It’s been a long time coming but here it finally is, my post about Documenta XIV. I took my time to give my honest opinion on everything mentioned here, therefor it might be a bit on the long side. So take a cup of coffee or tea, sit back and let your eyes wandering across the words.
For those of you who haven’t noticed, this summer is filled with the biggest art happenings, documenta XIV, Biennal of Venice and Skulptur projekt Münster. I visited them all in June, in a period of two weeks and after this I had to take a break from art. My brain was filled with so much information and I had so many feelings. I took the time to process everything slowly whilst living my normal life. During this time I wrote down every thought and researched the art that imprinted itself in my mind the most.
The time we went to Kassel was the time of a strong heat wave through Europe and being a very pale human being, it affects me so much. Walking from venue to venue all day would have been too much, luckily we had a lovely apartment in the centre of Kassel that we rented for three days. Between venues we could rest when needed and eat to gain some energy.
A week before the start of the roadtrip I took the time to research as much as my brain could absorb. A lot of artists seemed so interesting, but when eventually seeing their work I got a bit disappointed. Most of them sounded better on paper than the actual work, which is a pity. I don’t think that lack of knowledge of the contemporary art scene has got a part in this slightly disappointment of documenta XIV. A piece of art has to have, in my opinion, a certain sense of esthetically pleasantness.
This post is a short summary of artists that I enjoyed. I had to make a selection, there were a few more artists that were interesting, but I sort of picked my top five.
Hope you enjoy!
Let’s start with a brief history of documenta. It was brought to life in 1955 by Arnold Bode, ten years after the end of the Second World War. The exhibition showed artists who had an impact on the modern art world and were labeled as Entarte Kunst by the Nazis, slowly the concept of documenta changed from those modern artists to welcoming contemporary artists, to eventually welcoming contemporary artists from beyond Europe. Every five years a group of artists gets the chance to present their work in this widely known and well visited art event.
2017, the year of documenta XIV. This year Adam Szymczyk took the role of artistic director upon himself. (being a dillentante of the contemporary art world and its functions, basically an artistic director is the leader of a team of curators) It’s the first time in documenta history that it takes place in two different cities, namely the primary city Kassel and the Greek capital Athens.
After doing some research and trying to understand what they want to present in this exhibition titled “Learning from Athens”, I gathered that they want to connect Kassel and Athens. Athens lives in a time of change, with tens of thousands migrants arriving at their shores and the economic problems, they had some setbacks. Kassel and Athens are opposites, which goes back to the start of documenta, when they wanted to create a unity between East and West Germany.
I usually like work that has a straight forward story, but the instagram favourite of Marta Minujin wasn’t my cup of tea. The large installation on the Friedrichplatz makes a clear reference to the Parthenon in Athens. It’s constructed with thousands of books that were/are banned, wrapped up in plastic foil and is placed on the spot where the nazis had their grand book burning session. History in a work of art is always interesting, but as I said, this one is not my cup of tea.
But let’s get back to the positive side. I wanted to list the works that I enjoyed, so here we go.
The first room that I entered was at the Westpavilion and dedicated to a piece by Romuald Karmakar. With this my visit to Documenta started on a highnote, Karmakar his work got me in a trance. The room was darkened and had a central wall where a film was projected. The film is called “Byzantion” and can be divided in two parts “Agni Parthene (Greek version)” and “Agni Parthene (Church Slavonic version)”. Both parts show several men singing the Agni Parthene, a multilingual composition written for the mother of God, originally written in Greek but later translated in several other languages.
The confluence of the voices combined with the esthetically pleasing filming of Karmakar makes this piece one of my favourites. In total it only takes up 15 minutes of your time, so you should head on in, take a seat and absorb everything.
The Friedrichplatz is the home to different documenta buildings, such as the Documenta Halle and Friedericianum. The latter holds a work by Ben Russell in its cellar. It consists out of a four channel video installation, named “Good Luck”. Every part of the installation shows different aspects of the same story. I got so caught up in his work that I eventually spent an hour underground. The whole installation takes up to seventy one minutes in total.
After descending the stairs, opening a door and entering a dark room, you get confronted with a male face staring right at you for minutes before it changes to another male face. After some emotional minutes and several faces I got up and walked to the next room.
I love the fact that documentary film is such a present factor in the art world, Russell has such a way of portraying people in their purest form. “Good Luck” portrays gold miners in two different locations, Russell interviews them about the conditions they work in, their children and what they expect from the future. At times the miners laugh it all off but eventually the raw emotions come to the surface and an emotional clump gathered in my throat.
At Naturkundemuseum im Ottoneum two artists impressed me, firstly Khvay Samnang (°1982, Cambodia). When entering the building a woman sits behind a counter richly filled with brochures and several souvenirs from the naturkundemuseum. After this cacophony of things, you enter the next room and let your mind calm down in the white cube. On the left a curtain covers a dooropening from top to bottom, behind these curtains you get confronted with two monumental, roomfilling screens.
Samnang his work generally revolves around land and the rights to a land. This particular piece focusses on Cambodia, more specific the southwestern province of Koh Kong, where the Chong people live. This region is part of the last remaining piece of the rainforest in Southeast Asia. Nature is perishing under choices by mankind.
Every work of Samnang undergoes a fase of research, that’s what made me so interested in his oeuvre, for this particular piece he lives with the Chong people for a year. He learns that the Chong people map their land through ancestral history.
Samnang worked with choreographer Nget Rady for this piece. A combination of dance, masks embodied with spiritual context and the nature, made this piece so interesting to watch.
The second artist that fascinated me had a simple concept, a video where the camera is intensely zoomed in on the mouth of the artist eating moss. Ariuntugs Tserenpil.
Tserenpil very much prefers the process of the art work over the final result. He doesn’t plan anything, but just lets his intuition play out.
I couldn’t help but wonder why he chose to eat moss. I got an answer through the text in the catalogue : When I asked why he decided to eat moss in the work, he said: “Personally, I always feel helpless watching how we human beings destroy nature to satisfy our ever-increasing consumption. We all act as if we have no choice but to consume more and more. One day I was looking at the moss I collected from the forest and suddenly thought, What would it be like if I eat moss? I tried to eat it and recorded my act. The taste was really awful.”
The last location and artist that I am going to mention is Benjamin Patterson at the Karlsaue park. I read about his work and was immediately intriged and so curious for what I was about the experience. Patterson was part of the Fluxus, an art movement founded in New York in the sixties. The movement wanted to make a connection between art and the daily life.
After reading about Patterson his work it became clear that he liked to integrate humour into his work. This is very clear to see in his installation ‘When elephants fight, it’s the frogs that suffer’. You walk to the middle of little bridge in the park and suddenly the sound of frogs croaking pops up, silently arising from the water. When you walk to the other side of the bridge the sound grows stronger and it’s not very clear where it comes from at first. Once you find yourself in the middle of the installation it’s such a surreal experience. I was confused and excited at the same time. I could have stood there for hours, just listening to the frogs croaking and the humans trained to imitate the frogs their sound.
The documenta exhibition didn’t feel like a unitified bundle of art. Although documenta is scattered over 35 venues throughout the city, a sense of unification still had to be made. It was the first time that I visited documenta and I plan on visiting again. I am hoping for the best that the next edition will have a bit more pieces of art that make me curious.
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