September 14, 2012

Good News: documenta 13

Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev. Photo: Eduardo Knapp

Humor and art are often seen as contradictory in Germany. The artist works in all seriousness metaphorically and metaphysically in-depth. Yet even the redeemer and shaman Joseph Beuys sung funny songs like Sonne statt Reagan. No surprise that Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev's call for the emancipation of dogs and strawberries confused the press. Was the chief curator of documenta 13 making a a joke or was she serious? Also in the exhibition itself Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev makes curatorial statements that are not without ambiguity. In Fridericianum, the key venue of documenta, the intellectual focal point called the brain is installed: in this small space at the core of the Fridericianum a fine selection of art pieces and historical objects establishes a tight web of associations, of which the threads are spun further throughout the various venues of the documenta. Inscribed on the glass wall of the brain is Lawrence Weiner's THE MIDDLE OF THE MIDDLE OF THE MIDDLE OF – a thought breaker throwing documenta's centerpiece slightly off balance.

This self-deprecating twist of the curator and her team is also palpable upon entering the Fridericianum. To leave space vacant at such a crowded event, at the very entrance of its main venue Fridericianum, is quite a curatorial statement. The emptiness has been described by many critics as a critique on packed art fairs or as an inquiry on perception. In the empty wings on ground floor level the visitor can experience an ephemeral sensation: alternating a summer breeze blowing gently across the face, a strong wind pushing on your back, or a draft making you look for shelter. This wind, created by fans, is an artwork of Ryan Gender, titled I Need Some Meaning I Can Memorize. In a display case a letter by the artist Kai Althoff is on show. In the five page long letter the artist explains the reasons for his withdrawal from documenta 13: the pressure to produce, an overloaded schedule, a tight time frame, and his inability to work like that. By showing the letter, one of the main parameters of exhibition-making is made clear: the dialogue between artist and curator. Most of the work on display at the documenta is made on commission. This means that there is only so much the curator has in control whereas the artist has to make a piece that fits the framework of the exhibition. By showing the letter boundaries are made apparent.

To shake up own boundaries: in that context it is worthwhile to have a look at the agents, which Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev engaged to join her curatorial team: surrounding oneself with persons with ideas, like, for example, Chus Martínes, instead of opting for the safety of a non-threatening mediocracy is remarkable. Astonishing is also that documenta 13 gives the impression that equality has finally become a “normality”. With ease artists of both sexes are represented to a same extent – female artists, a wild guess, might even dominate at documenta 13. The wind that warps the smooth exhibition space at the entrance, makes the visitor also aware of his/her own body and its positioning. Art is not a free-floating space, where one can find liberation. Art, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev writes in her opening text to documenta, „is an exercise in ambivalence.“ One could say that, like Alexander Kluge, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev has an interest for the gaps in our cosmic systems, the cocoons we live in.“ This interest for the cracks in history brings about many fascinating stories – a great story does not necessarily make great art, or sometimes it is rather the story an art piece goes through that makes it better. Yet at some points it does, and the good news is: it does so occasionally at documenta 13.

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