Consciousness of Places: Documenta 13
Although Documenta 13 is now breaking all visitor records, its aim is not to create a great spectacle. In multiple variations, it declines the relationship between art and places. Among other things, it warns against the excessive consumption of “data salad”. Britta Peters takes stock of the exhibition so far.
Did you know that one part of Documenta was already over on 19th July 2012? On that day the exhibition finished in the Afghan capital, Kabul – with rather a lack of song and music by local standards. For those visitors who did not have the opportunity to travel there – and because it is so hard to get hold of a tourist visa that affected virtually everyone – the reception area for this part of the exhibition functions even now as a huge blank. The few press releases about it are no real substitute for a visit in person.
Staged as phantom painThat can be regretted as a loss, but it can also cause constructive nervousness. Carolyn Christov-Barkargiev, director of Documenta, stressed this second point in numerous interviews: she likes the idea of creating a certain uneasiness as a result of the incompleteness of the experience. Casting the absent visitors as a phantom pain emphasises the significance of real-life experience, even though it has to be said that the exhibition for the Afghan public did actually take place. For all those outsiders on the other hand it underlines yet again the importance of real-life points of reference for interaction with art. That can be appreciated impressively in Kassel from more than 150 works.
Anyone who finally gains entry to the Fridericianum after a long period of queuing will find themselves confronted first of all with a more than generous empty space. A fresh breeze blows there – not only through the foyer, but virtually throughout the ground floor, which is only sparsely dotted with further exhibits.
This artificial wind is an intervention that comes courtesy of the British artist Ryan Gander, while his invitation to take part in the exhibition represents a grand curatorial gesture: after all, his work refuses to present a visually representative opening event, preferring instead to create a full-body experience. At the same time, a rather diminutive photograph of an exhibition situation at Documenta II (1959) depicts the institution as a historical site.
Bright expanse of space and absolute darkness
There is also a generous use of space when it comes to the positioning of exhibits around Karlsaue Park, each project being placed out of view of the others. With the exception of artists who work directly with nature – like Pierre Huyghe in his much-discussed plot of fallow land with its bees and dogs – the installations there are housed in identical prefabricated cabins.
This reverses the relationship between a museum exhibition room and a sculpture park: the supposedly neutral gallery room proves to be historically charged, while at the same time the rural qualities of Karlsaue Park are negated – there is even an installation of a classic “black box” for the screening of Omer Fast’s film.
Visitors are confronted with a much blacker black box out of the way of the main exhibition venues. A narrow alleyway to the rear of the Hugenot House leads to Tino Sehgal’s performance of This Variation in an absolutely dark room in which singing and beat box sounds can be heard. Like Sirens, they lure visitors into this uncertain terrain – some are even pulled in by an invisible hand.
Next door, in the Hugenot House, the American Theaster Gates lives and works together with an international group of colleagues with artistic and handicraft skills. While Sehgal leaves the physical room in darkness, preferring instead to create an acoustic and psychological space, Gates offers a strange symbiosis of existing architectures. For his project he brought with him parts of a condemned Chicago building which are now being incorporated piece by piece into the former Kassel hotel, originally built in 1826.
Gates’ installation is entirely intertwined with the room in which it is shown. As a social sculpture, however, the idea is that it should also be able to travel and take place somewhere else in a changed form. Inside the house, a manifesto declares “Carolyn, let us go all the way – from Kassel back to Chicago, then to Venice and LA and to all the other places”.
Localization as exhibition format
This Documenta clearly has a strong consciousness of places, without this necessarily being accompanied by a narrowly defined sense of location specifics. One of its great qualities is that it brings together artists who consciously utilize the special characteristics of the exhibition format – in contrast to other publication forms: their works demand to be experienced with all the senses, and often involve movement of the observer’s own body. Most of the works cannot be exhibited equally well online, published as a book or shown in any old cinema.
This gives rise, especially beyond the confines of the protective institutional spaces, to an interesting balancing act between artistic self-assertion and localization in the city. The installations of Gerard Byrne, who presents a discussion of art, distorted by multimedia, in his five-channel video projection on the ground floor of the Grand City Hotel Hessenland, or Cevdet Erek’s sound work which reflects temporal structures in a department store, profit hugely from the places in which they are presented, without using camouflage techniques to pretend that they are part of everyday life there.
Virtual participation works differently
By creating concrete spaces, making reference to concrete places and celebrating the exhibition – as Christov-Barkargiev esoterically puts it – as a “frenetic dance”, Documenta 13 questions, vice versa as it were, the quality of virtual participation. Does our fear of missing out on something stem from the fact that digital availability has become the norm? Art has a different potential for generating relationships than flows of data online – something this Documenta proves in impressive fashion.
works in Hamburg as an art critic and freelance curator, among other things for the Frankfurter Kunstverein.
Translation: Chris Cave/Jo Beckett
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
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