To Dora and Volker
For 100 days Dokumenta 12, spread across several venues in Kassel, namely the Museum Fridericianum, the Aue-Pavillon, the documenta-Halle, the Neue Galerie, the Schloss Wilhelmshöhe and Gloria Kino. According to its curators (Roger M. Bürgel and Ruth Noack), each of these buildings were meant to symbolize a specific century, a notion of the public and a concept of viewing art. And this was closely linked to this year´s program for the event. Reflecting on the concepts of modern, existence and education, Dokumenta 12 took on the challenge of answering the problem it choose to investigate: Is modernity our antiquity? What is bare life? And, what is to be done?
Having visited Kassel three weekends ago, I would say the major problem with Dokumenta 12 is exactly how the concept of “juxtaposition” was put into practice. It is a promising concept that allows art work confrontation, opening new readings and engaging a perspective that – we all expected – would answer the problem on the table.
But, throughout Dokumenta 12, such juxtaposition was mostly based on formal choices, sometimes to a point of complete obviousness, often remaining on a pure illustrative and pedagogical level. Works of the same artist were to be found in different points of the Dokumenta, in most situations without a real meaningful aim except for its formal resemblance to other works done prior or in another geographic context. And this was specially problematic at Schloss Wilhelmshöhe, were the interaction between Dokumenta´s works and the Museum´s permanent collection was very narrow.
It is not enough to insert two video installations within the museum collection, hang Kerry James Marshall´s “Lost Boys” (1993) depicting Afro-American people next to Karel van Mander´s “Hydaspes and Persina before the Painting of Andromeda” (1640) where colored people are to be seen, to proclaim this as pushing real dialogue between works of different time periods and engaging the public with it. Charlotte Posenenske´s wonderful works for example, were shoved into a corner and totally misplaced. Nor was she lucky at the Museum Fridericianum, where “Vierkantrohre Serie DW” (1967) – placed in the same room with Trisha Brown´s installation piece and performance “Floor of the Forest“ -, went completely unnoticed.
What seems specially true is the incorporation of new artistic territories, speeches, voices – though not really new problems – into the exhibition space. Many artists from Arabe and African countries were present. Amar Kanwar´s remarkable video installation “The Lightning Testemonies” (2007) for instance, tried to answer how can sound, image and photography document in a creative way a true and sad event.
For me, the real theme of Dokumenta 12 was “conflict” – be it political, racial, economical, religious, social, you name it. Every thinkable form of conflict was present, even the conflict with one´s self. Imogen Stidworthy´s installation “I Hate” (2007), depicting the photographer Edward Woodman (who lost his power of speech in consequence of an accident) trying to pronounce correctly “eight” and not “hate”, highlighted just that. But so did many other works, showing the different forms conflict can assume nowadays.
Churchill Madikida´s video Installation “Virus” (2005) for instance, focuses on personal and social conflict and disease, whereas Kerry James Marshall´s paintings approach social and racial issues. Dias & Riedweg´s film “Veracidad Máxima” (2003) and Ines Doujak´s “Siegesgärten” (2007) handle sexuality, economical conditions under globalisation and gender, in a very different and interesting way.
Meanwhile Bill Kouélany´s massiv papiermaché wall, a metaphor for all the walls of shame, with news cut out from international newspapers addressed the conflictive relation between politics and the media.
On its turn,in “The Exploitation of the Dead” Mladen Stilinovic collects war memorabilia together with a photo of Kasimir Malevich on his deadbed. And Guy Tillim´s photographs of democratic Congo document the first free presidential and parliamentary elections in forty years in that country.
Parallel to this manifold exploration of conflict and also battling but, in the field of aesthetics, self-reflexive art works were to be found. Gonzalo Díaz´s pieces “Al calor del pensamiento I” (1999) and the ironical “Eclipsis” (2007) mirrored just that. In this last, the viewer had to queue to view the installation only to read in the end: “To come to the heart of Germany, only to read the word “art” under ones own shadow”. Brilliant.
Accounting for minimalism tendencies, John McCracken ´s “Orchid” (1991) and Poul Gernes´ “Stripe series paintings” were specially worth noticing. And Lili Dujourie´s structuralist collage “Roman” (1978) was a great discovery for me. Dealing with fragmentation, disruption and meaning this work is extremely poetical and sensual.
Finally, Trisha Brown´s “Floor of the Forest” (1970), an installation and performance carrying the same name, stood up for interdisciplinary work. “Movers” (and not dancers) make their way through an undulating sea of wafting fabric exploring gravity, tension and its contrary.
In the end, I would dare to say, that the best works present at the Dokumenta, with few exceptions, were films or installation using film. The major example being, James Coleman´s “Retake with Evidence” (2007), performed by Harvey Keitel, and for me the best work in Kassel.
The Dokumenta did state and testify to a point of excess the ongoing forms of conflict but, failed to answer if there can “be a common planetary horizon for all the living and the dead”, thus, not really answering nor taking a stand to the question itself raised.