Wind, rain, music and laughter…

29 June 2012 Julie Lomax

With over 200 great artists spread across eight venues and a number of off-site projects across Kassel it didn’t feel like enough time to see everything despite having three full days at dOCUMENTA (13) — especially when you throw in the small issue of about a12,000 mile journey from Australia if I wanted to pop back over.

I set off on the first day with Liz Ann MacGregor, Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art Sydney (MCA), determined to fit in as much as I could but not at the expense of engaging with the work. Our first stop was Karlsaue Park, originally designed as a pleasure garden, artists’ work was scattered across the park housed in temporary wooden shelters, or located in the fabric of the park itself. I can’t think of anything nicer than walking through a beautiful park on a summers day encountering works of art that delight, are provocative, encourage interaction and quiet moments of reflection. Despite the fact it was raining we were not to be deterred and had an extraordinary experience from the artist raising the issue of the plight of dogs in Thailand, to finding a boulder in a tree. We were also warmed up with mint tea in the Western Sahara tent. Whilst there were many highlights in the park, Fiona Hall’s wonderous cabin, or as she described it ‘a hunters den’, did not disappoint. Filled with endangered species that were created from everyday ephemera such as the use of army camouflage material, Hall’s work sends out the message that in losing natural habitat the animals also lose their ability to protect themselves. Pierre Huyghe’s surreal installation included a women’s head buzzing with bees and dogs with pink legs, both intriguing and perplexing.

Moving on from the park to Tino Sehgal’s This Variation, I found myself plunged into darkness. I then realised that there were people in the space chanting, which was disorientating, unexpected and discomforting, but worth every short moment. This dark, in every sense of the work experience, was followed by a visit to Theaster Gates musical performance set against the backdrop of an abandoned house which was uplifting in contrast and I left feeling light of foot and more joyous in the rain.

The morning of my second day was spent at a seminar detailing the partnership with Afghanistan and taking dOCUMENTA (13) to Afghanistan. It was incredible to hear the stories from the young Afghan artists that were taking part in dOCUMENTA (13) and it also gave me a real insight into the fact that we don’t hear enough of the everyday stories. There was a strong sense of irony when Mariam Ghani spoke of driving around in a dOCUMENTA (13) jeep, which are made near Kassel, but which she associates with the German Army in Afghanistan. Mariam’s work in the Fridericianum depicted ruined buildings and interiors in Afghanistan and the accompanying spoken histories were very strong. Shown in close quarters with Goshka Macuga’s large scale digital photograph, which was both archival and hyper real, brought together two facets of this partnership.

In the afternoon I visited the Hautbahnhof (local train station), where 29 artists had work shown across old buildings, storage areas, a cinema and a bar. This was by far my favourite location and the sheer volume and quality of work demanded more than half a day’s attention. I was enthralled by Susan Philipsz Study for Strings, which was a quiet moment at the end of the track and in the solitude the audience encounters the dark past of platform 13 where transportation left for the concentration camps. Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller’s iPad work immersed you as the main protagonist in a work that was part film noir and part journey of discovery — beautifully choreographed, with a private performance finale of contemporary dance. I watched the Otolith Group’s sobering film about Japan that commented on nuclear power and the natural geological instability of the region, created using archive footage and recent interviews. In the store houses there were many highlights but Simryn Gill’s work demanded close attention, with a layered surface of tiny text — a Tower of Babel on canvas — that conversely managed to be minimal and ordered. The great William Kentridge, Rabih Mroue, Florian Hecker and Tejal Shah’s strange and fascinating works also did not disappoint.

Finally on day three the sun came out and I visited the Fridericianum and the Neue Galerie with the Australian Ambassador to Germany, Peter Tesch. We were greeted in the Fridericianum by a gentle breeze — designed to disrupt by Ryan Gander — needless to say Ambassador Tesch saw the humour in the work and we agreed that Ryan’s concept was genius. Highlights were Kader Attia’s installation that was disturbing and sobering, especially the slide show, poignant comedy from Ida Applebroog’s crazy, amazing world and Mark Lombardi’s obsessive cosmos of politics, corporations, banks, financial scandals could not be more topical. We were both enraptured by the undulating, mesmerizing universe of Doreen Reid Nakamarra’s paintings, the installation of this work was exceptional. Onwards to the Neue Galerie and sadly Stuart Ringholts anger management courses were booked up, Ambassador Tesch was most disappointed as he felt they could be a very good tool for diplomatic relations! Gordon Bennett’s work made an instant visual impact and was curated with Margaret Preston’s quieter work, which Ambassador Tesch was delighted to see. We were also impressed by Geoffrey Farmers Leaves of Grass, an immense installation cut from 50 years of Time magazine, a comment on our histories.

All of the above and much, much more was punctuated with evening receptions, coffees with old friends and much laughter, none so loud than the artist designed cocktails commissioned by Absolut. Needless to say I didn’t order a David Shrigley (Drink your own piss / Drink someone else’s piss – ingredients urine from two sources).


Image: Gordon Bennett, Stuart Ringholt, Margarette Preston at dOCUMENTA Credit: Anders Sune Berg.