documenta 14: this is not a love song

documenta 14: this is not a love song

No, not; this is not a love song.*

This is a multifaceted complaint/ protest in the name of the daunted, the taunted, the abused, the displaced, the endangered, the forgotten, the ignored, the misunderstood, the damaged, the unjustified, etc.

It is a sample of ideas and narrations of the named alternative view on world, life, and history; and a push to the opposition towards the forefront. The exhibition is an illustration of those ideas and narrations with the use of art, music notation, historical craft, archival pieces, etc; an approach that gives a turn-of-the-century feel to the show. But even that is inversed, as there is no look to the future and no suggestion. The statement of documenta 14 is that protest is a solution in itself.

Where this could be satisfactory for many, the presentation comes out as an ambiguous endeavor; pointing fingers to the proved guilty of history (e.g. nazis and current politicians) yet staying aloof from the bickering of whether there are politics to discuss about, or only budgets and budget-holders.

There is also a constant reference to Greece in a mixture of apologetic and criticizing spirit. For those who have no personal experience of the Greek history and society, it is a riddle with multiple interpretations of which none is correct. There is cruelty in this and harm, I find. The EMST exhibition in the Fridericianum could had better been avoided; though here I am the biased one, suffering from suffocation throughout.

Cruelty and harm come from the seemingly important but unexplained exhibits, like this one, set on a table behind glass in the Neue Galerie: a publication made in 1946 by C.A. Doxiadis and titled The sacrifices of Greece in the Second World War. The open spread shows a graph (right) and explanation (left) in four languages – Greek, French, English, and Russian – of the ‘Rise in mortality during the occupation [by the nazis]’. Only the black part on the graph says Η ΠΕΙΝΑ, meaning ‘the hunger’, while the explanation on the left says in all four languages ‘violent and accidental deaths’. One would expect that this is the point of the exhibit; missed by everyone non Greek speaking.

 

Right in the next room there is a wall size exhibit called ‘Real Nazis’ (by Piotr Uklanski):

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This venue of documenta 14, the Neue Galerie, is full of trauma, guilt, authority, and the positioning of art in this and all what it has to deal with, after all. Yet one must be aware of the faint distinction between what is real and what is fake, or just an assumption. Art is not a documented suggestion nor a proven hypothesis; no matter that words like ‘epistemology’ or ‘typology’ have entered its vocabulary.

In a more empirical set-up and more pleasant to walk about is the KulturBahnhof and its decommissioned tunnel. The works shown have an element of transition, naturally, and a widely meant use of fabric and other tangible mediums. The work ‘Drawing a line through landscape’ by Nikhil Chopra, includes paintings made during a walking travel from Greece to Kassel and a nomad tent with a video.

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Rolling down the railroad towards the Neue Neue Galerie we come across a stretched canvas with the word ΧΑΙΡΕΤΕ on it, meaning ‘Hello’ in a somehow formal way. At the background, a low volume rebetika music is playing. The work, titled ‘The Welcoming Gate’ by Zafos Zagoraris, is a highly emotional one. Yet, you still need to read the story.

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The Neue Neue Galerie shows newer newer works; it is thus more noisy and flashy than the other venues. The neighborhood is interesting as choice, as usually this is the kind of area to see the art in its making. The disparity between the documenta audience and the junkies-drunkards-homeless plus the local inhabitants could have been thought of as part of the set-up.

Tip: the Turkish restaurant on the same street uphill is all you’ll need after the art visit!

Epilogue
documenta 14, as a show based on history and stories, can provoke many thoughts and produce just as many stories. It can also produce critic; which is a positive thing.

It can also be considered a point 0, as to the fact that it is a show that could have as subtitle ‘In the mind of the curator’. The exhibits have not much meaning in themselves; they serve the ideas of the curator. The exhibits live in a pre-determined context and  are selected as a suitable illustration of it. When speaking of democracy and self-determination, the exhibits do not enjoy either. The deriving question is ‘Is a (good) curator good for art?’ The question can be asked also in plural.

It is also a point 0, as to the fact that the evils are exposed and the unsaid is said as greatly or as clumsily as it was possible. Statement clear; time for action and change.

As for the working-title ‘Learning from Greece’: How about inert colonialist tendencies? After all, Greece and the Greeks allow themselves to be prey to the ΞΕΝΟΙ (foreigners/strangers/visitors), offering them the illusion of being superior. However, touching raw history is even in this set-up a no-go.

*Yes, from the song ‘This is not a love song’ by Public Image Ltd, 1983.

P.S. 1 A last article about documenta 14 may appear on this blog about the Pubic Programs, an experiment directed by Paul B. Preciado.

P.S. 2 There are two previous articles on this blog about documenta 14; short ones: ‘Textiles in documenta 14’ and ‘documenta 14 -Kassel: in a Yes and a No’.

Photos below: In documenta Halle, Posters of performances of Iannis Xenakis in Athens in 1980’s (top), and a music score by Jani Christou (down).

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Textiles in documenta 14

Textiles in documenta 14

It is all about the story. That is the story of documenta 14. Textile is there in this frame just like all the other exhibits. The focus points immigration-democracy-disparity must be present even when talking about reindeers or indigo dye. The work is not what you see; the story is. In this sense, textile works have taken an equal place next to the other works of art: that of incidences of non-importance as such, but rather means of illustration of the general concept.

Further, the included textile works are a sample of the tolerable:
naïve with a story of meaning, high aesthetics with a story of meaning (hanged up high as well), size related with a story of meaning (size is imposing no matter what it is for the rest), memorabilia. The latter is covered in the case of textiles through the show of costumes or ordinary clothes, exhibited amongst other objects and photos. Memorabilia carry anyway a tamed sentimentalism, always attached to a story and within the agreed contextual history. Within the frame of documenta, all that is translated into conceptual folklore (because folklore as such is related to colonialism and that is not tolerable).

If you don’t understand, it is because the show is for those who recognise the structure, exhaustively repeated from one contemporary show to the next. As general rule, this is to be kept: a work can be anything as long as it is not what it is. In short, there is no work, there is only a concept containing variables (variable: a symbol that can represent different values).

P.S. 1 It goes further to the notion of art as social science or any science, and the accomplished move of institutionalisation of art (fitting in the programmes of government-fed or otherwise-fed bodies like museums and academic institutions).

P.S. 2 Putting aside how limiting that is, it is debatable whether documenta 14 is on this side or the other (because it does take sides). And, yes, there is such a thing as ‘over-institutionalisation’; this comes from a very interesting piece of writing: “‘Over-institutionalisation’ might therefore suggest that of all the countless individual activities that contribute, day by day, to this contemporary art world, the typical and predominant kind is shaped, whether we know it or not, by those policy goals based on standards, access, and the national interest. On the other hand, however, there are different kinds of activity, based on different values and interests.” By Michael Ascroft, ‘Contemporary art and over-institutionalisation’, Un Magazine 6.1, online: http://unprojects.org.au/magazine/issues/issue-6-1/contemporary-art-and-over-institutionalisation/

 

Lower photos: Right, Quipu gut by Cecilia Vicuna; Left, Fundi (meaning ‘uprising’ ) by Aboukabar Fofana.

Top photos: Historia by Britta Marakatt-Labba, see text here:

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documenta 14 – Kassel: in a Yes and a No

documenta 14 – Kassel: in a Yes and a No

In case you don’t belong to that tribe that goes to Kassel every five years [and to Venice every two] no matter what, here come a few questions about documenta 14 – Kassel answered with a yes or a no. They might be helpful for making a decision about visiting; there is still some time left till 17 September when the event wraps it up.

– Is it a contemporary art exhibition?
– No.
– Does it contain contemporary art?
– Yes.
– Does it contain art?
– Yes.

– Does it show spectacular art?
– No.
– Does it have big names?
– No.
– Is it a sample of something?
– Yes.
– Is it provocative?
– No.
– Is it political?
– Yes.

– Is it for everyone?
– No.
– Is it sophisticated?
– No.
– Is it sentimental?
– Yes.
– Is it conclusive?
– No.

– Does it deal with innovation and the trend of Art & Science?
– No.
– Does it show:
textile, painting, installations, audio-video works, craft, memorabilia, archival pieces, texts, sculptures, etc.?
– Yes.
– Is this all avant-garde?
– No.

– Is it worth visiting?
– Yes.

P.S. More articles about documenta 14 to come: one about textile art and one more general, at least.

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