The outside is inside, and
the other way round
The curator and the team always have 4 years to create the actual documenta’s profile. It is a carefully planned and organised event with a generous and ambitious background. No wonder that it works as a trend-setter, as the mounting of relevant forms of expressions and positions in the global system of art, an orientation point, not only for the artworld, but also for the greater public. It has its capacity for this: for example in the case of Documenta11 more than 130 people work only on the Department of Visitor Services and Public Relations.
So artlovers really look forward to the event organised every five years. Hundreds of thousands of people go on a pilgrimage to Kassel exactly in this rhythm. Art slows down the pace of the biennals and the Olympic Games. Easy ease, no hurry, Harry.
At large, in the course of an ordinary, several day long pilgrimage or so to speak slowing down process one can see technically perfectly constructed works of a couple of masters with world-wide reputation, surrounded by also tpc works of young aspirants. A few of the former ones are great works of art both intellectually and physically, they may even crown the artist’s oeuvre, whereas for the latter ones simply being present at the exhibition, the documenta means the best possible reference an artists can get: world-wide capital of confidence.
Mr. D11, Okwui Enwezor has an intensive vision. He defines the task of the curator (and art) as a producer of knowledge rather than a taste-shaper. Under the aegis of this he extends the ordinary exclusive exhibition to create platforms situated on five places (meaning continents) of a different nature, and the 100 day long megashow introduced by four theoretical events (Democracy Unrealised, Experiments with Truth, Créolité and Créolization, Under Siege: Four African Cities) is only one of the five. Nevertheless the exhibition’s approach is at least this distinct.
In respect of the selection of artists we find that the spectre of potential participants has become wider, artists are bordered by activists with different scientific backgrounds on the left, and by authentic Inuit community video on the right. If one studies documenta-history* more deeply, it turns out that the extension is geographical rather than disciplinary, as it happened before that there were authors of different genres among the participating artists, for example filmmakers, poets or architects. So this time again documenta is trans-disciplinary and anti-disciplinary, the new element is the reserved a: aconceptual, acapitalistic. Knowledge producing art is problem sensitive, it can articulate discourses, it is prepossessed with desire for neutral position.
Art, as a knowledge producing factor becomes a neutral gear as a small, quick delay, slowing down, the diversion or détournement of already known systems of knowledge (regarded as obsolete). A small, exact movement at the meeting point of greater units. The accumulation of mediums and documents serves this purpose. This is why video projections occupy several screens. This is why there is a strange tension between the image and the sound sometimes. A non-retinal contact. Eyes bathing in a non-uniform scenery. Avydia (<_>Vydia; another a).
The word détournement, with its international, lettrist** and situationalist roots take us to the world of generous planning, operations with systems***. Nevertheless from the artists who used to belong to this circle only Constant is present, although respectively, as a real exhibition within the exhibition.
This time great names are more reserved, they choose a modest solution. Or more precisely: despite the appearances, the enormous amount of material, very small movements are in fashion. Like the large installation by Hanne Darboven placed in the centre, documenting a minimal displacement of numbers in several thousands of framed pictures. Or Fiona Tan’s Sanderian East versus West German catalogue. In the case of D11 there are no real grandiose works in the old sense of the word (old school) like the 7000 oaks by Beuys or the Earth Kilometre by Walter de Maria. The climate around art has changed just like art itself. The main feature is not sensualist vision, but the sensitivity of presentation. Database operations, grouping facts, planning installations all make it possible to realise and show the small diversions, and at the same time a designer-level control above them is an organic part of the artistic creation.
Clido Meireles (a documenta veteran) does not want to show you the brass tacks, iron ones will do – he comes up with something modest looking, but poetic and precise, distributing an object that looks like ice-cream: frozen sea and tap water like an element that is disappearing or that has disappeared. The sellers make money on the transaction, and the buyers pay a symbolic amount, one unit (euro) for meditating a minute on the waters of the world (if you pay money for something, you take it seriously).
Thomas Hirschhorn’s Bataille Monument acts like a comic virus in Kassel’s Turkish quarter. This temporary public work of art is less reserved. It consists of 8 elements (an imbiss operated by local Turkish youngsters (1), a library (2), a Bataille exhibition (3), a public TV studio (4), all in typical brutal barracks, a monumental statute covered with adhesive tape (5), an old Mercedes Benz with Hirschornian decorations, ensuring connection with the ordinary documenta scene, taking visitors from here to there (6), web cameras (7) and workshops (8)) and it is less reserved. It is rather funny to convey this sort of philosophy so energetically to the local Turkish youth, but the great impetus seems necessary. Because then it will also have a result. The people living here use the work: the TV studio operates, they watch Muhammad Ali’s matches in the library, they sell cheap and good kebab and drinks in the imbiss. The meeting of cultures, knowledge producing services left here for 100 days.
The operations of diversion occur in rather various forms: as the poetic conjuring away of vision (Alfredo Jaar); as a company freezing the logic of capital movement (Maria Eichhorn); as a playground consisting of elements brought from all over the world (Dominique Gonzalez Foerster); as a radicalised painting (Fabian Marcaccio); as a lyrical anthropology (Gilles Saussier); as a one-person film (Jonas Mekas); only to mention a few examples, because a long list could be made here.
The exhibition is not characterised by works that can be easily commodified. At the same time it is visible that a lot of money was spent on the installation: the primary function of which is to make it possible and pleasant for the visitors to spend time with the works. Despite the large number of works observed for days it is not tiring to go through the whole exhibition, thank to all the different time-taming, comforting apparatus designed by artists. It would be much more exhausting to go through an exhibition only consisting of paintings and statutes at the same pace. It is not a string of beads threaded on the necklace of one discipline, many-pictures-hung-next-to-each-other, the "one minute for one picture" effect****. It is a complex, thickly woven rhizome, a net which can be observed due to the retardation apparatus, to make the fine, little operations that are aimed at productive resistance visible.
The modest presence of net.art is due to eastern players. The artists of the tsunamii.net slow down surfing to the pace of walking with the help of the latest (commercially available) technology. They simply compare the speed of online and offline locomotion: on the lcd monitors placed in the exhibiting area one can follow a “web-walker” equipped with a GPS and a mobile phone, who is walking to the another server situated in an other town. Watching it from the exhibition it is not very spectacular, but looking at the structure of the work its simplicity makes it a lasting object of meditation (net slowing down as a diversive operation).
David Smalls interactive work, the Illuminated Manuscript is much more spectacular. It animates a text projected into a huge book synchronously with the viewers movements as they are turning the pages, rewriting the text in front of their eyes, generating awe as a result of moving together (book détournement). It also deserves appreciation that the work exposed to intensive use in the course of the hyper-attended exhibition (they are expecting 600,000 visitors) was still working perfectly when I was there, on the 46th day of the 100-day museum.
Those who say that the background to all this is a highly theorised, protestant approach to art could be right; or those who say that the oriental sensuality of On Kawara, who melts the words describing one million years into one million breaths is just enough gleam; or those who say that this time (again) curators are attracted by the context operations of authors who are equally sensitive about form and content; or even those who see the grandiose theorisation of practice in the overall picture.
They say that D11 can thank a lot to its predecessor, DX*****, which introduced social-political discourse on the areas of documenta, although based on an emphatically Euro-centric philosophy. D11 extends this dialogue, at the price of some speculation, but at least it does not operate with a speculum or a spectacle. Whether it is spec or not, the notion of post-colonialism should be expanded to include the analysis of a similar practice expopular under socialism******.
An especially interesting feature of the situation is that the artistic director, Okwui Enwezor, who speaks formal, nearly aristocratic English, did not study art history but political sciences and parallel were involved in experimental poetry. Later he founded Nka, the journal of contemporary African arts published in New York, in a slow rythm, biannually, but became popular quickly. This publication started him on the way of an intimate relationship with art, made him a curator and critic. The next stations of his career were exhibitions in big museums and then the second Johannesburg Biannual. Always in collaboration with others. An exhibition of this size requires good teamwork. Six co-curators and him in the theory and in the praxis. The Magnificent Seven of D11*******.
Many different relationships that are seeping through the biographical sections of the catalogue: many of those artists who have co-operated with certain members of the curator team before take part in this exhibition. Capital of connections, from which we in Budapest always have less than we need. Altough from a certain aspect we are sitting in a very safe situation: as it can be read at the end of a video film by the Moldavian Pavel Braila, thematizing the different size of the ex-soviet railway gauge (85 mm!): at the border between Eastern and Western Europe they stop the trains for three hours to change their underframe. Looking from Moldavia, we are on the west coast. Tutti frutti, my dear roasted dove.
The expansion mentioned above (i.e., the expansion of the spectre of participants) can even be measured: the fewer the number of stars, the greater the number of authors who are regarded as outsiders. Inside and outside changing places, passing unnoticed over our faces.
b2 (at) c3 (dot) hu
* The list of the artists of all documenta exhibitions online at last, and the modest Hungarian participation can be seen: László Lakner who lives in Berlin (D6 exhibition), Gábor Bódy, deceased (D8 video), Monty Cantsin (Kántor István), who lives in Quebec (D8 performance), the Dawn group (András Böröcz, László László Révész, János Szirtes) (D8 performance), Gusztáv Hámos, who lives in Berlin (D8 video), János Sugár (D9 exhibition).
*** It was a sensitive thing from János Sugár at the beginning of the summer to emphasise the significance of the presence of Attila Kotányi in Budapest.
**** This phrase comes from Katalin Timár (
***** the website of DX has been preserved for us due to Vuk Cosic, who downloaded and sends on (mirrors) the content removed by the competent people after the exhibition has been closed. Thanks, Vuk!
****** keywords from the dictionary of D11: democracy unrealised, civil society, the nation state, transitional justice, processes of truth and reconciliation, crolit, creolization, the state of siege in African cities, colonisation and post-colonialism, diaspora and migration, living conditions in EE and in megalopolises of Latin America, racism, xenophobia, assimilation, eurocentrism, andocentrism.
******* Okwui Enwezor, Carlos Basualdo, Ute Meta Bauer, Susanne Ghez, Sarat Maharaj, Mark Nash, Octavio Zaya