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Expansion and rhythm, as a strategy with which to read the past, understand the present, and imagine the future


05 July 2012

Expansion and rhythm, as a strategy with which to read the past, understand the present, and imagine the future

Limits and dOCUMENTA (13)

dOCUMENTA (13) expands its locations, rhythms and objectives. The proposal seeks to influence, through art, the critical definition of the world. Lacking a clear conceptual thread, without any key words and with a high level of complexity. When the objectives are colossal, the way forward is never a bed of roses.

Documenta is, par excellence, one of the top events of the contemporary art world, an indispensable rendezvous, known for its proposals that are supposed to be far removed from the market and its rhythms. In this edition, curated by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, with the Spaniard Chus Martinez as second in command, the project is characterised by its amplitude, in all senses. As well as the usual locations, the Fridericianum, the Documenta-Halle, and the Neue Galerie, the work is spread out across the city, in other spaces: the Hauptbahnhof (the city’s central train station), the Karlsaue Park, the Ottoneum, the Orangerie, and an infinite number of other sorts of locations, dotted around the city: old houses and factories, bunkers, parks and cinemas. dOCUMENTA (13) also travels beyond Kassel, establishing locations in Alexandria/ Cairo (Egypt), Kabul (Afghanistan) and Banff (Canada).

However, the project doesn’t merely expand geographically. Across the length and breadth of these spaces, as well as works by a large number of international artists, we come across the presence of thinkers not related a priori to the artistic world: philosophers, mathematicians, psychologists and writers. Thinkers, who have played an important part in conceiving the project for this edition. The exhibition programme is complemented by a huge quantity of parallel activities, such as debates, lectures, performances and round table discussions. Likewise, the activities of dOCUMENTA (13) began long before the appointed date, with events in different parts of the world and the publication of the editorial collection, in notebook format, the “100 Notes – 100 Thoughts”.

A priori, this expansion, geographically, conceptually, in time and in format, is directly linked to the aims and desires of the project: dOCUMENTA (13) is dedicated to artistic research and forms of imagination that are in connection with theory. It points to the alliance between fields of knowledge, with a holistic and non-logocentric vision. This vision doesn’t of course come from nowhere. In the last years more than a few artists have entered into different fields of knowledge, into social and empirical sciences, borrowing some of their forms of action and working methodologies, collaborating with professionals from both areas. The possibility of opening up artistic practices to these fields undoubtedly enriches the spheres of action. In this way, art inserts itself into social processes that go beyond the museum itself, generating a space for thought, reflection and comprehension. And offers very valuable tools for imagining future possibilities.

The numerous reviews that have appeared in the international press have already traced different routes around the show, routes that can of course be multiple and varied. There is no predetermined direction. However, if one wants to see everything and attend all the parallel activities, one needs time. In this sense a slow and deliberate pace is needed when reading the exhibition. For the visit to bear fruit we must forget the contemporary haste that we have so readily assumed and play with a more tranquil reading, this means it is necessary to have several days at one’s disposal. Or maybe a tour with sporadic visits during the 100 days would achieve the objective (lucky those who can…).

I will pause only intermittently in a few areas of the route. The role that architecture plays in the whole plan is notable. The pieces are articulated with a good sense of the places that they occupy, responding to the diversity of the spaces: from the noble bourgeois buildings, to the constructions from the city’s industrial era. It is worth highlighting the area around the central station (Hauptbahnhof), with a series of site-specific interventions perfectly adapted to the surroundings. What stands out is the work of Haris Epaminonda and Daniel Gustav Cramer, that articulates an exhibition in an old office building beside the station, creating a sort of labyrinthine path, with inaccessible areas, through photographical material, found images and objects. Equally, the magnificent video-installation by William Kentridge, “The refusal of time”, a re-reading of the measuring of time, or the installation by Lara Favaretto “Momentary Monument IV”, constructed in Kassel and Kabul, out of industrial waste.

In the Friedrichsstrasse area one finds well-resolved contributions, such as the intervention by Theaser Gates in the Huguenot House that was destroyed in the Second World War. The artist has established a laboratory for ideas, performances, objects, talks, suppers and installations, thereby activating the space. In the same street, the sublime piece by Tino Shegal is not to be missed, a new constructed situation that will leave no one indifferent.

In this edition the immense Karlsaue Park holds part of the exhibition, with interventions scattered throughout it, in the open air, or in the expressly constructed small wooden huts. To mention only a few, at the entrance we are received by the subtle squadron of cypresses by María Loboda, that each day move closer to the main building, and the indispensable, troubling intervention by Pierre Huyghe. The French artist has managed to transform the ordered nature of the park into a sort of space in the process of detained construction/destruction, with live and inanimate elements. An immense piece that transmits unease.

If we stop and consider the list of selected artists what stands out is the large number of non-western names, used perhaps somewhat politically. Here the usual conflict arises, the verification that the majority of them have been trained in Europe or the USA, or that is where they develop their careers. A situation that occurs in many fields, in exhibitions and in biennials, and once again it happens here. The art system functions in such a way that an artist from the Middle East has to pass through certain places of validation in order to be able to gain entry to the professional circuit. In this sense, the selection of other locations for dOCUMENTA (13): Banff Canada, but above all Alexandria/ Cairo and Kabul. Egypt and Afghanistan, is interesting, though at the same time complicated. Places that undoubtedly aren´t lacking a complex background in the present day. For example, in Kabul, a city wracked by war, a series of encounters and seminars have been carried out with students, artists and Afghan and international philosophers; different artists such as Francis Alÿs, Lara Favaretto or Tacita Dean have developed their projects there. Afghan artists from the Diaspora, such as Ghani or Kadim Ali have also worked with others who live in the country, such as Raharaw Omarzad. Mario García Torres re-established the One Hotel, where Alighiero Boetti stayed in the seventies during the golden era of Kabul, reactivating a series of dynamics that recuperate that period.

Can one trace through these journeys, movements and dynamics that slightly break away from the well oiled international circuit of contemporary art? Or will dOCUMENTA (13) end up functioning like a UFO in these cities, failing to germinate any cross over with the reality of its context? I’d love to be able to visit these sites, in-situ, however, given the distance I will content myself with asking acquaintances in these cities about how they function and their reception. Beyond the difficulties I can see in the action, it seems to me necessary to provoke these displacements beyond the usual circles of presentation. Once again this endeavour to expand the sphere of action.

In this Documenta what also stands out is the dense programme of Public and Educational Programmes. Throughout the 100 days of the exhibition, congresses, lectures and seminars take place, that seek to establish a sense of simultaneity between the works of art and the production of knowledge. In these programmes what is evident is the strong desire that a transferal between art and other spheres of knowledge takes place, provoking a space for critical thought.

In this sense and to go back to the beginning, in these encounters with other disciplines, in this geographical, temporal and conceptual amplitude and expansion, art can play a role as a motor for change, as an active agent in the current times in which society is submerged. We are living through a time when it is hard to imagine any possible futures, beyond the apocalyptic visions of the end of an era, or even the end of the world. And dOCUMENTA (13) tries to structure a sort of utopic construction of a world yet to come, taking art as the point of departure but extending its networks to other areas of knowledge. One of the possible paths of action could be using the freedom that art offers to ponder, reflect and imagine futures. At first glance one might think that the expansion is excessive and overwhelming, that it aims to take on too much, that there is no clear conceptual thread that is easily followed and that the presentation of the project and its aims are a touch ambitious. However, the intent is opportune. The question is exchanging the duration and order of reading to which we have become accustomed for a rhythm and intensity that provokes strangeness, so as to invent another type of critical thought.

Juan Canela is Artistic Director of ZsONAMACO at CDMX, co-founder of BAR project in Barcelona, independent curator and critic. He understands the curatorial as a practice in which ideas, concepts and contents come into play, but also work structures, rhythms, models and ways of life. And here writing is a fundamental element.

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