dOCUMENTA 13 was extensive and manifold in its vision. The emphasis was not on “art” per se but on the act of creation in its myriad forms. dOCUMENTA is held every four or five years in the out-of-the-way German city of Kassel. dOCUMENTA 13 was ambitious in its scope both in content and geographical spread. There were simultaneous dOCUMENTAs happening in Kabul, Cairo and Banff, Canada. Overall, it featured work by 300 participants including artists, artist collectives, writers, political theorists, natural science researchers and other scholars.
dOCUMENTA 13 was extensive and manifold in its vision. The emphasis was not on “art” per se but on the act of creation in its myriad forms. dOCUMENTA is held every four or five years in the out-of-the-way German city of Kassel. dOCUMENTA 13 was ambitious in its scope both in content and geographical spread. There were simultaneous dOCUMENTAs happening in Kabul, Cairo and Banff, Canada. Overall, it featured work by 300 participants including artists, artist collectives, writers, political theorists, natural science researchers and other scholars. In Kassel, work could be seen in 30 venues including museums, local store windows, bars, hospitals, movie theaters, bakeries, youth libraries, a mosque, parking garages, the train station, a decaying hotel, a wartime bunker. The 100 day festival closed on September 16 and had a total number of visitors in Kassel of 860,000. My approach was not to try to see it all — that was impossible. I focused on performance and artivist activity.
On the ground floor at the back of the decaying Grand City Hotel Hessenland, just down the road from the Brothers Grimm Museum was a hidden dark room. On entering it was too dark to see, and this was unnerving. What is going on in here? I was somehow guided towards the sounds of voices singing in acapello and hands clapping.All around were sounds of shoes scraping and background low murmurings. As my eyes adjusted, I saw outlines of many people shuffling about in the darkness. Gradually the voice sounds increased in volume and then suddenly, right next to me, a man began making boom-box sounds with great gusto, and then on the other side a woman began sweetly singing. Then, rhythmic hand clapping began. All at once there was an intense confrontation of many bodies dancing and making noise in the dark, in and around the static ones. I felt compelled to join in. These Tino Sehgal performers have been dancing in the dark every day/all day since the festival began and what a performance! A friend told me that they were sustaining their energy levels by dipping into guarana powder. Whatever…I certainly left feeling high.
Further down the street at the Neue Galerie, I wandered curiously and detached, as if the gallery is a market and the work on view—goods to be sampled. I am caught short by the discovery of the work of Zanele Muholi, South African photographer, performance artist and visual activist. Her forceful photographs of black lesbians and trans people in South Africa stare back at me, confronting my world. I am jolted into thinking of news stories of hate crimes that are daily perpetuated against trans/queer/homosexuals in South African communities and stories of “corrective rape” by men pretending to “cure” non-conforming individuals of their sexual orientation and gender expression. Muholi’s portraits show defiance, pride and beauty, and most of all—self possession. What courage!
I was also inspired by Jerome Bel’s Disabled Theatre. 11 mentally disabled actors of the Theater HORA based in Zurich, performed various instructions of Jerome Bel’s given to them by an interpreter. The show lasted an hour and a half and was performed three times a day for five days at Kaskade Theatre. Each individual spoke separately, telling their name, their disability and looking directly at the audience. Each person then did a dance solo that they constructed. Their exuberance was infectious and the normally straight-laced art audience was drawn in to clapping and laughing along with them. In this piece, Jerome Bel gives the possibility of not only inclusion, but confronts the audience with its bias against mental disability. The performance was transcendent and with it, Bel put a spotlight on the dynamics of exclusion that leads to the marginalization of those considered unable to produce.
Jerome Bel, Disabled Theatre, 2012. Performance, Kassel, Germany. Courtesy of the artist.
dOCUMENTA was the initiative, in 1955, by artist and teacher Arnold Bode. His own paintings had been banned by the Nazis, and dOCUMENTA was his idea to create something new that could restore Germany as part of European culture. Kassel had been devastated in WW2. Included in the destruction was the main museum, Freidericianum, which was heavily bombed, and its extensive library—with manuscripts dating back to Medieval times —was burned to the ground. That first dOCUMENTA exhibition was held in the Freidericianum, then in ruins, and it was dedicated to art that had been rejected as “degenerate” by the Third Reich. The radical intent of that first exhibition has set the tone for each successive dOCUMENTA. This year’s did not disappoint.
There was insight from Beirut-based artist, Rabih Mroue, into the extraordinary documentation of deaths in the Syrian Revolution, made by the victims themselves when filming the act of shooting with their mobile phones. In his lecture performance, The Pixelated Revolution 2012, he discusses how the cell phone has become an extension of the body—a replacement of the eye facing the muzzle—thereby distancing the “film shooter” from the actual experience of being shot.
Chicago-based artist, Claire Pentecost, in an exhibition/installation at the Ottoneum, Kassels’ Museum of Natural History, exhibited alternative currency called “soil-erg” —earth created from vegetable compost. This earth was dried in molds, the shape of nuggets, a form usually associated with gold bars. The message is clear. I am reminded of the human and non-human effort that it costs to maintain life and of the land-grab going on. In her installation, she included a quote from Warren Buffet “over the next 100years, farmland will beat gold”. Her project continued outside the museum in the form of vertical beams filled with soil and designed for the intensive production of vegetables in land-poor communities.
AND AND AND, events and actions at dOCUMENTA 13, 2012. Kassel, Germany.
AND AND AND. In the aftermath of 2008, the financial collapse revealed itself to be more than an economic crisis. This so-called “crisis” signaled the failure of a global economic paradigm, which subjects all considerations of sustainability—whether social, cultural, political, ecological or biological—to the laws of profit. AND AND AND is a project which explored alternative systems. They provided a kind of artist retreat where participants could involve themselves, creating community gardens, planting seeds, planning, discussing, making art and so on. I didn’t get a chance to take part, unfortunately, in an interview with me, Podrescu from The XLterrestrials filled me in, “They kind of subverted the dOCUMENTA exclusivity and non-transparency (of the artist selection process) by inviting a whole sub-show of guests all summer long. There were many symposiums with luminaries like Claire Pentecost (mentioned above), Brian Homes, Bifo, Fran Ilich, Vandana Shiva, Alan Toner and a host of emerging artists who brought fresh ideas which will continue to resonate strongly in the field of arts and praxis. It’s what’s needed in attacking the shitload of work that needs to be done to wake people up…”
So kind of like a dOCUMENTA fringe, perhaps?