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#dOCUMENTA(13): Even the most chaotic, amorphous experiences require careful framing

An artwork featuring live bees, created by French artist Pierre Huyghe. Her "head writhes with bees, like thoughts buzzing," writes Adrian Searle Photograph: Barbara Sax/AFP/Getty Images.

In 2010, David Shields gave us ‘Reality Hunger’ — a mashup of over 600 stolen quotes, arranged into a manifesto. ‘Reality Hunger’ was Shields’ attempt at an ars poetica for what he referred to as ‘a burgeoning group of interrelated (but unconnected) artists […] who are breaking larger and larger chunks of ‘reality’ into their work.’ This week, curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev gives us her version for the art world: dOCUMENTA(13), which opened  June 9 in Kassel, Germany. In honor of a certain symmetry between the two projects, #hashtags attempts a Shields-like text in search of the nature of contemporary art, all drawn from writings on dOCUMENTA.

Dear reader, I hope these lines find you well, wherever you are right now. I have decided to address you through an archive of other voices postcards, as to remain on Documenta 13’s wavelength.[1]

dOCUMENTA (13) is located in an apparent simultaneity of places and times, and it is articulated through four main positions corresponding to conditions in which people, in particular artists and thinkers, find themselves acting in the present.[2]

It is devised with our young generation in mind…the artists, poets and thinkers they follow, so that they may recognize what foundations have been laid for them, what inheritance they must nurture and what inheritance must be overcome.[3]

— On stage. I am playing a role, I am a subject in the act of re-performing.

— Under siege. I am encircled by the other, besieged by others.

— In a state of hope, or optimism. I dream, I am the dreaming subject of anticipation.

— On retreat. I am withdrawn, I choose to leave the others, I sleep.[4]

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.[5]

Andrea Büttner, "Moss," dimensions variable, ongoing.

By the entrance stands a plastic dinosaur that I think is a work by Jimmie Durham. There is so much empty space and outdoor movement between venues that you notice the extraneous or realize, belatedly, that what you had looked at was art. Outside the press conference, young people wore sandwich boards with slogans like WHAT ARE BLUE BALLS? THEY’RE LOVELY and EVERYONE IS EATING HUMAN FLESH. Despite its absurdity, I automatically associated the action with the Kassel art student protests of 2007. Only when I saw the same boards in Ida Applebroog’s installation in the Museum Fridericianum did I know that they belonged to it.[6]

Another viewer saw Zeilinger’s badge and asked if he was one of the artists. The brusque reply: “I am not an artist.” Everyone here is a “participant.”[7]

Ida Applebroog at dOCUMENTA(13), photo courtesy Flickr/Creative Commons. June 6, 2012.

“Is that art?” The question comes up repeatedly while navigating Kassel.[8] I believe that art is a form of research, that it has a big relationship with society.[9]

These are terrains where politics are inseparable from a sensual, energetic, and worldly alliance between current research in various scientific and artistic fields and other knowledges, both ancient and contemporary.[10]

dOCUMENTA (13) takes a spatial or, rather, “locational” turn, highlighting the significance of a physical place, but at the same time aiming for dislocation and for the creation of different and partial perspectives—an exploration of micro-histories on varying scales that link the local history and reality of a place with the world, and the worldly.[11]


[1] Filipa Ramos, “Postcards from Kassel,” Art Agenda, 7 June 2012, accessed June 10, 2012 <http://www.art-agenda.com/reviews/documenta-13/>.

[2] From the press release and welcome text on the dOCUMENTA(13) website, accessed June 10, 2012 <http://d13.documenta.de/#welcome/>.

[3] Werner Haftmann, quoted in the following: Kaelen Wilson-Goldie, “100 days, 100 notes, 100 thoughts,” The Daily Star, April 24, 2012, accessed June 11 <http://www.dailystar.com.lb/Culture/Art/2012/Apr-24/171157-100-days-100-notes-100-thoughts.ashx#axzz1xaDkmQfV>.

[4] From the press release and welcome text on the dOCUMENTA(13) website, accessed June 10, 2012 <http://d13.documenta.de/#welcome/>.

[9] Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, quoted in the following: Jackie Wullschlager, “Vertiginous Doubt,” The Financial Times, May 19, 2012, accessed June 11 <http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/2/dd51a8f2-9f58-11e1-a255-00144feabdc0.html?ftcamp=published_links%2Frss%2Flife-arts_visual%2Ffeed%2F%2Fproduct#axzz1vWHcl7Nj>.

[10] From the press release and welcome text on the dOCUMENTA(13) website, accessed June 10, 2012 <http://d13.documenta.de/#welcome/>.

[11] From the press release and welcome text on the dOCUMENTA(13) website, accessed June 10, 2012 <http://d13.documenta.de/#welcome/>.

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