Longitudes

A report from the symposium 'How Institutions Think' organised by the LUMA Foundation and CCS Bard College, Arles, 24–27 February 2016

All photographs: Latitudes.

[The following text was originally published on Frieze Blog on 9 March 2016].

Co-presented by the Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College with the LUMA Foundation, the four-day symposium ‘How Institutions Think’ [pdf of the programme] met to reconsider the habits and rhetorics of contemporary art institutions and curatorial practice. The event, held at the Parc des Ateliers, Arles, from 24–27 February, was developed in partnership with a long list of collaborators (Valand Academy of Arts, Gothenburg, Sweden; Afterall Books and the Exhibition Histories programme at Saint Martins, London, UK; Goldsmiths, London; the V-A-C Foundation, Moscow; and de Appel art centre, Amsterdam).

Taking its title from the 1986 book by British anthropologist Mary Douglas, the symposium played out on the site of the future LUMA Arles, a 20-acre former railway yard that includes a new building designed by Frank Gehry scheduled to open in summer 2018 as exhibitions spaces, archives, residency and study facilities, as well as a restaurant, hotel and park. Introduced by CCS Bard’s Paul O’Neill and LUMA founder Maja Hoffmann, the presentations were hosted in the recently-restored L’Atelier des Forges spaces in the middle of this construction site. O’Neill took the work-in-progress status outside as an invitation for the more than 30 speakers and around 150 delegates to debate not only what the future of art institutions in general might be, but more immediately, how new ways of operating could underpin this nascent institution in the south of France. 

LUMA Arles is located in the former railway yards of Arles and includes a new building designed by Frank Gehry and the renovation of the industrial buildings on the Parc des Ateliers by Selldorf Architects.

Yet what transpired was something far more pervasive. An amplification of the noun ‘institution’ and the verb ‘instituting’ soon engulfed not only a discussion of art and academic establishments, but law, governance, and the psyche of the French state, post-November 2015 Paris attacks. The grim predicament of a Europe in the depths of the refugee crisis – as the symposium took place, at the other end of the country, Calais’s ‘Jungle’ camp was being dismantled – became the lens for considering nothing less than the spectral institution that is Western European colonial imperialism. In the first evening’s fragmented keynote by Zahia Rahmani, the writer and historian gave an account of the ‘Made in Algeria’ exhibition of colonial cartography she has curated for the MuCEM museum in Marseilles. She argued that we cannot plausibly think about the future of any institution without confronting the terrible failures and opprobrious injustices of the past, most glaringly what she characterised as the ‘toxicity’ of Western Europe’s colonial system. 


Céline Condorelli's 'All our tomorrows' (2015) hanging curtain.

‘Is institution building still desirable?’ wondered artist Céline Condorelli in her presentation the following day as she evoked All our tomorrows (2015), her installation that humbly corralled the symposium’s setting, comprised a large hanging curtain inspired by the ‘poor architecture’ of Lina Bo Bardi’s SESC Pompéia, the social and cultural centre established in São Paulo. 

Reflecting on his own transformative experiences made while directing the 2014 edition of the São Paulo Biennial, Charles Esche – Director of the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, Netherlands – astutely articulated both the decisiveness of Western Imperialism’s poisonous effect on the rest of the world, and the nervousness about whether anyone can even venture to be hopeful about the future. Esche persuasively argued that Western museums must make decolonialisation fundamental to their missions and no longer a marginal issue by analysing the entrails of neoliberalism’s ‘dogged persistence’ and, soothsayer-like, intuitively sensing the ‘weak signals’ of a more just politics.
 
 Question from Mick Wilson, artist, educator and Head of the Valand Academy of Arts, University of Gothernburg, Sweden, and moderatior of one of the sessions.  

Attendees gather outside the symposium venue at the Parc des Ateliers.

Sociologists Luc Boltanski and Arnaud Esquerre spoke of France’s deep investment in what they termed the ‘economy of enrichment’ in observations that were particularly prickly given the art-destination place-making unfolding on the very site of the symposium. They submitted that the luxury brands that dominate the image of the country abroad enjoy a close but officially-unacknowledged complicity with heritage and culture. They argue that this compound myth of the French art de vivre accounts for the country consistently being the globe’s most visited tourist destination, yet also that, less innocuously, France’s defiance of normative economic rules about price and value make it both a haven for inequality as well as unusually susceptible to instability. Put candidly, the presence of refugee and terrorists is not conducive to tourism and handbag sales. Later, speaking about ‘turbo-fascism’ and a transition to ‘necropolitics’ (a term coined by philosopher Achille Mbembe regarding the politics of sovereignty over life and death), philosopher Marina Gržinić contended that we are living in a time of war in which our institutions battle to preserve this ‘good life’ at any cost. 

Céline Condorelli, Artist, Professor at Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti, Milan, and Founding Co-Director Eastside Projects, in conversation with Helena Reckitt, Senior Lecturer in Curating at Goldsmiths, University of London.  
 Clémentine Deliss, Independent Curator and Fellow of the Institute of Advanced Study (Wissenschaftskolleg).

Turning more specifically to art’s institutions, independent curator and editor Nataša Petrešin-Bachelez argued that they are so often so deeply implicated in an economy of precarity that they spawn new toothless art forms of ‘safe participation’ and ‘soft interactivity’. ‘Stubborn’ institutions thus appeared to be both the problem and the solution. Accordingly, Clémentine Deliss – recently dismissed as the Director of the Weltkulturen Museum in Frankfurt – delivered a scorching critique of the racism and intransigence persisting in ethnographic museums founded in the 19th century, particularly in Germany and France. She characterised how the hundreds of thousands of objects ‘salvaged’ from the frontline of the colonial project are now trapped in a legislative embargo, reduced to little more than dormant entries on databases. Access to these hoards of material culture and their restitution is critical she asserted, yet young curators are too afraid to deal with them – contemporary art offers an easier ride. 

In the context her work directing the SBG Gallery in Montréal, Canada, curator Pip Day discussed Canada’s settler-colonialist legacy, the evasions allowed by conceiving of decolonization as merely a metaphor, and her advocacy of the work of First Nation artists such as Maria Hupfield. Bassam El Baroni, an independent curator based in Alexandria, Egypt, later presented a paper that threaded a bewilderingly dense route through a tangle of cognitive philosophy and ‘prometheanism’. Yet Day’s case studies, as well as those discussed by Mélaine Bouteloup, curator of Paris’s Bétonsalon, regarding the recently opened Villa Vassilieff which is now the second site of that institution, helped to link such abstraction to more practical curatorial and artistic thinking-in-action that addresses the past while creating new knowledge. 

Gehry’s LUMA building will comprise presentation and exhibition spaces, archive, library, offices, seminar rooms, artist-in-residence facilities, café-restaurant and hotel and is due to open in summer 2018.

Yet it was through the presentations by writer Dave Beech and especially architect Keller Easterling that the symposium actually approached something resembling a strategy to address what had been almost uniformly painted as the shameful, broken state of the contemporary institution. According to both Beech and Easterling, we should be paying keener attention to infrastructure rather than institution per se. Following her book Extrastatecraft: The Power of Infrastructure Space (2014) Easterling’s bruising and exhilarating contention was that an enveloping urban medium (including preposterous towers, mall sprawl, special-trade-zone legal lacunae) defies consideration as a thing and is better thought of as a global operating system, a ‘disposition’ that thrives on saying one thing and doing quite another. 

Ljublijanan philosopher, theoretician and artist Marina Gržinić; writer and professor Dave Beech and curator and theorist Simon Sheikh.

At the start of the symposium artist Liam Gillick – one of LUMA’s luminary consultants alongside Tom Eccles, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Philippe Parreno and Beatrix Ruf – had asked somewhat rhetorically, ‘can an institution be thought collectively on this scale?’ It was clearly not only Charles Esche who looked out at the spine of what will be a 24,000 square metre Frank Gehry-designed tower and noticed that the institution’s die was cast already – and thanks to an architect long synonymous with the art museum as an importunate form of trophy. Following Keller’s strategic spatial repertoire of ‘counterbalances’, ‘interplays’, ‘toggles’, ‘incentives’ and ‘ratchets’, as well as her talk of heeding the dynamics of joke-telling or dough-tending, she implied that if we are going to formulate a resilient future for art institutions, we had better start feeling our way – and get a whole lot more canny. 


Max Andrews is a contributing editor of frieze and, with Mariana Cánepa Luna, runs Latitudes, an independent curatorial office based in Barcelona, Spain.
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 LUMA Foundation spaces under construction.

Related content:

dOCUMENTA (13) in pictures & as seen by the critics, 9 June–16 September 2012

 View of Kassel's Friedrichsplatz.

How can we begin to unpack the complex, multilayered, plural and expansive dOCUMENTA (13)? As the paranormal researcher Charles Fort wrote 'One measures a circle, beginning anywhere'. We photodocumented some of the works on view, and read (and still reading, therefore this blog will evolve over time by incorporating quotations from newly published commentary) several reviews by art writers and critics throughout the past few days which deserve re-reading and further sharing. Here are some highlights of the 2013 iteration.

The New York Times' review by Robert Smith sets the tone: "Ms. Christov-Bakargiev has assembled an immense, unruly organism of a show. It is alternately inspiring — almost visionary — and insufferable, innovative and predictable, meticulous and sentimentally precious. I would not have missed this seething, shape-shifting extravaganza for the world, and I’d rather not see its like again, at least not on this dwarfing, imperious, self-canceling scale."


Filipa Ramos' review on Art Agenda "Postcard from Kassel", begins unraveling the Kunsthalle Fridericianum where we started our tour.


(...) the total bareness of the first rooms of the canonical core, the Kunsthalle Fridericianum, is broken by the display of Kai Althoff’s letter to Christov-Bakargiev explaining his decision not to take part in the exhibition (“life” was more important)—although a work of Althoff’s is, despite this, still featured in the Rotunda [not in the catalogue].


Kay Altoff's letter on display in a vitrine occupies the first empty room of the Fridericianum only accompanied by Ryan Gander's light breeze titled "I Need Some Meaning I can Memorise [The Invisible Pull], 2012. More images of Altoff's letter here via Contemporary Art Daily.

(...) "Before getting there, Ryan Gander’s breeze, I Need Some Meaning I Can Memorise (The Invisible Pull) (2012)—a light wind that caresses one’s skin and hair—and Ceal Floyer’s audio piece, a melodious promise, repeated to exhaustion, of “So I’ll just keep on… till I get it right” (‘Til I Get It Right, 2005), hail the most attentive spectators.

The Guardian's critic Adrian Searle, also highlighted one of wonderful treats in the Fridericianum, the "(...) 400 beautiful, modest postcard-sized paintings of different varieties of apple, by Bavarian pastor and artist Korbinian Aigner. Imprisoned for his anti-Nazi sermons, Aigner worked as a gardener in Dachau and Sachsenhausen, where he cultivated several new varieties, one for each year of his internment. There's pathos here, among these rows of painted apples." [3D view of the room here]




Korbinian Aigner's 372 gouache and pencil drawings of "Apples" made between 1912-60s.

Making way up the Kunsthalle Fridericianum frieze magazine's assistant editor Christy Lange relates her highlights of the venue:

(...) The rest of the proved somewhat uneven in tone: lurching from Goshka Macuga’s large-scale digitally-printed black and white tapestry of a tableaux at a dOCUMENTA-related event in Kabul (featuring an oversized cobra front and centre), to the delicate and haunting hand-woven tapestries of Hannah Ryggen (1894–1970), who reproduced violent scenes of wars and conflicts in a medium that few in the 1930s and 40s would have thought to use to do so. [Here a great set of detailed photographs of Ryggen's work here via Contemporary Art Daily and a 3D view here]


Goshka Macuga's tapestry "Of what is, that it is; of what is not, that is not 1", 2012. 5.2 x 17,4m.

"Both of these works – Lange continues – focusing on weaving dovetailed nicely (if not a bit obviously) with one of the venue’s highlights: Mario García Torres’s installation, which documented his search for the One Hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan, a lodging house run by and resided in by Alighiero Boetti from 1971 until 1977, where Boetti worked to produce his famous series of tapestries made by Afghan weavers (which were supposed to appear in documenta 5, but never did)." [3D view of this piece here]



Mario García Torres at the Fridericianum's first floor.

(...) In the Fridericianum’s cramped Rotunda space, the exhibition displayed the kinds of curatorial flourishes that often seem to accompany a certain kind of anthropological curating that capriciously mixes anthropological artefacts and found objects with artworks. This kind of museological, cabinet-of-curiosities approach, having already been a trope of contemporary artists for a while now, seems especially dated in the hands of a curator. In this darkened space crammed with spot-lit vitrines, I had trouble making the connections between Giorgio Morandi’s paintings, displayed along with actual objects from his studio, and the neighbouring vitrines containing ‘Bactrian Princesses’ – a series of small sculptures of seated women created in the late 3rd and early 2nd century BC in what is now modern-day Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Afghanistan. While these artworks and artefacts are no doubt fascinating, there is no apparent justification for their inclusion together, other than their need to be housed in vitrines, and the fact they probably couldn’t have been procured for any contemporary art exhibition other than this one.


Rotunda in the Fridericianum: the brain. As written in the Guidebook: "an associative space of research where a number of artworks, objects and documents are brought together in lieu of a concept". 

Filipa Ramos rightly observed the "(...) large amount of micro-museums, from Pedro Reyes’s Museum of Hypothetical Lifetimes (2011), an ode to human nature and social structure, to Kader Attia’s The Repair from Occident to Extra-Occidental Cultures (2012)—a horrifying yet astonishing research project on the impact and effects of francophone colonialism; to Michael Rakowitz’s cabinets of destroyed or lost books, and many, many others."

  Kader Attia's "The Repair", 2012. Slideshow projection and artefacts from Africa.


Attia’s 'Repair From Occident to Extra-Occidental Cultures', "[is ] a daunting installation that reflects on art, colonialism and body scarification in Africa but draws its main force from a set of large carved-wood busts depicting the horrific face wounds suffered by European soldiers in World War I. Gripping yet also illustrational, the piece exemplifies several archive-like works here. It also reflects the continuing hegemony of late-late Conceptualism — now extravagantly materialized and labour-intensive — over the international exhibition circuit." (Roberta Smith in The New York Times). [3D view of this room here].

Mariana Castillo Deball's "Uncomfortable Objects. Finding Oneself Outside", 2012. 
Many more pictures of this wonderful work here, by Contemporary Art Daily. Otherwise a 3D view here.

Christy Lange continued to the Ottoneum, which in her opinion "(...) yielded some predictable ‘eco-related’ contributions scattered among the natural history museum displays of taxidermied animals and animal skeletons. (...) it’s worth the trip upstairs to see Mark Dion’s specially commissioned installation. Here he designed an elaborate wooden display case to house the Ottoneum’s unique ‘Schildbach Xylotheque’ – a ‘wood library’ made in 1771–79 of several hundred books carved out of different species of trees. The books are actually boxes that house dioramas inside. Dion’s installation and Schildbach’s library is a felicitous match made in nerd heaven." [360º panoramic view here]



Mark Dion, recuperates Carl Schildbach's 18th Century 'Schildbach Xylotheque' (a wood library) with a new hexagonal display chamber.

"Nearby in the Neue Galerie, several visitors were fawning in unabashed awe and wonder over Geoffrey Farmer’s impressive installation, which evokes that same sort instantaneous reaction that Christian Marclay’s The Clock recently did, perhaps because of its sheer scale, meticulous detail and the obvious time and manual labour it took to create it." [See panoramic view here]



 Geoffrey Farmer's "Leaves of Grass", with thousands of pictures cut from five decades of Life magazine, in the Neue Galerie.

 Adriana Lara's "Purpose", 2012, also at the Neue Galerie, accompanied by sculptures by Brazilian Maria Martins.


Rossella Biscotti, The Trial, 2010-12, in the Neue Gallerie. Concrete sculptures made from casts from the architectural features of the courtroom where members of the extra-parliamentary left-wing Autonomia Operaia (including Antonio Negri and other intellectuals), were accused of being ideologically and morally responsible for Italian terrorism in the 1970s.

(...) On a side street near the Rathaus, in a dark hall in a backyard of a house, was Tino Sehgal’s installation, in which, as it only became clear once my eyes adjusted to the darkness, are about 20 young men and women in a circle chanting, singing, marching, and slouching against the wall. At a certain point, still in the dark, they start conversing about ‘income’ and ‘output’ and ‘satisfaction’ – I guess the point at which it starts to feel like a Tino Sehgal performance? But the performance still captivates for two main reasons: though it takes place in darkness, it unexpectedly becomes about our vision, or the limits thereof, more than any of our other senses. And because it still has that skilful Sehgal twist, which all his best piece have, by which you, the audience member, suddenly and unexpectedly find yourself centre stage, playing the somewhat sheepish performer. 

Adrian Searle also favourited Sehgal's "(...) magnificent performance piece behind a decaying Huguenot house. Performers stamp and sing, whisper, holler and dance. They go through little routines as I stumble between them. Sehgal's exhilarating 'This Variation' is among the best things in Documenta, as is choreographer Jérôme Bel's Disabled Theatre, a confrontational performance made in collaboration with actors with learning difficulties. Both Bel's and Sehgal's work concern presence and presentness, what it means to be a spectator." [In depth text on Sehgal's 'This variation' art-dance-music piece also by Adrian Searle here].



Façade of Kunsthalle Fridericianum.

Dan Fox, Senior Editor of frieze magazine, analisis went on describing the "punch-drunk with politically hectoring or ‘we are the world’ approaches to large-scale exhibition making that would make even Bono seem modest in his outlook, I expected more of the same, yet dOCUMENTA (13) is an exhibition of subtlety and imagination, if somewhat over-optimistic in its attempts to get audiences to engage with other areas of intellectual activity, such as quantum physicists (as could be found in the Fridericianum, next to Mario García Torres’ work about Alighiero Boetti’s One Hotel in Kabul)." Fox ends his report reflecting on this year's title: "(...) However, one crucial question remains. Does the overlaboured spelling ‘dOCUMENTA (13)’ herald a return of the early 1990s exhibition title? ‘Site/[in–]Sight’, ‘(in–)TERRA–gating Gender’…"

Sam Thorne's overview of Karlsaue's park: "Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev offered artists a prefab house to work with. Responses range from Pedro Reyes’s ‘sanatorium’ (offering art-themed counselling) and Raimundas Malašauskas and Marcos Lutyens’s hypnosis sessions to mini solo presentations, by artists including Rosemarie Trockel and Joan Jonas. Elsewhere, there are various takes on public sculpture, from gimmicky pieces like Massimo Bartolini’s wave pool and Anri Sala’s perspectivally-skewed clock [Latitudes' note: it seems to us that many failed to understand that the clock was 'frontly' visible from one of the telescopes (the Refraktor Linsenteleskop, 1976) placed on the top floor of the Orangerie] to a characteristically elegant collection of works by Carol Bove." 


 Pedro Reyes, Sanatorium, at Karlsaue Park, (as described in D13's website) "an ongoing performative project that involves eight types of therapy sessions offered to visitors of dOCUMENTA (13) “to treat urban ills.” The content and procedures for these sessions are prepared by the artist and carried out by art students who are trained by Reyes as therapists, analysts, and tutors to the visitors."
 
 Anri Sala, Clocked Perspective, 2012, at the far end of the Hirschgraben, one of the two canals in the Karlsaue park. More images here via Contemporary Art Daily.


 Carol Bove's tableau of elements in the Flora garden of the Karlsaue Park.

Thorne continues "Highlights for me included Pierre Huyghe’s beehive-headed (Maillol?) sculpture, installed in a swampy copse and invigilated by a pink-legged dog, in earshot of an immersive, atavistic sound piece by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller. [See 3D view here] More difficult to locate is a shaded house crammed full of new and old work by the Brazilian septuagenarian Anna Maria Maiolino – though it’s well worth finding."

Pierre Huyghe's "Untilled. Live things and inanimate things, made and not made" (2011–12) photographed during the opening week. An entropic gesamtkunstwerk of plants, bees, concrete, mud, plants, tree branches, bacteria, dogs, construction materials... 3D view of the piece here


 Huyghe's piece photographed 100 days after during the last week of documenta (13). 


Jerry Saltz on Huyghe's work: "If anything here will put you in a mind to give up on definitions, though, it’s Pierre Huyghe’s craterlike ruins patrolled by two dogs at the far end of the park. (...) This is a place of no-narrative, an incubation chamber of new orders." 

 Anna Maria Maiolino, "Here & there" (2012) different coloured modeled clay cover the rooms of the former gardener's house in Karlsaue park.

 Brian Jungen's "Dog Run", 2012, a play zone only permitted for dogs and their owners at Karlsaue park. [3D view here]

Also at the Karlsaue park, behind the Orangerie was one of the contributions by US artist-activists collective Critical Art Ensemble's helicopter rides, a work titled “A Public Misery Project: A Temporary Message to Global Economic Inequality”, which as described by Rachel Corbett from artnet involves:

(...) erecting a crane-sized bar graph depicting wealth disparity in America, with every 1cm representing $100 and, when it got too tall, using a helicopter to soar 225 meters up in the sky to represent, hyperbolically, the top 1%. (...) On opening day, a red carpet stretched along the grass leading the 50 people who had bought tickets for a flight. The 99%, meanwhile, could pay a coin of their choice in any currency for a lottery ticket and the chance to win a ride. Between 10 am and 8 pm, the Critical Art Ensemble planned to give about 300 rides.

Jerry Saltz wasn't at all convinced about their contribution, and labelled the work 'immoral': (...) "viewers ride in a helicopter to heights corresponding to their net worth. The work is supposedly about wealth accumulation and is an anti-market gesture. Surely it cost more to stage for a day than many museums and galleries can spend or generate in a year, or than most artists earn in a lifetime."

 
Critical Art Ensemble's “A Public Misery Project: A Temporary Message to Global Economic Inequality”.

Natascha Sadr Haghighian's "Greening the rubble of Kassel: construction work on the war debris heaped up along the Karsaue for the Federal Horticulture Show". Picture of the staircase that connects Schöne Aussicht with the Karlsaue park via an 'alternative' route on a slope. "Onomatopoeic animal sounds in different languages emanate from the bushes and trees as the visitor descends to the park. The web-based trail d(13)pfad.de is a collaboration with Pola Sieverding and accompanies the physical trail. It contains materials connecting to the rubble, the plants, the animals, the people and the languages Natascha and Pola encountered on the trail." (from D13's web)

 Jimmie Durham's "The History of Europe" (2011) in a (hot) greenhouse at Karlsaue park. 
Additional images here by Contemporary Art Daily.


 Maria Loboda's moving forest of potted cypress trees "The Work is Dedicated to an Emperor" (2012). The army of trees is being moved through the landscape during the exhibition period following different military positions, progressively conquering the Orangerie. 

Jörg Heiser's reviewed Kassel's off-the-main-site venues on frieze blog, starting with a 'heads up' around their number and distance:

Given that there are 30 documenta sites in Kassel – one of which, the vast Karlsaue park, features 53 projects alone – you might be tempted to skip these off-the-main-sites ones. Especially if you also planned to take a few weeks off and devote a lot of time and money to also visit the official documenta events scheduled to take place in Egypt, Afghanistan, and rural Canada. (There seems to be a logic of overbidding in place: not only more, but evermore remote and difficult sites; in 2002, there were documenta ‘platforms’ in Lagos or the Caribbean; in 2007, ElBulli restaurant in Spain was declared a site; so how could the director of the next documenta in 2017 top that – Antarctica? Waziristan? Chernobyl? The moon?)

(...) A few houses down the street is an elegantly modest presentation by Francis Alÿs of postcard-size paintings juxtaposing fragmented scenes from Kabul with abstract colour studies reminiscent of television test screens, testifying to doubts about the possibilities of ‘appropriately’ representing a war-torn nation but the need to still do so (while a simple note pinned to a board read, line after line, ’1943, I think about Morandi painting on top of a hill surrounded by fascism, I think about Picabia finding inspiration in soft porn magazines on the Côte d’Azur… I think about Leni Riefenstahl filming Tiefland with extras from concentration camps… I think about Blinky Palermo born in the rubbles of Leipzig…’). 

 Francis Alÿs in a former bakery in Obere Karlsstr. 4

Heiser also highlights Tacita Dean, whose "film project involving a cameraman commissioned to film in various locations in Kabul didn’t come through because the footage turned out to be flawed, but Dean made the best of it by realizing a whole set of large-scale chalk on blackboard ‘murals’ filling most walls in a former tax office space [in Spohrstr.7] dominated by a beautiful brass-railed staircase and balustrade."

Adrian Searle went on describing Dean's blackboard drawings: "(...) some are near-empty, just turbid blackness; others are filled with moiling rapids and rushing rivers. There are sunlit mountaintops, dusty avalanches, chalky wipe-outs. The six panels are a sort of storyboard, an evocation of an elsewhere. Dean's drawings are, I think, about time: geological time, the flash of a life, a passing thought."

Tacita Dean, Fatigues (2012). Blackboard-drawings in a former tax office. 
More detailed photos via Contemporary Art Daily.

Back to Heiser's words – he made his way to the vaults of a bunker underneath Kassel's vineyard terrace: "(...) Here, Allora & Calzadilla’s film Raptor’s Rapture (2012) was congenially placed: its point of departure is the unearthing, in 2009 in a cave in Southern Germany, of a flute that was carved 35000 years ago from a griffon vulture’s bone. The artists asked a flautist to try playing the flute in a studio setting confronting her with the presence of a living griffon vulture. The animal reacted rather stoically to the flautist’s systematic probing of different techniques of blowing, suggesting a time capsule being opened for the first time (the equivalent of archaeologists in the distant future retrieving data from an ancient computer hard drive). Given that the griffon vulture itself is a highly endangered species, the staging of the animal listening to an eery tune whistled on a bone of its one species nevertheless had an intentionally perverse and tautological undertone, emphasized by the slow and painstakingly precise camera work."

Christodoulos Panayiotou' "Independence Street", 2012: electricity poles and cables removed from Odos Anexartisias street in Limassol, Cyprus. "The Sea", 2012: ceramic tiles from Cyprus lined up in the exhibition space using water from the Mediterranean Sea. [3D view of this room here.]

And then concludes with a long description of his experience when seeing Jérome Bêl’s 'Disabled Theatre' (2012) performance piece which "carried all the way through 90 minutes of uneasy, preconception-probing estrangement and empathy."

The curtain opens and a stoically calm ‘instructor’ seated at the side of the stage, operating a simple p.a. system and also doubling as a translator from German into English, announces that the actors of the piece have been asked by Bel to first appear, one at a time, on stage to stand still for about a minute. The eleven protagonists do so, and after a short while it becomes clear that the title of the piece is to be taken literally: a majority of them appear to be handicapped given the physical attributes of Down Syndrome. This creates obvious unease on the part of a self-assumingly ‘intelligent’ audience in terms of staring at a supposedly ‘handicapped’ person in such a way as if subjected to enforced voyeurism. But this was only the first of five stages that gradually unravelled that very unease, however never giving in to simple comic relief, cynicism, or sentimentality. The second part again announced and explained in simple terms just as the following ones, involved a microphone stand being put up at the same spot at the centre of the stage, this time involving the protagonists giving their name, age, and profession. As for profession, all of them said “actor” – which is indeed the case, since they are members of the Zurich-based theatre group HORA. The third part involved the question of them being asked what their disability was – and they simply stated it on a spectrum from learning disability to the different terminologies of ‘Down Syndrome’, ‘Trisomy 21’, or, as one protagonist said of herself in a proud retort to medicinal as well as derogative terminology, ‘I’m a fucking mongoloid’.

The fourth and fifth part followed essentially the classic logic of climax and denouement: the fourth involved seven of the actors doing short dance performances according to their individual musical choreographical choices. (...). ‘Dancing Queen’ by Abba is a song that moves me even if it is played in a Muzak version in a hotel lobby; here the same performer who had described herself as ‘mongoloid’ danced to it with Heavy Metal dedication – the applause was roaring, and mixed feelings gave way to a momentary rush of shared enthusiasm. But the fifth and last act involved the simple question put to the performers what they thought of Bel’s piece: some simply said ‘great’ or ‘good’, while others went into detail and told little stories. One of them quoted his mother saying she thought it was a freakshow but that she liked it anyway. Another said his sister cried in the car, saying he had been put on display like in a circus. This was not just a tired exercise of deconstructive self-reflection (as is so often the case with contemporary work) but a gradual shift from the authoritative, absent voice of Bel (...) to the autonomous voices of the protagonists themselves, who elegantly frustrate precisely the freak show tendency by taking the opportunity to voice their observations or, simply, performing their very own dance. 

There is a number of artists who could learn a lesson or two from Jérôme Bel’s piece, in terms of how it doesn’t shy away from difficult confrontations and yet steers clear of simplistic demonstrations of ‘taboo-breaking’ or – equally annoying – moralist complacency. I’m glad I didn’t miss it.

When describing the effect of seeing this piece, New York Magazine Jerry Saltz wrote he "was shaken to the core by the formal and emotional pathos in Jérôme Bel’s “dance” involving people with Down syndrome who simply stood onstage, danced for two minutes, then spoke about their perceptions of us watching them. A fourth wall shattered here into a fifth dimension."



 Paul Chan's "Wht is Wht? Why the Why?", 2012, at Friedrichstrasse 28.

Afghanistan was certainly present in many of participating artists' projects. In her review 'Kabul in Kassel, Kassel in Kabul', Emily Nathan from Artnet Magazine unpacks the lingering question of “Why Afghanistan?”:

"In answer to the question, [Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev] drew a parallel between Documenta’s original founding in 1955 amidst the rubble of World War II, and Afghanistan’s current state of reconstruction, such as it is. By inserting contemporary art from the west into the mix, she said, she wanted to create a bridge between Kabul’s vibrant international past and her own present -- “to act as if the situation was not what it is, as if the barriers, the conflict, the occupation in Kabul did not exist...continuing the daily life required by and inevitable while living in a militarized zone.” 


While this act of “radical imagination” is well-intentioned, it is nonetheless problematic, and the issues it brings up about art’s instrumentalization in places of violence and injustice were the subject for the panel, which featured the likes of Chus Martinez, Giuseppe Penone, Mario Garcia Torres, Francis Alÿs, Adrian Villar Rojas and a handful of young Afghan artists who participated in the seminars. In a gesture of cultural exchange, the work they created during the workshops is on view in Kassel’s various exhibition venues for Documenta, and will also be part of a final presentation in Kabul that opens this month. 


Adrián Villar Rojas field of sculptures around Kassel's Weinberg terrassen.

 Francis Alÿs small-sized paintings exhibited in a former bakery in Obere Karlsstr. 4.

(...) Most speakers followed suit, describing how grateful they were for the resources Documenta had provided and what they had learned. But one Afghan student spoke directly. “In the past few years,” he said, “Afghanistan has been entirely shaped by an infrastructure of ‘development.’ Documenta had no such pre-conceived program in mind for us; it made no claims for success or reconstruction. I found that liberating.”

Michael Rakowitz, an artist who led a stone-carving seminar in Bamiyan near the site of the stone Buddhas destroyed in 2001, was equally frank. “To ask how art might be enlisted in the service of rebuilding the culture of a devastated land and people,” he said, is “an incredibly problematic gesture, and that is what makes it good and important.” He sourced his decision to participate in the program to the realization that not participating would be a submission to his own sense of guilt, “which is related to political correctness,” which he sees as a sort of reverse-racism.
[3D tour of his contribution here]

Michael Rakowitz space in the ground floor of the Fridericianum.
More detailed images here via Contemporary Art Daily. 


 Detail of Rakowitz's installation.

(...) Indeed, the idea of context is one of the more salient issues in Bakargiev’s exchange program, since the works were made in Afghanistan during a particular period but have been displaced to Kassel for the exhibition. How can their significance be translated?

Another Afghan artist involved with the “Archive Practicum” project (...) took the mic. (...)“It’s hard, if not impossible,” he said, “to stay out of the mess of politics and war when involved in the cultural realm; one is translated onto and into the other. But what I discovered through these seminars,” the artist said -- lapsing into the kind of vague academic jargon that is all too popular on the international art circuit -- “is that it’s not about finding the ‘appropriate’ translation for an idea or a context, but rather problematizing the translation process and making space for its contradictions and limitations.”
 
“For me,” [Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev] concluded, “the image of Morandi sitting in his studio painting vases, one after the other, with Fascism all around him -- that is what art can do.

Back to Filipa Ramos' remarks on the Hauptbahnhof:

"Into the north wing of the train station, one happens upon an installation in a house by Haris Epaminonda and Daniel Gustav Cramer offering up an equally inebriating experience through arrangements of images, texts, letters, and found objects, mostly from domestic contexts, combined with multiple projections in a chiaroscuro labyrinth of rooms. This is surely one of Epaminonda’s most complex projects up until now, and it presents itself as one of the many museum-like configurations to be seen in Kassel."

 Haris Epaminonda & Daniel Gustav Kramer in the two floors and attic of a former office building behind Kassel's Hauptbahnhof.

More Hauptbahnhof highlights, and back to Dan Fox's words:

(...) A three-channel film by Clemens von Wedemeyer (Muster (Rushes), 2012) was a sophisticated and beautifully directed look at how historical meaning is established and grows across generations; its first chapter looks at Nazi atrocities committed in an old building in Kassel, then looks at a group of young actors attempting to make radical work in that venue, followed by a group of teenagers being taken on a tour of the grounds as an audio guide tells them of the horrors that had occurred there. Also of note was Javier Téllez’s film Artaud’s Cave (2012), elaborately installed in an imitation cave-cum-Aztec temple, and made in collaboration with residents of a psychiatric hospital in Mexico City; a film that excavated Antonin Artaud’s experiences in Mexico. [Great 3D view of the cave entrance here]
  
 Still from Javier Téllez's "Artaud's Cave", 2012.

And still some more highlights:

(above and below)  Lara Favaretto's "Momentary Monument IV (Kassel)", 2012.
More detailed images of her two-part presentation here via Contemporary Art Daily. 
A great 360º panoramic view here.


 Haegue Yang's motorised Venetian blinds in Kassel's former central station. 
A lot more detailed images here by Contemporary Art Daily.

 And off-site, at the Ständehaus:

 Dora Garcia's weekly TV show 'Klau Mich' (die Kalu Mich Show) studio. 
Fully comprehensive website here (with videos, agenda, blog...).

 Xabier Salaberria (although not listed as D13 participant) design for the Absolute bar at the foyer of the Ständehaus. [Panoramic view here]

One final observation from Quinn Latimer's review on Art Agenda:


"(...) despite the attention fostered by both Christov-Bakargiev herself and her critics on her vaunted interest in the nonhuman world, what I found most startling about Documenta 13 was how entirely human it was, and how engaged with the world that we (joyfully, sorrowfully, weirdly) inhabit. If that sounds lamely human-centric and passé, so be it. It’s a deeply intelligent, stringent, surprising, and entirely committed (yes, that word again) showing of the potentiality of private lives accorded the most public of stages."


And, more final statements by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev when interviewed by Rotterdam artists Bik Van der Pol: (...) "In order for democracy to move forward, we have to constitute the subject as a subject and give up any pretension of ownership and exclusivity that we might have about subjectivity. It is about empowering, and the right to determine the environment in which we all live."


More photo reports via Contemporary Art Daily and Flash Art online and Universes in Universe and preview videos via Vernissage TV and b
elow our slideshow with over 200 pictures:



All photos: Latitudes | www.lttds.org

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Founded in 2005 by Max Andrews and Mariana Cánepa Luna, Latitudes is a curatorial office based in Barcelona, Spain, that works internationally across contemporary art practices.

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2005—2019