rotunda. In the same building, on the first floor, visitors are presented with two walls covered with letters from official organizations that once more address the Artistic Director, this time to answer her proposal of nominating the earth’s atmosphere for UNESCO’s World Heritage List (a project of the American artist Amy Balkin). The epic, yet failed, attempt to transport El Chaco meteorite to Kassel, undertaken by the Argentinean duo Guillermo Faivovich and Nicolás Goldberg, is also widely documented by various exchanges. Then, we must not forget the 16 (sixteen!) pages of the press release, that, even if it is presented as an essay, begins: “The dance was very frenetic, lively, rattling, clanging, rolling, contorted, and lasted for a long time.”
Postcard 2: The Dance
It seems somehow problematic to make reference to the exhibition-making process, something that usually stays forever behind closed doors to the visitor. Despite this, what seems to have remained from that energetic rave is the incessant, hectic, incontrollable, and almost perverse character of the whole project. Beyond the exhibition sites, there are endless things to see, to experiment, to reflect upon. So many stages, micro- and macro-museum-like environments, archives, usual and unusual locations, and so many formats, states of mind, hopes, dreams, situations. Not even Catherine David’s 1997 Documenta 10—which accompanied a world quickly changing with transformations in global communication systems—seemed to have such an intense program of events. For example, on the opening day, at exactly the same time, one was faced with the choice of going to Raimundas Malašauskas’s Hypnotic Show at the Karlsaue Park, or heading to the Kaskade Cinema to assist in Jérôme Bel’s Disabled Theatre, or to see Tarek Atoui’s Metastable Circuit 1 at the Orangerie, to follow Rossella Biscotti’s Trial at the Neue Galerie,or to be at the Hauptbahnhof North Wing to see Michael Portnoy’s 27 Gnosis. Choice is the keyword for such an overloaded menu. Still, in the train station, Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller lead you to meander in a mesmerizing time-overlapping experience that updates the artist’s famous walks with the introduction of image-based documentation. Moving deeper into the north wing of the train station, one happens upon an installation in a house by Haris Epaminonda and Daniel Gustav Cramer offering up an equally inebriating experience through arrangements of images, texts, letters, and found objects, mostly from domestic contexts, combined with multiple projections in a chiaroscuro labyrinth of rooms. This is surely one of Epaminonda’s most complex projects up until now, and it presents itself as one of the many museum-like configurations to be seen in Kassel.
Postcard 3: The Museums
If The Book of Books is the title of the main catalogue of the exhibition, then “The Museum of Museums” should, perhaps, title the dense and tight Rotunda area that surprisingly appears to the visitor after the perplexity felt by crossing the naked entry rooms of the Fridericianum. Before getting there, Ryan Gander’s breeze, I Need Some Meaning I Can Memorise (The Invisible Pull) (2012)—a light wind that caresses one’s skin and hair—andCeal Floyer’s audio piece, a melodious promise, repeated to exhaustion, of “So I’ll just keep on… till I get it right” (‘Til I Get It Right, 2005), hail the most attentive spectators.
The emotive, yet dry conceptualism, as introductory praise for retreat and delicacy, is suddenly broken by the paraphernalia announced behind the glass wrapping of the Rotunda. Here is the brain of the show, which assumes a clear anthropological, variegated configuration. The Rotunda presents a collection of inputs, stimuli, and background references, ranging, for example, from Giorgio Morandi’s six marvelous still life paintings to the minute Bronze Age, female stone statuettes from Central Asia (“Bactrian princesses”) and to the dimly illuminated cabinet of Man Ray’s objects and images, such as a series of his paradoxical metronomes Indestructible Objects (or Object to Be Destroyed) from the 1920s.
Thought and form, hand and brain, history and time, politics and pleasure, research and improvisation: all of these comprised the gigantic organism that is this Documenta 13, and largely celebrated by the large amount of micro-museums, from Pedro Reyes’s Museum of Hypothetical Lifetimes (2011), an ode to human nature and social structure, to Kader Attia’s The Repair from Occident to Extra-Occidental Cultures (2012)—a horrifying yet astonishing research project on the impact and effects of francophone colonialism; to Michael Rakowitz’s cabinets of destroyed or lost books, and many, many others.
I feel I should send you more postcards, dear reader, from the Karlsaue Park, where a profusion of huts and other structures punctuate the green; from the Orangerie, the Neue Galerie or from the many non-conventional venues. But the show has just begun, and the offer of events and artworks is so extensive and overwhelming that I dare not cause you any anxiety for all that could be seen. Just leave the screen, and join me, here or elsewhere, for this ambitious world of worlds.
FILIPA RAMOS is an independent writer and a sporadic curator based in London and Milan. In the past she worked as Joseph Kosuth’s Studio Manager. Currently she is Associate Editor of Manifesta Journal. She teaches History of Contemporary Art at the Accademia di Brera, Milan and at IUAV/University of Venice. She is the co-author of the book Lost and Found – Crisis of Memory in Contemporary Art (2009).
1Kunsthalle Fridericianum, Kassel.
2Kai Althoff’s letter to Documenta 13 Artistic Director, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev.
3Selection of 100 Notes – 100 Thoughts, Documenta 13.
4UNESCO’s response to Documenta 13’s Artistic Director Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev’s proposal for the earth’s atmosphere to be added to the world heritage list, Kunsthalle Fridericianum, Kassel.
5Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, Hauptbahnhof, Kassel.
6Haris Epaminonda and Daniel Gustav Cramer, The End Of The Summer, 2012.
7Kunsthalle Fridericianum Rotunda, Kassel.
8Kader Attia, The Repair From Occident To Extra-Occidental Cultures, 2012.
9Michael Rakowitz, Kunsthalle Fridericianum, Kassel.
- 1Kunsthalle Fridericianum, Kassel. Photo by Nils Klinger. Courtesy of Documenta 13.
- 2Kai Althoff’s letter to Documenta 13 Artistic Director, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, Kunsthalle Fridericianum, Kassel. Photo by Filipa Ramos.
- 3Selection of 100 Notes – 100 Thoughts, Documenta 13.
- 4UNESCO’s response to Documenta 13’s Artistic Director Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev’s proposal for the earth’s atmosphere to be added to the world heritage list, Kunsthalle Fridericianum, Kassel. Photo by Filipa Ramos.
- 5Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, Hauptbahnhof, Kassel. Photo by Filipa Ramos.
- 6Haris Epaminonda and Daniel Gustav Cramer, The End Of The Summer, 2012. Mixed media, dimensions variable. Courtesy of Rodeo, Istanbul and Boltelang, Zurich. Photo by Filipa Ramos.
- 7Kunsthalle Fridericianum Rotunda, Kassel. Photo by Filipa Ramos.
- 8Kader Attia, The Repair From Occident To Extra-Occidental Cultures, 2012. Slide show projection, genuine artifacts from Africa, video films, vitrines, artifacts from Africa and Europe, medical and military elements from World War I, life-size sculptures in wood and marble, plinths, dimensions variable. Courtesy of Galleria Continua, San Gimignano/Beijing/Le Moulin, Galerie Christian Nagel, Berlin/Cologne/Antwerp, and Galerie Krinzinger, Vienna. Photo by Nils Klinger.
- 9Michael Rakowitz, Kunsthalle Fridericianum, Kassel.
June 10, 2012
Remains, residues, remnants, repairs, relics. The 13th edition of Documenta, curated by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, inhabits a strange temporality. The exhibition includes little limestone figurines, the “Bactrian princesses,” the remnants of a civilization long gone (Central Asia, ca. 2000 B.C.); deformed artifacts from the Beirut National Museum, damaged during the Lebanese Civil War; empty chrysalides (Kristina Buch’s The Lover, 2012); a handful of bottles that appear in Giorgio Morandi’s paintings, some of which the artist also painted over; scraps taken from the site in Afghanistan where the Bamiyan Buddhas once stood, shown together with salvages from the 1941 Allied bombings, a fragment of a meteorite which hit Earth in 1954, and burnt books reconstituted in stone (Michael Rakowitz’s What Dust Will Rise, 2012); photographs of craters, or the “bomb ponds,” which resulted from the American bombardments of Cambodia during the Vietnam war (Vandy Rattana’s Takeo, 2009); a video installation juxtaposing the reconstructed Fridericianum in Kassel to the razed Dar ul-Aman palace in Kabul (Mariam Ghani’s A Brief History of Collapses, 2011–2012); the photographs of Lee Miller bathing in the Führer’s bathtub the same day he committed suicide in his Berlin bunker (Lee Miller in the Bathtub of Hitler’s Apartment in Munich, 1945, Lee Miller and David E. Scherman); a man-made crater populated by aberrant beings (Pierre Huyghe’s Untilled, 2011–2012); an enormous pile of industrial debris qua sculpture (Lara Favaretto’s Momentary Monument IV, 2012).
Obvious historical precedents to this Documenta can be found in Arte Povera, with its obsolescence of the tradition of primary structures and geometric abstraction that constituted the formal lexicon of modern art from Constructivism to Minimalism. Yet though obsessively fixated on debris, ruins, and remnants, the exhibition bears no trace of nostalgia, nor does it project an idealized version of the past. And though excessively preoccupied with objects that have fallen through the crevices of history, the exhibition avoids the structure of a historical framework. The abundant interest in craft does not signal a stand against alienation, nor a romantic sense of inwardness. Documenta is neither about animism, nor fetishism, and, notwithstanding the heavy presence of conceptual artists, the show is sensory oriented, anti-conceptual even. Probably unprecedented in both dimension and extension, the exhibition, paradoxically, signals a quaint, contracting world.
What is thus the psychology of Documenta? Upon exiting the Fridericianum, the first and last piece encountered—Ryan Gander’s gimmicky I Need Some Meaning I Can Memorize (2012)—acquires an unwarranted tone, as I fantasize the light breeze of the storm Walter Benjamin describes as blowing the “angel of history,” whose gaze is fixed on the past, towards a future to which his back is turned. “Where we see the appearance of a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe, which unceasingly piles rubble on top of rubble and hurls it before his feet.”
Placing itself neither within cultural singularity nor within natural necessity, this Documenta neither discriminates between epochs or politics, nor does it discriminate between natural or man-made disasters. Fukushima and the Allied bombings, the war in Afghanistan and meteorite impacts are all part of the same continuous calamity. What we call history appears as an endlessly repeating feedback loop, in an enclosed space surrounded and sealed by a succession of colonial powers. It is in the interstices of such a space that the exhibition dwells—as it is in the interstices of such a space that vast swaths of the world’s population subsist, like the pre-Hispanic community around Lake Chalco in Mexico City, whose plight Maria Thereza Alves’s project addresses, or the seafarers around the Horn of Africa, trading on the margins of free-trade (CAMP’s The Boat Modes, 2009–2012).
The non-occidental “other” is, here, a co-constituted, dialectical other—like in Kader Attia’s The Repair from Occident to Extra-Occidental Cultures (2012)—neither African enough, nor European enough. Caught in between cultural narratives, and in the monotone voice of the heavily sedated, this “other” tell us: “He used to believe that sacrificing animals would please the gods, [and] now he understands his actions were reprehensible” (Javier Tellez’s Artaud’s Cave, 2012).
Resistance, however, though a leitmotif of the exhibition, only appears as either personal or parochial. One finds fair-trade biological kiosks and profuse mystification of solitary defiance, but the sense of universalism present in Marxism or in the traditional left is blatantly absent. The figures of the madman, the reformatory girl, the traumatized soldier, the persecuted keep recurring but the only solace the exhibition can provide takes the form of Anger Workshops (Stuart Ringholt, 2008) amongst other therapeutic/recreational proposals, e.g. by Pedro Reyes, Paul Ryan, and Brian Jungen. In what constitutes a widespread withdrawal from the tradition of critique, hardly any artists scrutinize language and signification; though Jimmie Durham’s The History of Europe (2011) or Roman Ondák’s Observations (1995–2011) provide two keen examples to the contrary. Also, very few projects envisage the future as something other than a reiteration of the present or conceptualize alternatives, such as Julieta Aranda and Anton Vidokle’s Time/Bank (2009–ongoing)—which, within this context, embodies both the possibilities and the perils of a parochial economy—or Amy Balkin’s Public Smog (2004–ongoing), a legal challenge that attempts to put the earth’s atmosphere on the UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
If it were an animal—and the animal is definitively amongst the exhibition’s motifs— then Documenta would be best described by the oxymoron “urban wildlife,” a species neither wild nor domestic and created by the peculiar ecology of the refuse of civilization, an animal that burrows in sewers and scavenges leftovers. The exhibition creates a seamless transition between Lee Miller plundering the spoils of National Socialism (spraying herself with Eva Braun’s perfume or drying her body in an “AH” monogrammed towel) and the manifold fauna that has taken over the derelict grounds of Chernobyl and Fukushima. In a sense, we are all living amidst the ruins of Empire, in a world we neither own nor disown. And as the structures of the modern state wither, it seems that, as Nabokov put it, “the future is but the obsolete in reverse.”
This nature-culture hybrid can have dystopian, Lord of the Flies-like features—like the beehive head of Pierre Huyghe’s female statue surrounded by emaciated dogs. Yet it can also appear more benign, like Mariana Castillo Deball’s superimposition of objects encased in geological strata (Uncomfortable Objects, 2012). But maybe the key is to be found in the scientific projects, such as Alexander Tarakhovsky’s biomaterial multiplier, equating pathogens with the pre-subjective. Just as Korbinian Aigner created his strains of Korbinian apples, Tarakhovsky’s epigenetic project creates new strains of genetic expression. Whereas Hegel stated that art was no longer a proper vehicle for humanity’s comprehension of its own essence, this Documenta seems to state that humanity is no longer a proper vehicle for art’s comprehension of its own essence.
Ana Teixeira Pinto is a writer from Lisbon, Portugal, currently living in Berlin. She is finishing her PhD at Humboldt University, where she also lectures. She is a contributor to the art magazines Von-hundert and Mousse.
1Kristina Buch, The Lover, 2012.
2Michael Rakowitz, What Dust Will Rise, 2012.
3Vandy Rattana, Takeo, 2009.
4Mariam Ghani, A Brief History of Collapses, 2011-12.
5Pierre Huyghe, Untilled, 2011–2012.
6Maria Thereza Alves, The Return of a Lake ,2012.
7CAMP, The Boat Modes, 2009-2012.
8 Javier Tellez, Artaud’s Cave, 2012.
9Time/Bank (Julieta Aranda and Anton Vidokle), 2009–ongoing.
10Mariana Castillo Deball, Uncomfortable Objects, 2012.
- 1View of Kristina Buch, The Lover, 2012, Documenta 13, Kassel, 2012.
- 2View of Michael Rakowitz, What Dust Will Rise, 2012, Documenta 13, Kassel.
- 3Vandy Rattana, Takeo, 2009. Digital C-Print, 90 cm x 105 cm.
- 4Mariam Ghani, A Brief History of Collapses, 2011-12. Still from 2 channel video, 7.1 channel audio installation. Commissioned and produced by Documenta 13 with additional support provided by the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts.
- 5Pierre Huyghe, Untilled, 2011–2012. Alive entities and inanimate things, made and not made. Commissioned and produced by Documenta 13 with the support of Unterstutzung der Coleccion CIAC AC, Mexico; Foundation Louis Vuitton pour la creation, Paris; Ishikawa Collection, Okayama, Japan. Courtesy of Marian Goodman Gallery, New York – Paris; Esther Schipper, Berlin. Photo by Mariana Silva.
- 6Maria Thereza Alves, The Return of a Lake ,2012. Mixed media (materials: papier mâché, acrylic paint, wood, cardboard, metal, plastic, styrofoam, cloth, watercolor paint, 4C printouts, newspapers, lettering, plastic pipes and leather), dimensions variable. Commissioned and produced by Documenta 13. Courtesy of Galerie Michel Rein, Paris and Documenta 13. Photo by Anders Sune.
- 7CAMP, The Boat Modes, 2009-2012. Co-commissioned by Documenta 13 and Sharjah Art Foundation (SAF). Courtesy of Documenta 13. Photo by Mariana Silva.
- 8View of Javier Tellez, Artaud’s Cave, 2012, Documenta 13, Kassel, 2012. Courtesy of Documenta 13. Photo by Henrik Stromberg.
- 9View of Time/Bank (Julieta Aranda and Anton Vidokle), 2009–ongoing, Documenta 13, Kassel, 2012. Photo by Elena Gilbert.
- 10Mariana Castillo Deball, Uncomfortable Objects, 2012. Plaster, pigments, stones, shells, masks, fabric, glass, wood, clay, diverse objects mounted on a steel frame, 600 c, x 400 cm x 300 cm. Commissioned by Documenta 13 and produced with the support of Kunstgiesserei St. Gallen, Sitterwerk and Fondazione Edoardo Garrone, Genova. Courtesy of Wien Lukatsch, Berlin and pinksummer, Genova and Documenta 13. Photo by Roman März.
[spectre] A number (13) The dOCUMENTA, the hEGEMON
Sun, 03 Jun 2012 15:04:54 -0700
A number (13)
The dOCUMENTA, the hEGEMON
Despite the fact a Critical Art Ensemble tries hard to get in touch
with people’s hearts and minds on the spot, despite the fact the
TRA.FO ‘fights’ since years for a friendly, clean but un-cleared and
pro-(street-)people gardening-claim on the bourgeois protestant
churchyard where jerks, drunk and junkies meet, despite the fact
WochenKlausur had no other (better) 30.000,00 EUR-idea but
steelwork … pardon me! streetworkers for those subordinated
“subaltern”, despite the word “Competition is good for business” at
the Friedrichsplatz but “everyone for themselves” , despite the
fact VW loves to sponsor the Grossveranstaltung and Krauss-Maffei
Wegmann would adore it, despite the fact some Jakobs of the
dada13 were “based in Berlin” and took part in (if you like) the
Capital Gentrification Programme there and AND AND AND are
“commoning” (“Liebe Bewohnerinnen und Bewohner Kassels / Dear
Inhabitants of Kassel”) before or after Detroit or Buenos Aires (?)
and the local motley Living Without Armament Group fixated on
Panzer will be able to hand out home-baked Cookie Tanks under
this umbrella in Europe’s first theatre building in history, despite
the fact of approx. 12 million dependent on state transfer payments
in the FRG and June-September means no holiday at this point, despite
all the activist’s interconnectivities and the benefit for the town
(who’s town?), despite the hot summer drinks and the Nothern-Hesse
Hotel Occupy Movement and “Kabul could be Kassel”, despite
some want to be part of it plus the matter that 13 is the number
after 12 and before 14 and we are suspicious but not superstitious,
will this be bad luck when it’s in the end free riding little
rat-shops, cheap cheating copycat stores and temporary homes in
the dirty parts of the postwar and prewar inner “City” without any
right to the real city after such de-reconstruction, selling
non-profitcultural glitchè (Klitsche) stuff or fake residencies
without any subsidies overworking in self-exploitation?
What do we know?
And who is this omnious “we” anyway? Besides this ontological
questioning: As we know the Hegemon functions similar to a Block
(Gramsci). The block must not necessarily be a politicial party
(Gramsci’s erminology was camouflage paying attention to the censor)
but, embedded actor–network relations given, the great _it_ of the
Hegemon is based on this projection of identity and hallucinates
itself being able to incorporate any other smaller or weaker block
or at least to till the field and leave traces (“Beuys Stones”,
»Men Walking to the Sky« in several front gardens of Kassel suburbs)
and to spur the echos of former and new prosperity. This leading
walking to the sky is certainly not to be indentified with the
offspaces’s “Off”. At the end of the tube there is no Anti-Wall
Street Party heaven waiting, there is the spirit of a citizen of
honour waiting: August Bode (not Arnold Bode), the “ingenious
designer”. The first German tank in the so called World War I,
the “Kolossal Wagen”, was a job for Wegmann & Co. In other
words, any gap of social interaction in the district out there can
be filled with bullets of anti-voids. Such anti-void is common in
this town. Horrors of rememberances may be filled utterly with
objects of significance.
As the striving for leading the community indicates differences in
social class structure art takes the lead as mediator between
the classes like Polaris announces in a re-interpretation of the
fameous scene of reconciliation in _Metropolis_(Director: Fritz
Lang). The movie was celebrated by members of the local educated
class last (Bildungsbuerger) year — the look and feel of the FRG’s
socio-futuristic message which pleads for a paradox ignorance in
knowing, that Bildungsbuerger, the middle classes are aware of
economic inequality only they see just a “gap between rich and
poor”, that’s how assets are rephrased into social capital. A real
couch in terms. In strange concidence with the notorius Agenda 2010,
which is Germany’s austerity programme since 2004, a nearly complete
copy of _Metropolis_ has been found in Buenos Aires in 2010. TJing
this fact with the ideology of reconciliation the whole project can
be considered the rediscovery of class-compromise, a project
endangered middle classes like most. “Culture for all”
(Social Democrats) turns out to be the positivist slogan of the
ruling close to the “Artistic pragmatism” of Artur Žmijewski by
which the group in the middle between right an left helps itself
out. “The interest of the state becomes the interest of its
Biennials (…).” When the state succeeds to bind civil
society’s powers and buttom-up forms it (he or she?) wins in every
sector. And if the state succeeds to shape and sculpt social
contradictions into disarmed paradoxes it prevails … its rhythm
can take the shape of racist protest: “I can’t pay no doctor bill.
(but Whitey’s on the moon)”. So d’accord with Rosa Perutz,
the struggle is about “development of self-organised structures”
and not “spectacularisation” — nevertheless critiques on a
as-such-spectacularisation following the SI guarantees a global but
German career in the subsidised art-“world”.
Imagine beeing a PHD-student or post-graduate from Greece payed by
some XY-Archive or some ABC-mediale in Berlin (literally ) dealing
with a theory of money … what an academistical joke. But yet and
anyhow the “partaking”-argument Haben und Brauchen champions in
the capital is in fact begging but demonstrates ideas of a
re-socialisation in contrary to the existing agenda of the
administrations and shows an internalised state pateranlism: “(…)
the art market alone does not provide a sufficient economic basis
for the future life of contemporary art in Berlin. (…) the city
must join in taking responsibility for that arena’s [Berlin’s art,
whatever that is] economic requisites.” Shall this happen in
every city for every social field? And who defines this art on what
basis of criteria? Remember Hans Heinz Holz’s demand for criteria in
the documenta 5 catalogue. Is the relationship of aesthetical
overproduction and overpopulation understood? Are self-organised
structures better than the spectacle and if so why? Where does the
money for such responsibility come from?
One can find the call for “financial stimulus” in Frankfurt/Main,
Hamburg, Goettingen, Kassel etc. To word a word: A crisis finds its
victims who oppose sacrifices. “A ban on speculation” would mean to
halt normal capitalism in terms of private poperty, back to an old
false social compromise and the handshake of postwar-times, times of
prosperity and the beginning of the German classless society. These
organised want regulation and needs reflection getting »art-fare«.
Body & Brains: Bakers shall never exploit bakers
Cities like Berlin and Prague are full of these prosper tingings.
Berlin “has got 70.000 artists, am I the one who becomes the
70thsd-and-1?” As facebook became almost the modern-modern marketing
medium-tool for the self in the Post-Fordism of the global(ised)
cities vulnerables must “like” the mini-businesses of their “friends”
on penalty of social ruin. Talks about “abuse, corruption and
exploitation in the (…) world” — the “art world” — also ethics
like “artists should not exploit artists” deny a plain truth of the
Body & Brains as commodity but pursues apparently a New Deal for
cultural workers. To have and to need under current conditions is
to be and to produce against the needs. We appreciate this cry for
non-alienated work and living conditions but the criticial standpoint
of Haben und Brauchen accepts the make-up of marketing. It has to, as
long as even the smallest petit bourgeois grounds are not lost. And
they accept the NLP of corporative “Surfing Systems” for small
profit and subsistence and competence in concurrence and tempered
competition. Renting a space (white cube, gallery, playground) and
selling time is the consequence of the gulf in the cultural sector
in concrete terms. To work with this chasm supports the category of
culture itself and therefore the order. Is it only state driven
performances acquire another asset namely the critical art freed
from hard/real/true subsistence (artisanism), free (and neo-fine)
from that reason? Fuck Fucking Good Art. The ethics of subsidy not
only abnegates the existing border line market on the edge of art
markets and funds, it can not negate its own funding and must
suppress the sourcing of its sources in a blockout. All earnings for
academies, departments, associations and clubs originate firstly from
funds in the end funded by surplus (unpaid) work in the profit making
sectors. This is where the debating of topics of the beauty and
ugliness of money (discourses) requires a socket for the “operating
system” (compare footnote 23).
The POT of the “>top e.V.” by way of example and to make an
example is a fake money pot. The persons are running and running an
impossible space with and against the bigger event. Running in Kassel
a few days before the “d” offers insights: according to new official
poster campaign visitors must be blind and need quick response code
readers to see where the art is. According to an older but secondary
poster campaign by the municipality local culture is unseeable
too but everywhere and thus has to be branded, marked, signified in
alarm colours. Strike is not allowed (German Works Constitution Act
prohibits political strike anyhow, … if artists were unionsed). The
red and white stripes speak. The semiotics of the barrier claim a
culture zone, the reactionary T.A.Z. In the zone all is possible —
culturally. But the zone is no longer particular anymore. We don’t
write about museification of the public. When culture is everywhere
one doesn’t need any museum or barrier, the barrier became an abstract
sign, the museum became a factory or at least the non-democratic
refunder of the worker’s and service provider’s capitals only
legitimised by ruling networks. The Fridericianum, the negative
museum, is the perfect cast for this fatalistic theory of a
Without-any-Outside. It is the socket for the OS-Hardware.
Spectacularisation in the name of a power from above (underneath,
alongside, “in us”?) masked (?) with self-organised bottom-up
look-alike structures dares to attack this temple.
This spectacular Hegemon does no longer match Gramsci’s notion of
a position warfare in civil society, it’s fluid. As One of the first
public museums on the continent this building was representing the
classicistic enlightended Europe (1768/1769), the very model of
knowledge and literacy of the citoyen and the contrat social — it
now can be regarded as an eye and senses catching upgraded machine
that attracts attention for a new unification, for “a social relation
among people, mediated (…)” a …
POT = Point of Tale for the “Ecology of Culture”
DIY everywhere, self-organissation everywhere, spectacles criticizing
spectacularisation — the ubiquitous culture unseen but public
related, the European championship, the political football? The
mask though, see above and footnote 23 again, is Make-up, an
integrated persona and personification with nothing behind now
forced into activism entertaining you like any William. Spectacle
speaks as money speaks, it says: I am no spetaculum and you are no
speculator, this is everyday life. Adjust!
In her text “Ausser Controlling” (Outside of Controlling) Carmen
Moersch complains about bureaucratic life-forms. These are not
absolut as such by now but function like positive interventions or
Dazwischenkunft (In-Betweenness), as mediator for social
circumstances designers say. In 2007 at the documenta 12 Moersch
exposed a post-re-colonial verbal gesture by adressing Kassel
citzens with: “We are looking forward working with the
population” After September the culture as secured culture
telling this tale never came back again personally. The selfmade
space, any space is an im-possible space in terms of geo targeting a
prosper township with a 15,5 per cent Poverty Rate only[34 1/2].
The “Ecology of Spirit and Culture and the “image pollution”, both
proclaimed by Carolyn Christov-Nakargiev, tell distinction, order
and cleanliness in controlling via aesthetics. Pecunia non olet.
Still VW is as clearly a German undertaking as the Documenta is. Any
Europeanism has to be analysed towards a Germanism in Capitalism. For
a t-shirt: German-centric Policy = d13.
Collapse and Recover!
And if its still masks, is this visage of sustainability diversity
post-coloniality the unidentified character-mask of this non-concept-
conceptand face of the “I don’t know”? A non-totalitarian
approach of pretended indifference rolling back to closed
(Heiderggerian?) contexts? Who were those of a Kassel factory who
set a failed workpiece right into the documenta’s parcour and had to
face incorporation of the piece to the list of works like some Henry
Moore? What’s the difference of work and work here?
After Germany’s Renaissance from 1948 on the parole was Collapse and
Recover! At this point a reading of _The Wages of Destruction_
may help to explain how the Reich actually won the war by collapsing
the fiend and recovering yourself. Besides the traces of the so called
Second World War in the city of Kassel (the inner city was bombed and
destroyed by nearly 100 per cent!) the Documenta rebuilds since ages
the latter, the self of the Volk (and its Wagen) while — in Heidegger
style — breaking down all breaks with this circuit. Madonna’s devil
horn hand is a victory sign. Or for who may read sociological
“Das détournement ist laengst detourniert und Bestandteil der Massen-
Hochkultur, deren (politisierte) Produzentinnen, Freigesetzte und
Lohnarbeitslose, davon traeumen, eine Verbindung herstellen zu
koennen, zwischen ihrer “Arbeit” am Sozialen — die sie fuer eine
Poesie der Gesellschaftsgestaltung halten, ohne mit ihrem
kuratorischen, in-determiniert distinguierten “I don’t know” je die
Eigentumsverhaeltnisse anzutasten — und dem ganzen Rest, der fuer
sie die unerreichbare Wirklichkeit ist, die sie absaugen, innerhalb
derer sie ausgesaugt werden, zerr-finanziert aus den Fonds der (im
Sinne des Kapitals) produktiven Sektoren, welche ihnen voellig
fremd sind und daher um so mehr zur Projektionsflaeche ihrer
Unerfuelltheiten dienen, die auch deshalb unerfuellt sind, weil die
Lumpenkreativen spueren aber nicht weg- und wettmachen koennen, was
die Differenz zwischen ihrem Spiel auf Honorarbasis und der
wirklichen Umsetzung und Realisierung der spielerisch-produktiven,
herrenlosen nicht-anarchischen Produktivitaet ausmacht …”
(HAUPT STADT KULTUR FRONT)
When reproducing the matter within critique can be distunguished from
criticising the matter through its representation spectacle-spectacle
says: Be critical, I will filter. Let’s rock.
 Stephan Balkenhol. HNA, 9. Mai 2012. Druckausgabe / HNA Newspaper,
May 9, 2012. Printed Edition.
 Rumors say hotels are booked out in Kassel during summer.
 Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev (?).
 A beautiful line of conspiracy could even be found in Fritz
Rasp’s role in the movie: He’s reading the Metropolis Courier 13
while watching the boss’s son.
 “Trust your Angst” by http://perutz.copyriot.com. Žmijewski is
the anti-curator saving the arts as art who believes that simple
local non-independet solidarity is a solution to the economic
crisis: “If you have a kitchen constructed by you, where soup
or simple pasta is cooked thanks to donated food – precisely this
is an economical answer.” Occupy Amsterdam Does the Revolution
Need Revolutionaries, or Does It Need Artists as Well?” in:
_What can Art do for Real Politics?_. Camera Austria, 2012.
P. 41. The book _Art & Agenda: Political Art and Activism_ is
full of such naive “future forms of political discourse”.
 Gil Scott Heron, who one year before his death boycotted playing
Tel Aviv because of Israel’s apartheid. However is the boycott
of Israeli products that has to be justified as an act against
a state in war and the phantasies of changing politics by means
of cosumer-power widespread in specific stratums in civil society.
 1st ArtLeaks Working Assembly 2012.
 This was the title of a Kassler Kunstverein exhibition in the
late 1990ies, the ironic and therefore true handshake of esthetic
“operating systems” (art was willingly indentified with this term
in those days) with the established and art as unquestioned
authorized sector of the emerging new order of a post-coldwar
Mid Europe Society. With this strategy the “Art Club World” was
only stepping on the pathways of the Neue Mitte — a mask of
under-critical thinking and acting per reinventing that very
institutional plot, a ‘free’ neo-fine arts as a pre-form of
patronaged cultural anti-industries which balances the market
(in comparison to cultural industries) so well and helps to
preserve the cultural state or to be little more precise the
State of Culture (which has other tasks than the State of War
for instance … really?).
 “Ueberall Kultur (Culture Everywhere)”
 “‘The model of the Heterotopia as location (topos) in a field
or sector which is until now not fully occupied by the power
of the democratic state and its commando is paradoxically the
core content of the cultural agenda of the state.’
(Michel Foucault ?)”
From an unpublished script for a programme on aesthetical
production and (political) economy.
 “Mediated by images”. Guy Debord. _The Society of the Spectacle_,
theses 3 and 4. See: http://www.n0name.de/news/news137.txt
 Compare top e.V.’s Tagline-Rotator on the project webpage
(http://pot.top-ev.de.), it’s a database based WordPress Plugin
which randomly and content-hybridly selects selected (!) lines.
 Carmen Moersch. “Ausser Controlling. Kuenstlerinnen in der
Kunstvermittlung.” in: _Kulturvermittlung – zwischen kultureller
Bildung und Kulturmarketing — Eine Profession mit Zukunft_.
P. 217. Somewhere else (HNA. Newspaper, 2007?: “Wir freuen uns
darauf, mit der Bevoelkerung zusammenzuarbeiten” (Carmen Moersch).
[34 1/2] See “Suche nach regionalen Armutsquoten (Search for regional
Poverty Rates)” with the Armutsatlas (Poverty Atlas)
 A secure*d* culture can by no means be understood as _secure_
culture. It is uncertain, sieged by all what’s not culture.
 Carolyn Christov-Nakargiev in: HNA. Newspaper. “Volkswagen wird
Hauptsponsor der documenta 13 (Volkswagen becomes main sponsor
of the documenta 13)”, 13.04.2012. In 2007 it was Saab.
 Christov-Nakargiev, dOCUMENTA 13.
 Artur Zmijewski, 7. Berlin Biennale.
 The artist makes the art, art makes the artist.
 Adam Tooze. _ The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking
of the Nazi Economy._
Ali Emas/Matze Schmidt, Kassel June 3, 2012
SPECTRE list for media culture in Deep Europe
Info, archive and help:
››› Ms. Scharrer, please introduce yourself briefly and explain to us what you do for the Documenta.
My name is Eva Scharrer. I arrived in Kassel in April 2009, so I was the first to join the team on site. I started as the personal assistant to Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev. I’ve known her since I interned for her at PS1 Contemporary Art Center in New York, so more than ten years. Even though we didn’t work together, we kept in touch, and she followed my work as a freelance curator. On the day after she was called to the post, I received a phone call, asking if I would be interested in going to Kassel. Naturally, I couldn’t say no. Besides being a personal assistant, I also did a great deal of research. From the start, though, there was always the option that my job would change over time, and now I’m doing what I mainly did before I came to Kassel: writing. Prior to this, I was a freelance curator and critic, and now, as a dOCUMENTA (13) Agent, I am responsible for writing most of the texts for the guide book. The guide book contains the texts that explain the works of art to the public.
››› Are you the head of a team?
Not the head of a team. I work in the publications department, but am relatively autonomous. About half of all of the texts in this book stem from my hand. The others are distributed among different agents or people who are all part of the dOCUMENTA (13) team.
So no external authors are writing any texts about the artists?
No, although there are a few exceptions. Some of the artists have done some writing.
››› It would be important for us in general, if you would again explain the term “agent,” which is so central to the dOCUMENTA (13). How is it used? Why did Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev decide upon this term?
It has less to do with the concept of a secret agent, someone who acts in secrecy—although there is some of that involved—than with the concept of “agency,” meaning, the individual activity of someone authorized to act on another’s behalf. The agents contribute in various ways to the creation of the dOCUMENTA (13) and are involved to different degrees. In some cases, the collaboration is close and continuous, and others tend to be casual and sporadic. There’s Chus Martinez, who, as head of the department, is very deeply involved. She’s the only other Agent who moved to Kassel with her entire family, so that she could work on site. Then there are others who are deeply involved in certain projects within the dOCUMENTA (13). And then there is another group, including the artists and curators, who are doing something else somewhere else in the world, and bringing it here. In this way, the process of making the dOCUMENTA (13) stays organic and open to change.
››› So they’re traveling, or living in the cities where the artists also live?
Precisely. Based on their backgrounds, their knowledge, and their geographical locations, they’ve proposed some of the artists, and also deal with the artists to some degree.
››› That means the intensity of their involvement varies?
That’s why they are also not called curators. Not only because Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev entertains a certain skepticism toward the concept of the curator, but also because they are doing things very differently than they did at the Documenta 11, for instance, when there was a team of curators working right here in town.
››› How do the fourteen agents work together? Are there regular meetings or telephone conferences?
No, we don’t have those. Of course, there are meetings. We talk to each other, but there’s no fixed structure, because everyone has his or her own terrain and field of tasks. At the beginning, however, in September 2009, there was a trip where all of the Agents traveled by train from Turin to Kassel. That was after the conference that Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev organized at the Castello di Rivoli, to which all of the former documenta artistic directors were invited. During the train ride, and especially during the ensuing days in Kassel, there were very intense conversations and exchanges concerning the conception and sites for the dOCUMENTA (13).
››› In order to write the texts about the art, do you visit the artists, or do you gather the necessary information in other ways?
That also varies a great deal. I’ve known some of the artists for a long time and have already worked with them. Much of that also goes back to the time I spent in New York. Additionally, almost all of the artists come to Kassel for a site visit. When they’re in town, then naturally I try to take the opportunity to meet with him or her and talk about the work, if time permits. Unfortunately, that’s not always possible. In that case, I do the usual research on the Internet, in publications, and other materials. But there are also artists who are relatively new, or, in some instances, nothing has been written about them, or at least, nothing in English or German. Then I have to rely on the material I receive directly from the artist. Each artist submits a project proposal that contains a biography and information about the work that he or she plans to realize, but which is often still in the process of being made.
››› About how long are the individual texts on each artist?
In English, each text contains about 440 words. That is more than one page. I write them in English and then they’re translated. I try to write as much as I can about the work in general, as well as the work in progress. Every artist gets two pages of text and pictures in the guide book, and the English and German texts have to fit on one page.
››› And are there certain requirements that these texts have to fulfill? After all, they probably have to be written for a broad audience . . .
I go about it relatively intuitively. As a rule, a text is structured like this: one-third of it is about the work of the artist in general, then I discuss two or three important, older works; and then I introduce the work that has been done for the dOCUMENTA (13). Sometimes this requires so much space that I mainly concentrate on the project in the text. Sometimes, though, the work is still in an early phase, so that the content can only be described in a relatively open-ended sentence. And of course, it always depends on how much has already been said and written about an artist, how necessary it is to introduce him at all. Naturally, I try to make my texts comprehensible to a broad audience, as well as interesting to experts.
››› Does every artist arrive with a finished work of art? Isn’t a lot of it made here?
Almost all of the living artists are developing something new on site. Of course, that doesn’t exactly make it easy to write about them. In many cases the concept has already been so beautifully preconceived that it’s not necessary to see the work in order to understand what it’s about and to write about it. There are still a few that remain relatively vague. For many of them, the projects have changed over time. So there are some texts that I’ve already had to rewrite several times, even if they’ve already been edited, translated, and sometimes even typeset.
››› What do you like the best about your work?
Above all, I enjoy the contact with the artists. I learn a lot about the artists themselves. I like this incredible potential in the creative people around me: the team, the artists, the authors who write the Notebooks. You’re enveloped in a crowd of interesting people and ideas. It’s a unique experience that will probably not be repeated.
››› That sounds as if the teamwork is very smooth . . .
I must say, the teamwork is very good, and I am wildly happy about this team. The people in our little, somewhat sheltered department get along very well with each other. But I also feel at home with the curatorial and communications teams, and have made a lot of new friends everywhere. Even though the stress and pressure has increased a great deal in the meanwhile, it’s quite a fantastic team and we support each other.
››› How often do you have meetings with the artistic director? Or is that not so important?
It depends entirely on the department. After all, we all sit together in a relatively small space, and I’m probably the kind of person who can work most independently, anyway. It’s not really necessary to meet formally. In contrast, other departments meet several times a week; otherwise, it’s easy to lose sight of the forest for the trees, when a project is so complex, and is constantly changing and expanding.
››› Are there always artists in Kassel? At the moment, for instance?
Most of the time one or more is in town. At the moment, at least one artist is definitely here. Some artists come several times, in order to work on their projects. Right at the start there were times when there were up to twenty artists here at the same time.
››› Besides the Documenta, what else is there in Kassel that you find interesting? Have you discovered any favorite spots?
Yes, certainly. For instance, I like the Aue very much and spend as much time there as I can manage.
››› Is that a good retreat, a place to go to think or relax in Documenta-free times?
When the weather is good, definitely. I’ve been in Kassel for a relatively long time already. Soon it’ll be three years. In the meantime, I’ve also found friends outside of the Documenta and even have a little bit of a social life, which was naturally very difficult when I first arrived here and didn’t know anyone. In Kassel, I started riding and doing yoga. When you have this kind of a job, it’s important to get a little physical exercise. Meanwhile, though, it’s starting to become very difficult to find the time for that.
››› So that means that you’re about to embark upon the hardest phase?
The hardest phase . . . I think we’re all right in the middle of it now. Things will calm down a little bit for our team toward the end of March, because right now, we’re in the midst of meeting all of the publication deadlines. Of course, then we’ll have the revisions. In general, though, it’s a very intense time for everyone; it’s been like that from the beginning, and that probably won’t change very rapidly, either.
››› You’ll soon be done with writing. What will you spend the next few months doing?
There is certainly still quite a lot to do. When the publications are done, then we turn to the labels and wall texts. I’m also doing some short video interviews with the artists for the website, and the “dMAPS” for the dOCUMENTA (13) app. I’m also a tutor for the “Worldly Companions,” and will also be leading some tours around town. In any case, I will stay in Kassel while the Documenta is running.
››› Are you looking forward to the time when the exhibition is finally up and running?
Absolutely. It’s a unique experience, being involved with a project like this from beginning to end. I’ve never done that before. Even though I attended the last two Documentas, I was only there for two days during the opening week. So I haven’t yet experienced the legendary effect that you always hear about—how the Documenta changes Kassel, and the city suddenly blossoms and becomes cosmopolitan. Many artists will be in Kassel for longer periods of time, because there are lots of active projects for which the artists are there on site.
››› Are you already planning for the time after the Documenta?
Nothing specific right now. I come from the freelance world and there is the chance to go back to that. Over time, though, that life can be quite stressful. Some continuity—knowing where and how you’ll live in the following years—would also be nice. At any rate, after the dOCUMENTA (13), I’m going to have to reorient myself completely.
››› But will you be open to international assignments?
interview by Nicole Büsing and Heiko Klaas
Allowing Loose Ends To Linger: dOCUMENTA(13)
June 9 to September 16, 2012
Goshka Macuga, Of what is, that it is; of what is not, that it is not 1, 2012. Photographic installation at Kunsthalle Fridericianum, Kassel. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Rüdiger Schöttle, Munich.
On June 6, the three-day preview of dOCUMENTA (13) officially began with an afternoon press conference with artistic director Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev and an evening reception at Kassel’s city hall. The world’s largest contemporary art marathon, the event will run for 100 days total, through September 16. In contrast to its humble post-war beginnings, recent editions have transformed Documenta, which takes place every five years, into a multi-million-dollar affair that is expected to exceed a million visitors this year.
dOCUMENTA (13) has a wider grasp on the city than any of its predecessors. In addition to the usual installations in such local museums as the Fridericianum, Ottoneum, Orangerie, Documenta-Halle and Neue Galerie, artworks are also shown in scattered pavilions in the Karlsaue (the old royal city park), the old train station, a hospital and various commercial buildings. dOCUMENTA (13) also embraces off-off sites in Kabul. In Kassel, over twenty venues showcase more than 160 artists, many of whom specifically created works for the occasion. To view this grand art discourse also means to explore Kassel and its rich historic make-up.
Kassel is indeed a place proud of its cultural heritage. The Fridericianum is the first public museum on the continent, established in 1779, and the Brothers Grimm lived and collected most of their fairy tales here in the early 19th Century. But Kassel has also been the site of utter destruction. A center of NaziGermany’swar production,the city was a prime target forAllied bombing attacks and in 1943 ninety percent of its 1000-year-old center was erased. The establishment of Documenta in 1955 by artist and educator Arnold Bode marked an attempt to re-introduce culture.
This history all makes Kassel a particularly suitable venue for presenting art that looks at both the past and the future. In fact, various editions of Documenta have focused on cycles of creation, destruction and renewal. dOCUMENTA (13) is no different in this respect. It is the dominant theme introduced by Christov-Bakargiev, former chief curator at P.S. 1 in New York and director at Castello di Rivoli in Turin.
Rather than providing a curatorial statement, Christov-Bakargiev offered a storytelling “Letter to a Friend.” Part-travel diary, part-press release, her letter ponders the general importance of questions over answers. Her exhibition is also a multi-faceted, at times fragmented, and yet astonishingly cohesive meditation on how human tragedies can inspire individual mythologies that can then offer a wide discussion forum. It is a curatorial outlook that pays homage to the beloved Documenta director of the past, Harald Szeemann, who spoke of “individual mythologies” as a motif for his Documenta 5 in 1972. To Christov-Bakargiev as to Szeeman before her, it is important to allow for loose ends to linger.
The essence of this concept is well illustrated at dOCUMENTA (13) by the work of German-Jewish artist Charlotte Salomon (1917-43), examples of which are installed on the upper floor of the Fridericianum. While hiding from the Nazis and before being murdered in Auschwitz at age twenty-six and five months pregnant, Salomon created her epic “Life? or Theater?”, a body of work comprised of 769 gouaches. Layered with text and with musical and cinematic references, her drawings manifest as a personalized code. They meld political history with the artist’s personal memory and intimate thoughts. Though they express a sole individual’s tragic life, they have become a universally applicable song of suffering.
Installation of tapestries from the 1950s by Hannah Ryggen at the Kunsthalle Fridericianum, Kassel. Photo: Photo: Roman März
Christov-Bakargiev does not shy away from including many works that traditionally would have been dismissed as craft, such as ceramics and tapestries. The rotunda of the Fridericianum, which she has described as the “brain” of the exhibition and which for many visitors is the first space to visit, offers an eclectic and well-integrated mix. A group of still life paintings by Giorgio Morandi and sculptures by Giuseppe Penone, for example, are contextualized with objects damaged during the Lebanese Civil War and ceramics by Juana Marta Rodas and her daughter Julia Isidrez, two ceramicists who live in a small village located in the countryside of Paraguay. One floor up, tapestries by Swedish artist Hannah Ryggen (1894-1970) radically comment on the political climate and social conflicts of her time. Her works from the 1930s, which tell of the rise of fascism in Europe, are part historic document and part general warning of society’s apathy.
Ryggen’s work finds an interesting counterpart in a large tapestry by contemporary Polish artist Goshka Macuga. Of what is, that it is; of what is not, that it is not 1” is based on a digital collage in which groups of people find themselves snowed-in amidst the ruins of a grand building. A strong sense of alienation colors the overall mood. None of the people are looking at each other or at the two obvious disturbances: the destroyed building and a threatening, larger-than-life snake. Woven and rendered in black, white, and shades of gray, Macuga’s collaged scene seems to stand particularly still. Disassociation has become timeless and is therebyeven more oppressing.
Macuga’s tapestry sits well with Geoffrey Farmer’s monumental sculpture “Leaves of Grass”, which consists of thousands of cutout photographs from Life Magazine, images that span Life’s five decades (1935-1985), providing snapshots of what defined many Americans’ view of the world during that time. Displayed like finger puppets on thin wooden sticks and arranged in close proximity like a lush, overflowing bouquet, these political and pop-cultural images take on a sense of playfulness that liberates them from their traditional context and translates as a re-organization/re-thinking of history.
Two of the least predictable installations can be found in the Orangerie, Kassel’s Museumfor Astronomy andScience. A main room features the technical engineer Konrad Zuse, who in 1936 constructed a “mechanical brain” in his parents’ apartment. His discoveries led to the invention of the computer, but he also created fine but hardly original paintings that evoke the architectural abstractions of Lyonel Feininger, an artist he admired. Simultaneously displayed, Zuse’s watercolors, paintings and machines pose the question that it might in fact be the imagination that is art rather than particular objects. Zuse’s true creativity unfolded when rethinking arithmetical concepts and in regards to his machines which is what really makes him an artist.
Nearby, an exhibition of sound machines, notebooks, records, and video clips of performances by Erkki Kurenniemi ponders this conundrum further. The Finnish mathematician, nuclear physicist and expert in digital technology was also a pioneer of electronic music. The installation centers on his Electronic Music Studio, which he had established in the Department of Musicology at Helsinki University in 1961-62. It served as an experimental laboratory of sorts, in which electronic sounds formulated a new language. Neither Zuse nor Kurenniemi would have viewed themselves as artists in the traditional sense. However, they both were innovators who opened paths on which many have traveled since. If the ability to open doors and point towards undiscovered territory is at art’s core how can we draw the line in Zuse’s and Kurenniemi’s case?
Much of dOCUMNTA (13) navigates in similar vein between past and present innovations, attempts at re-invention, and above all questioning our possibly antiquated understanding of art and artists.
One treasure is to be found at the core of Mark Dion’s project at the Ottoneum, Kassel’s Natural History Museum. Dion has build an elegant structure that houses the Schildbach Xylotheque, a wood library that is part of the museum’s permanent collection. It was crafted by Carl Schildbach between 1771 and 1779 and consists of 530 books made from and describing 441 local trees. These books, which are actually boxes, are made from the trees they specify. Their spines are shaped through pieces of bark while inside each box are three-dimensional representations of the tree’s life cycle composed of dried plant parts and wax replicas. Again, Schildbach would not have viewed his work as art but science. However, Dion’s structure has turned the library into the wunderkabinett that it is
Christov-Bakargiev has stated that dOCUMNETA (13) is not about destruction but healing. It is an exhibition that implies that art can be the medicine that can change us by altering our perception of the world. Because of its sheer size and international reach, dOCUMNETA (13) might be misunderstood as an assessment of current tendencies, styles and aesthetics. The works assembled certainly reflect many of the international political and social conflicts that have shaped recent consciousness, but this is only one aspect. In many ways, dOCUMNETA (13) is a love letter to the artistic mind, the inspired soul and the undefeated spirit.
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II. documenta, 1959, installation view with works by Julio González. Bequest of Arnold Bode. Courtesy: documenta Archiv, Kassel
An Image / Un’immagine: Notes Towards dOCUMENTA (13)
This is an image that I found while hunting through the documenta archives. We see a woman on the left looking at a piece of sculpture, another sculpture on the same metal shelf, and a man on the right who may or may not be looking at the sculpture. The woman is barefoot. We do not know who she is, we do not know who he is. The scene reminds me of the film Far from Heaven, made in 2002. The photo was taken in 1959 by an unknown photographer.Many events occurred in 1959. World events and the space race intertwined in the media. On January 1, Fulgencio Batista fled Havana, Cuba, when the forces of Fidel Castro advanced. On January 3, Alaska was admitted as the 49th state of America. On January 4, rebel troops led by Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos entered the city of Havana. On the same day, in Léopoldville, 42 people were killed during food fights between police and participants in a meeting of the Abako party.
On January 8, Charles de Gaulle was inaugurated as the first president of the French Fifth Republic. On January 29, Walt Disney released his 16th animated film, Sleeping Beauty. On February 1, a referendum in Switzerland denied women the vote. February 6 at Cape Canaveral, Florida, was the first successful test firing of the Titan intercontinental ballistic missile. On March 9, the Barbie doll debuted. On March 18, American President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a bill allowing for Hawaiian statehood. On April 9, NASA announced its selection of seven military pilots to become the first U.S. astronauts. On June 3, Singapore became a self-governing crown colony of Britain with Lee Kuan Yew as prime minister.
On June 9, a few days before this photograph was taken, the USS George Washington was launched as the first submarine to carry ballistic missiles. On July 28, Alfred Hitchcock’s film North by Northwest was released.
On July 11, 1959, the exhibition pictured in this photograph opened. It was the second documenta exhibition. Also on July 11, Pan Am pilots sighted UFOs above the Pacific Ocean.
The sculptures in this picture are by Julio González. Documenta II was focused on Art After 1945, and it is interesting to note that González had died in 1942. Therefore, these works by him were historical at the time. Indeed, the exhibition Art After 1945 included works by several artists of the earlier part of the 20th century. It is central to understand Art After 1945 as including art then, that was from the past.
González is an extremely interesting sculptor. He was from Barcelona, in Catalonia. Around 1900 he went to Paris the first time and met Pablo Picasso. For some mysterious reason, they later lost track of one another and were no longer friends for many years, until 1928. González was among the first artists to use the technique of welding, and he actually taught Picasso how to weld. People speak about his work as “drawing in space.” When his brother died in 1908, he fell into a deep emotional crisis and lived mostly in seclusion during the following years, spending time with Picasso and also with Constantin Brancusi, for whom he worked as an assistant. In those years he met Gertrude Stein and other people who were in the circuit of her salon. He had begun painting but gradually abandoned it and focused on using his blacksmithing skills; he came from a family of goldsmiths. He moved from bronze to welding iron. When oxy-acetylene became scarce during the war, he was unable to continue his sculptural work and was left with drawing and modeling, using Plasticine and gypsum.
In this photo the floor looks dirty, rough. The woman’s movements are odd. She seems as though she’s moving sideways, to the left, like she is about to stop and turn in front of the sculpture. Her weight has shifted to her left foot, creating a different form of linearity. Is this change of heart because the man has stopped looking at her and she has shifted her attention to the work, almost as if the work represents a magnetic force that could distance her from the man, breaking eye contact with him? The hand in front of her mouth is indicative of focused attention, but also perplexity, or perhaps surprise. What might have surprised her?
This picture is interesting in that there is a triangulation that leads to the next scene, in which the two people talk about the artwork. González’s work is a device that makes this meeting, this conversation, happen. The other sculpture looks like a face, a countenance, and it is almost in the center of the photo, but slightly off to the right. It seems mute, as if the use of figuration was pointless, ineffective. No one looks at this second sculpture, and therefore it is almost indifferent, passive. A third piece of sculpture is hidden behind the man. Only part of it can be seen, like a tail or a hidden organic element. With his hands behind his back, the man strolls like a flâneur rather than standing in front of the work. He is in transit, the woman stationary.
The photo is reminiscent of Chris Marker’s film La jetée (1962), in which the protagonist only manages to focus his attention inside the museum and uses an image to travel back in time. According to the story, there has been a Third World War. The few that have survived the catastrophe live in subterranean passages and cellars below the city. A few scientists decide to carry out experiments to send some people back in time, perhaps in the hope of finding a way to save the survivors. After several attempts, they send back a man who has a very strong childhood memory of seeing a man assassinated at Orly airport. It was himself travelling back in time from the future. On one of these trips he meets a woman, probably the child’s mother, his mother, who seems to guide him on his journey. The meeting takes place in the museum.
The long table, the plinth, provides a system for display. It is probably made of metal using a concept by Arnold Bode. At this stage the objects appear to refer to the “transitional object” or perhaps they act as “transitional objects.” As those objects to which a child attributes psychological content, that defend him or her from the anxiety of absence by marking the transition between a symbiotic identity with the mother and an autonomous identity without her. It is a special object that the child will not easily relinquish. Sometimes an event occurs when the object is thrown away or forgotten, and this loss can be traumatic.
Donald Winnicott, in his work with psychologically disturbed children and their mothers in the 1970s, developed many influential theoretical concepts. Central to understanding his view of object relations and the ideal psychotherapeutic holding environment are the notions of subjective omnipotence, objective reality, the transitional object, and the transitional experience. According to Winnicott, these stages of a person’s development span vastly beyond infancy and explain adult dysfunction. An autistic or self-absorbed individual remains in the subjective omnipotence phase, while a person superficially adjusted but not unique or passionate has not progressed past objective reality. The transitional experience allows a person to connect their self-expression with the subjectivity of others. It is at this point that a child progresses from the symbiotic relationship to individualization and departs from both purely subjective and purely objective points of view.
Here is an image of a drawing from 1936 by González. Again a man and a woman, again the positive and negative of a photographic gaze. 1936 was the year of the bombing of the town of Guernica and the beginning of the Spanish Civil War.
This is another drawing by González from the same time. Again the Spanish Civil War in the background.
This is a picture of González’s works in the middle of the sculpture hall in 1955. We may at this point notice that González’s participation in documenta II is a return of his participation in documenta’s first edition. And that in 1959, González, is again on the same plinth. I think this is a strange and interesting repetition, that Bode made the plinths in 1955 and they were reused in 1959. This photograph shows the same space we saw before, with the man and the woman looking at—or perhaps not looking at—González’s works.
There is another classic text from which I want to read to you. Many of you know it very well. It is Roland Barthes’s Camera Lucida:
“What the photograph reproduces to infinity has occurred only once. The photograph mechanically repeats what could never be repeated existentially. For the moment refers only to the tireless repetition of contingency. Many photographs are, alas, inert under my gaze, but even among those which have some existence in my eyes, most provoke only a general and, so to speak, polite interest. They have no punctum in them. They please or displease me, without picking me. They are invested with no more than studium. The studium is that very wide field of unconcerned desire of various interests of inconsequential taste. I like, I don’t like. The studium is at the order of liking, not of loving. It immobilizes a half-desire, demi-volition. It is the same sort of vague slippery irresponsible interest one takes in the people, the entertainments, the books, the clothes one finds all right. Ultimately, photography is subversive not when it frightens, repels, or even stigmatizes, but when it is pensive, when it thinks. The photographer’s second sight does not consist in seeing, but in being there and having been there. Absolute subjectivity is achieved only in a state and effort of silence. Shouting your eyes to make the image speak in silence. The photograph touches me if I withdraw it from its usual blah-blah: technique, reality, reportage, art, et cetera: to say nothing to shut my eyes, to allow the detail to rise of its own accord into affective consciousness. History is hysterical. Photography’s inimitable feature, its noema, is that someone has seen the referent, even if it is a matter of objects, in flesh and blood or again in person. Photography, moreover, began historically, as an art of the Person: of identity, of civil status, of what we might call, in all senses of the term, the body’s formality. In front of the photograph of my mother as a child, I tell myself: she is going to die. I shudder, like Winnicott’s psychotic patient, over a catastrophe which has already occurred. Whether or not the subject is already dead, every photograph is this catastrophe.”