dOCUMENTA (13), Part I – A sickening breeze is blowing
I’ve been planning a study trip to dOCUMENTA (13) in Kassel, Germany, for such a long time that it was only natural for Murphy’s Law to apply: an angry Pneumonia decided to attack my poor lungs last week, but the kind Doctor gave me some penicilin, promising that it would quickly work its way into my system. Come Monday morning, after days of coughing my lungs out and vomiting, I foolishly decided to give the trip a try after all, against all reason.
To make a long story short, my eardrums didn’t blow completely out on the plane to Germany, so I rushed enthusiastically over to the Fridericianum in Kassel, straight into the installation of Ryan Gander.
For those of you who know nothing about the Ryan Gander-installation, I will tell you what it is, quoting from The Guidebook to dOCUMENTA (13): «A light breeze is blowing through the Friedricianum’s entire ground floor, whoose rooms are left almost empty. It is not a strong wind, not immediately recognized as artificial, but physical enough to create a moment of wonder». For myself, Gander’s «rhizomatic system of perception» produces such an intense coughing-reflex that all I manage to wonder about is whether I, Ellen Ringstad (31), will be dOCUMENTA (13)’s first casualty. When I finish almost dying, I seriously consider to sue dOCUMENTA (13) for involuntary manslaughter, but I probably won’t have a strong case…and since I paid 25 euros for the ticket, I should try to get the most out of my money, although risking my useless life for the sake of art. I make it through the day by devouring vast quantities of cough suppressants.
As I write these paragraphs about art, I repress feverish visions with a few milliliters of 44%vol Underberg, focusing exclusively on today’s highlights from the Documenta-halle displaying «a number of artworks thinking through what painting is today».
Gustav Metzger works are unveiled by lifting some textile flaps, allowing the audience to discover the collection of paintings and drawings in fragments only. This series was made in 1945-1959/60, before his «auto-destructive art» period, a form of public art for industrial societies, «reacting to the destruction that threatens human and natural sanctity in the twentieth century and beyond».
Four enormous paintings by Julie Mehretu, which could be described as «mental landscapes, interweaving historical, architectural, and geographic references with abstract lines and colors into graphically dense and complex compositions. Built up through multiple layers of acrylic on white-primed canvas overlaid with mark-making using pencil, felt pen, ink and thick streams of paint, her work conveys a layering and compression of time, space, and place, as well as a collapse of art-historical references – from the geometric abstraction of Suprematism and the all-over dynamism of the Italian futurists to the enveloping scale of Abstract Expressionist color-field painting.»
Thomas Bayrle’s shows an gigantic installation in this venue, but it’s mainly the animation Autobahn-kopf that catches my attention.
Yan Lei’s Limited Art Project, consisting of 360 paintings of different sizes and formats, remnant of Malevic’s first Suprematist exhibition in St Petersburg in 1915. The pieces are arranged around the space, hanging from the ceiling, on the wall, in storage racks. Some are figurative, others are monochrome. A crane standing in the middle of the space points to some kind of activity, which we learn, by reading the guidebook, is used to lower one of the paintings each day, sending it off to be painted over in a «vibrant splash of psychedelic color» at a local car factory near Kassel, and then returning it back to the space. 360 represents the number of days in the Chinese calendar; thereby negating the preceding image as if crossing out a day in the calendar, erasing the past; Robert Rauschenberg’s piece Erased de Kooning naturally comes to mind.
Note: the act of spectatorship is always a subjective and intuitive experience. I would surely have been more enthusiastic about the Ryan Gander-installation if my physical condition had been different. Now that I have withdrawn into a state of discourse, to paraphrase professor of Philosophy Christoph Menke’s in “What is Thinking or a Taste That Hates Itself”, I am enjoying Gander’s piece, on a pure intellectual/conceptual level, although still preserving the memory of my utter discomfort.
(1) Sauerländer, Katrin (ed). dOCUMENTA (13) The Catalog 3/3. 2012. Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz.
(4) Menke, Christoph and Chus Martínez. What is Thinking or a Taste That Hates Itself. Seminar, summer 2012, at dOCUMENTA (13).