Documenta 13: an unerring machine which starts the first go

Documenta 13 is the title of the new Kolossal signed by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev. It is set in Kassel and it is produced by the Germany, and after five years of hard work and intensive study, it can be finally accessed by the general public until the 16/9.

Fusun Onur, Untitled 1993-2012

Back from the three days preview, it feels like I have been living into a very long movie entirely dedicated to art, but not only. Nature, sociology, culture, anthropology, archeology, politics, literature, philosophy, archival, science, history, chemistry are some of the ingredients of this thirteenth Documenta, through 150 artists coming from 55 world countries.

Fabio Mauri, Doormats Cuts, 200x420cm

The exposition is a journey through painting, theater, sculpture, videos, installations, performances, writing, cinema, sounds and sensations and thorough the many art works which are masterly exposed. This exposition aims to move away from the concept of simple exhibition molding from a mental state. In this way, many possible interpretations of art, the Men and the universe, remain open.

It seems nothing is lacking in this edition of one of the most influential happening in the world of art, that every five years for one hundred days takes place in Kassel, which becomes the world’s artistic and cultural center and once the fair is over, Kassel comes back to be the gray town in the northern Hessian, completely destroyed by the bombings during II world war and then built again.
In Kassel, you really feel a basic ingredient is lacking: time. There is no time to visit the exhibition in its wholeness, no time to enjoy all the exposed works, the most part of them as result of long and articulated projects that are not always easy to understand.

Fabio Mauri

There is not time enough to participate to all the performances and initiatives which are bounded with the Documenta. It becomes unavoidable to synthesize and often the choice is made by chance: the curator decided not to reveal in advance the artist’s names and the location of the works.
During the first press conference , “The Maybe Education and Public Programs of dOCUMENTA (13)”.
the curator delivered a speech about the program. The world maybe , indicates the impossibility to reduce art to an unique explanation and to an unique truth. It represents the lack of certainty which it is positively underlined by Caroline Christov-Bakargiev, the possibility from different point of views against the impossibility of a steady concept in art.

Thomas Bayrle, Carmageddon 2012

Thomas Bayrle, Carmageddon 2012

Art as an incomplete vision and multidisciplinary border. This Documenta is a struggle against the time, that often lefts behind very long video works, performances with scheduled time, archives, documents, letters.

I have no idea of what the widenumber of visitors, who usually take one or two days to see the exhibition, will decide to visit. It is very difficult to synthesize everything in an article; this is also proved by the three books that substituted the usual guide-catalog: the Book of books (729 pages 100 Notes- 100 ideas), the Logbook (in which all the installations, the works and the performances produced and realized for the event will be published), and the Guidebook, the actual guide completely dedicated to the artists, completed with a map of the locations. This triumphal Documenta underlines once more the power of Germany, an unerring machine which starts the firs go, leaded without any hesitation by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, expensive for the employed budget and for the visitors, who have to pay 20 Euros for the daily ticket and an amount of 120 Euros to buy the three catalogs.

Rossella Biscotti, The Trial (2010-2012)

More than 750 000 visitors are expected. It is quite hard to find free rooms in 40 kilometers far from the town. There are the many sites dedicated to the Documenta13, among them the Fridericianum, the traditional main site of the exposition which is usually the favorite place to start the visit.
The works of Ryan Gander and Ceal Foyer on the ground floor open this path as if they meant to give a slow and reflexive time, the only moment that will be granted to visitors, due to the persisting and ceaseless rhythm of the exhibition. The first artist is one of the brightest on the English artistic contemporary scene, year ’76, lives and works in London. He invades spaces like an unexpected gust of wind which disorientates and stops his public. The second one, year ’68, lives and works in Berlin, and, through a catchy refrain endlessly repeated as in the best tradition of blues music, his art refers to archaic and rural visions that bring the visitor to a sort of tribal dimension.

These two art works, which have in common their essentiality, are able to enter directly into the visitor’s sensorial experience creating a basis of absurdity which will be part of the entire exhibition. This is the most historical part of the exposition; this is also testified by the works that are almost laying one upon the other in a location that is too small to contain all of them. This space is called “the brain” by the curator and it is placed in the round of Fridericianum.

Kunsthalle Fridericianum, Kassel

Giorgio Mornadi’s still life works and the Man Ray’s indestructible objects, appear to us as ideas while the work of Penone and a draw and Barucchello’s work named “Hypotalamic Brainstorming” (1962) are dedicated to brain and archeological finds. A whole room on the upper floors is dedicated to Fabio Mauri, who long collaborated with the curator for this Documenta before his death. “Art makes, because it is history and world.” “Maybe art is not autonomous” “the universe, as the infinite, we can just see them in pieces” . These are some of the aphorisms which are lying on the ground which conduct us through a literary path to the end of a screenplay of a movie dedicated to life and art and at the very end of this tour we find a sign hanged on the wall “Screen- The End”. Unforgettable and moving Mauri’s performance at the Hauptbahnhof, where musicians, actors, and dancers are throwing the spectators in an others space-temporal dimensions.

Talking about what the central station of Kassel used to be, it was for long time abandoned, but from 1955 it was transformed into a cultural and show -center location. This is the most contemporary place of the Documenta 13, mostly dedicated to performances and installations.

It is obligatory now to quote “the refusal of time” by the south African artist William Kentridge, who throws us trough a fanfare of brass into a story made of shadows on the walls, black men chasing themselves and dancing till they create a strong emotional impact and participation from the public which is watching this shows that aims to bring them back to a historical and dramatic memory of time.

The station is a very interesting space, chosen with know-how by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, where among the artists, the work of Laura Favaretto, “Momentary Momnument IV” can also be seen: a scrap heap of rails which can be easily confused with the decadent urban landscape.

Lara Favaretto, Momentary Monument 2012

Lara Favaretto, Momentary Monument 2012

The Documenta-Halle, expressly built in 1992 to host the Documenta exposition, gained notoriety with its big show-floors made of glass, steel and cement as an important location for every next expositions. The main floor in the Documenta Halle is entirely dedicated to the German artist Thomas Bayerle, the image of a huge plane rebuilt through the compositions of photocopies in a smaller scale, hits the spectator straight in the eye and then it is possible to notice also the pieces of the engine and imaginary machines.

In the Neue Galerie music can be listened to while visiting Susan Hiller’s work. The evocative power of her jukebox with 100 songs for each day of Documenta, walks the visitors into this space which is englobed in the expositive path.

Susan Hiller

Susan Hiller

Visiting the different rooms, suddenly appears a big collage of images taken from the American magazine Life, published between 1935 and the end of the 80’s. This is the work of the Canadian artist Geoffrey Farmer’s work.

Geoffrey Farmer, Shadows puppets made from Life Magazine (1935-1985)

Geoffrey Farmer, Shadows puppets made from Life Magazine (1935-1985)

The two videos of Wael Shawky are very interesting but they are really too long to be entirely seen. The main characters are two puppets made of ceramic which are telling the story of the crusades according to the Arabian culture. Karlsaue Park, a 125-hectars park with lawns and hundred-years old trees, is a popular entertaining area, where you can meet joggers, bathers and dog walkers during the day and lovers in the night. This park was used for external projects of Documenta, the best way to visit it is with the bike and I warmly recommend the visitors to rent one, provided by the exposition organization, and spend at least a whole afternoon to discover the several installations and works which were realized for the exhibition.

It is impossible not to be bothered by the hammering and penetrating sound of a helicopter which is almost flying overhead. Nothing happens by chance here at Documenta 13: also this is part of the show, it’s the Critical Ensemble Art performance. Taking offs and landings are following the stock exchange, provoking nuisance and even an inevitable noise pollution.

But the curator is not satisfied yet and so also the Ottoneum, the first German resident theatre company where, since 1885, the natural History museum is located, and the Ständenhaus, which its internal was projected in 1950by the founder and director of Documenta, Arnold Bode, are used as locations for the Documenta.

The baroque Orangerie, located at the northern extremity of Karlsaue Park, is nowadays hosting the Museum for Astronomy and History of Technology, the room for Physics and the Planetarium I.

The works can be found inside as a treasure hunt. And there’s more, as the Oberste Grasse 4, the Gloria Cinema, brothers, The Grimm Museum…
If you think it is all over here, you are wrong! Other events are being organized contemporary to the exposition, in Kabul, In Cairo and at Banff national Park, in Canada.


Documenta 13: an unerring machine which starts the first go.
Original text: Michela Casavola
Translation: Diletta Pilat
Photos: Giacomo Cosua

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