We had the chance to take in only a fraction of the mammoth exhibition (which still felt like a lot) as we only had 24 hours over two days. The works mentioned below are some of our personal highlights from dOCUMENTA.
At the Karlsauepark, a large eighteenth century park only a short walk away from the city centre, first impressions showed promise of an assorted sensory experience. It was also immediately evident that many of the participants subscribe to Carolyn’s belief that art is a renewable energy. A quite literal interpretation of that theory was manifest in artist, Song Dong’s Doing Nothing Garden; a fairly large man-made mound constructed from organic waste with neon Chinese characters randomly implanted between the plants and wild grass. The signs can be roughly translated as “Doing” and “Nothing”; This at first seems contradictory because a project of such proportions doesn’t just happen out of inaction, however it can also be appropriate as it questions our constant interference with nature and asks the question of what the outcome would be if it was left to its own devices.
At the Fridericianum, one of the main host venues of dOCUMENTA, we encountered more unexpected art works. In the surprisingly intense heat, Ryan Gander’s I Need Some Meaning I Can Memorise (The Invisible Pull); a light breeze blowing through the entire ground floor, was met with great appreciation. My travel companions however, had an inclination towards Ceal Floyer’s sound installation ‘Til I Get It Right. In this piece, the lines “I’ll just keep on/’till I get it right”, taken from Tammy Wynette’s song of the same title, play repeatedly, building expectation only to be met with frustration at the realization that there is no progression, only infinite regress.
Off the main sites, Theaster Gates’12 Ballads for the Huguenot House continues on with the subject of interference with intent to improve and revive. Gates, a multi-disciplinary artist, uses his skills in urban planning to restore the house, which was built in 1826 and was once home to Huguenots, France’s former religious exiles. Wandering through the three-story building we mostly see rooms that are set up as performance areas or have strategically placed videos of musicians, whilst on some walls there are notes on renovation plans. But then we turn a corner and notice hair straighteners, memory sticks and other items pointing to the fact that Gates and his team are living here throughout the duration of dOCUMENTA, further blurring the actual function of this building and space. Also, casually strolling through someone’s dwelling feels slightly intrusive.
On a wider scale, the use of urban spaces as a platform on which to present contemporary art is where dOCUMENTA(13) excels. Most impressive is the Ex-Elisabeth Hospital, which exhibited a range of works by Afghan artists. As if walking through a maze, we are met at every turn by impressive examples of challenging and thought provoking ideas such as Lida Abdul’s film What We Have Overlooked that deals with the constraining relationship between an individual and a nation. The large ballroom in the Grand City Hotel Hessenland is impressive also for its kitsch 70s interior.
All in all, I enjoyed dOCUMENTA as it transforms the usually mundane city of Kassel once every five years into a thriving center of artistic activity; an example of true creativity in the city.
Photography by Novuyo Moyo