dOCUMENTA (13)'s main curator, Ms. Carolyn Christof-Bakargiev, aka 'CCB', said a lot of nonsense to the press in recent weeks (e.g. the proposition of voting rights for animals or strawberries...). But this show is worth to take a detailed look at its concept and the pieces within.
dOCUMENTA (13) claims to be just 'an art exhibition in Kassel' for 100 days. Indeed, Kassel is only one location of this theoretical endeavor: There will be also seminars and shows in Afghanistan, Egypt and a retreat in Canada.
In CCB's theory, there are 4 possible conditions in which today's artists and thinkers may find themselves:
- Under siege
- On retreat
- In a state of hope or optimism
- On stage
Here in Kassel, I miss the optimism. Many artists focus on various traumatic issues: The Arab freedom movements, Afghanistan, Sahrawi minorities, the Holocaust, the currency crisis, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident, etc. I strongly support artistic movement that engages in these important political issues and which is not self-referential only. However in the show, I lack the optimism towards a solution of these problems. Where is the catharsis in the show?
Ms. Cristof-Bakargiev proposes to envision this dOCUMENTA's perspective just like a meteorite falling from outer space on earth and observing it. The artist duo Guillermo Faivovich and Nicholas Goldberg tried to bring the second-largest meteorite, 'El Chaco', from Argentina to pay a visit to Kassel during dOCUMENTA. They failed: As there was no 100% commitment by the stakeholders of the meteorite, Ms. Christof-Bakargiev turned the idea down and claimed the process to be the work.
Similar to the two Documentas before, CBC rejects an only Western-oriented art understanding. This time, for instants, there are also a number of widely unknown Afghan artists in the show.
More than that: she says, 'participants of dOCUMENTA (13) come from a range of fields of activity. They come mostly from art but also from science, including physics and biology... They contribute to dOCUMENTA (13) that aims to explore how different forms of knowledge lie at the heart of the active exercise of remaining the world. What these participants do, and what they 'exhibit' may or may not be art. However, their acts, ...are produced by circumstances that are readable by art. ... The boundary, between what is and what is not art has become less important.'
I asked participating quantum physicist Anton Zeilinger about the difference between art and science. He said, 'In science, I have a hypothesis and set up an experiment according to it. If it is false I have no other option then accepting it. In arts, this needn't be the case.' I liked the scientists to explain their uncertainties about their view of the world to me. One of Prof. Zeilinger's assistants told me with great enthusiasm, 'I see the similarity between quantum theory and visual arts in the interpretation: Quantum theory is more than 100 years old and very well proven. However, the interpretations of its meaning are very diverse.'
Another interesting approach is the inclusion of Konrad Zuse (1910 - 1995), the inventor of the computer. It is interesting to walk around the huge computers from the 1970s, which have less calculating power than my smart phone today. This really gives you a different perspective about the speed of today's life.
CCB claims, 'dOCUMENTA (13) is driven by a holistic, non-logo-centric vision that is shared with, and that recognizes, the knowledge’s of animate and inanimate makers of the world.'
This fetish-like view of a work of art becomes especially evident at the rotunda in the Fridericianum, called 'the brain': It reminds me of a 19th century 'Wunderkammer' ('cabinet of wonder') filled with objects like two wonderful Giuseppe Penone stones, small Bactrian princess figures (2500 b. C.), six Giorgio Morandi still lifes, damaged objects from the National Museum of Beirut, a towel stolen in 1945 from the apartment of Adolf Hitler or masks made from iPad wrappings by Judith Hopf. Whatever these objects may mean to CCB, I can understand this - unscientific - emotional approach towards a piece: Most of the works I own myself reflect my personal history and the thoughts I had, when I acquired them.
There are a number of voices, who say this dOCUMENTA (13) is sometimes too esoteric and too pet focused. I agree to this with some pieces. For me, the work by Araya Radjarmrearnsook is one of these examples.
This dOCUMENTA (13) is not likely to produce many new art market stars. If you expect that, you will be disappointed. However, it is a powerful thinking tool to reconsider your view of the world, and this is quite something! Again, the old Kassel rule reconfirms: You go to Venice Biennale to party and you go to Kassel Documenta to think!
Some of the exhibitions sites are really hard to find. There is for instants a wonderful sound installation by the Turkish artist Cevdet Erek which can only be entered from the third floor of a C & A department store. Walking down to the Weinberg bunker site, I talked to a colleague and complained about the lacking optimism or catharsis of this exhibition. He told me, 'You know what, you have your catharsis, when you finally find the works!'
dOCUMENTA (13) in Kassel, Germany
Through 16 September 2012