Documenta 13: A Preview
In Articles | Installation Art28 March 2012
arolyn Christov-Bakargiev, General Secretary of the 13th Documenta, started traveling to Kassel, Germany, two years ago. She had been nominated to direct one of the most ambitious exhibitions of contemporary art in Europe; Documenta, which takes place only every five years.
Christov-Bakargiev tells a story that once her smart phone mistook Kassel for Kabul, and to Kabul she went to meet with artists and see the Bamiyan valley. She kept Kabul in her mind; one of the 100 Notes – 100 Thoughts, a thin file of booklets (25 x 17.5, 21 x 14.5, 15 x 10.5 centimeters), published successively by Documenta since 2011 (a singular act which never happened before). The volume is dedicated to the “One Hotel” in Kabul where Alighiero Boetti conceived a body of his work. The Documenta website also shows Mariam Ghani’s project A Brief History of Collapses, which compares the 2010 destruction of the Dar ul-Aman Palace in Kabul with the 1943 bombing of the Fridericianum in Kassel.
It was in the historic city of Kassel where Jérôme, Napoleon´s brother, formed the first German parliament in 1810. Heavily bombed during World War II, Kassel won a place in the history of postwar art when Documenta was founded there in 1955. In the Palace of this first parliament, the Fridericianum, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev curates the 13th installment of Documenta.
Her booklet in the series of 100 Thoughts is conceived as a letter to a friend “On the Destruction of Art – or Conflict and Art, or Trauma and the Art of Healing” and connects images of the metronome pieces by Man Ray (destructive – indestructible) with manuscript pages from the “Auto-Destructive Art” manifesto of Gustav Metzger from 1959 and “traumatic” memory pieces from Munich, Bagdad and Beirut.
No, she is not the conventional curator and organizer of big surveys of international contemporary art, but, as she might say, rather the conductor and choreographer of manifold materials, methods and elements of knowledge. She began two years ago with a series of acts and gestures all over the world in advance of the June 9 opening of Documenta in Kassel.
Christov-Bagarkiev previously directed the Biennial of Sydney and her chief curator Chus Martinez joins her for work on Documenta from the Museum of Contemporary Art in Barcelona. The 100 Thoughts are collected by Bettina Funcke (founder of the Leopard Press and Continuous Project group in New York), and constitute, “a space of Documenta 13 to explore how thinking emerges and lies at the heart of reimagining the world.”
Many of the brochures reproduce handwritten manuscripts (testifying to archival research) of Salvador Dali, Walter Benjamin and Theodor Adorno. Sketches of Alejandro Jodorowsky and William Kentridge are present and often address themes of destruction, conflict and trauma – from biopiracy to AIDS and from concentration camps to non-violence in India. Those which might be part of the healing chapter talk about “Art Therapy and Great Compassion,” about drilling or greeting ceremonies or, “A few questions regarding the resistance bringing a bottle of wine or a bouquet of flowers” (Mario Garcia Torres).
Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev has chosen about 20 “agents” from different countries to collaborate in her research. They are involved in different ways – like ministers, counselors and ambassadors are. Her “Letters to a Friend” communicate a harmonious group work, a vivid exchange of ideas – a peaceful sphere of spoken and written words.
The website even offers a “Dog Calendar” from April 2011 to September 2012 showing Christov-Bakargiev`s dog Darsi and others connected to questions like, “How can we de-anthropocentricize our way of thinking?” “Does my dog have what I don´t remember having?”
In this rich archive of cultural anthropology, the material elements which “imagine” our world – art, architecture and design, are missing. Where everything else tends to be art, art risks to lose its profile. But, in fact, more art than ever exists in this space. Neither in the website nor in the Thoughts does one find comments about the media of art, the conditions of art education and its production, about inhibitions, pressures, censorship and restraint. The architectural inventions which structure our cities and the huge amount of art which is distributed on the global market place are not part of the “reimagining the world” fantasy.
As Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev says, “Documenta should not be an exhibition as it was before but a ‘state of mind.’” Is it possible to create a state of mind in the preparation of an exhibition? Yes, it is. Actions, events in many places, the worldwide web, Facebook, printed texts and e-books, video clips, films and smart phone apps can create a state of mind. No exhibition would be necessary if the trauma of self-destruction were to prevail. But when Gustav Metzger conceived “Auto-Destructive Art” he had “Self-Creating Art” in mind.
Agricultural scientists, archeologists, biologists, hypnotherapists, economists, psychoanalysts, zoologists and other scientists will take part in the Documenta (no hydrologists) – along with artists. To visualize their knowledge will be the greatest challenge of the exhibition. Hopefully some of the chosen artworks will still belong to that pre-verbal sphere where linear thought has not yet begun.
Documenta 13 will run from June 9 through September 16, 2012, in Kassel, Germany, http://www.d13documenta.de
Writing Credits: Wolfgang Becker is the Former Founding Director of the Ludwig Forum for International Art in Aachen, Germany. Becker has curated important solo exhibitions of Roy Lichtenstein, Duane Hanson, Luciano Fabro, A. R. Penck, Georg Baselitz, On Kawara, Imi Knoebel, Katharina Fritsch, Frédéric Bruly-Bouabré, Chéri Samba, Richard Tuttle, Nan Goldin, Christian Boltanski, Keith Haring and others. A distinguished critic and writer, Becker became a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in Paris in 1990.
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