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So Documenta, if you don’t know about it, is a site-specific art takeover of the small city of Kassel, in central Germany. It occurs every five years for a duration of 100 days, and it is happening right now, through September 16th. I’d heard of it here and there and I had a general sense of it being a big deal in contemporary art, like Basel and Venice are a big deal, but I didn’t pay it a great deal of attention, until I starting hearing an awful lot about this one. Like the NYTimes article which described the ever disintegrating art-life boundary, and somewhere else I read about curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev’s decision to call the participants in the show ‘participants’ and not artists. Super cool or purely conceptual vapor? Indulgent over-schooled froth or NEXT LEVEL? I wasn’t sure but I was getting intrigued. Then I started looking up the history of Documenta.  It has an interesting and singular genesis, it was political from the start, having started in 1955 with the intention to rediscover and rebuild art and culture after the Nazi era. It’s international, often directly site specific, artists have sometimes two years to make their work, and no art is sold. So I’m like, hmm, interesting. Then I read the brief official description which includes the following:

“dOCUMENTA (13) is dedicated to artistic research and forms of imagination that explore commitment, matter, things, embodiment, and active living in connection with, yet not subordinated to, theory. These are terrains where politics are inseparable from a sensual, energetic, and worldly alliance between current research in various scientific and artistic fields and other knowledges, both ancient and contemporary.”

Boom! Maybe the future is happening and I want to be there when it’s happening and maybe even talk about it while it’s happening? I also like traveling alone in countries with good selections of heavy dairy products and deep pastry traditions.  I decide that if I can get a few days off work and find decent airfare, I will go.  I do and I do and I do!


So, here we are.  I really wanted to tell you about the flight to Frankfurt and how I thought the kid seated next to me had died because at one point I woke up and he was totally wrapped in his blanket, his head and everything, and it looked very sinister, and just then the flight attendant came on over the PA and asked for a “medical doctor, nurse, or paramedic.”  But the kid was not dead thankfully, his living, breathing head emerged eventually, and I don’t know what happened, but that minor fissure in ordinary life was disorienting in a way that was an apt prelude to the deep and productive disorientation which was ahead. Not to make too much of things. I’m really glad I told you now let’s get back. I drop my stuff off at the $23 per night purple-painted garden shed where I’ll be staying. Spaced out yet aroused after having had a ‘café dos’ as soon as I could upon landing, I seek the tram to take me into town.  The structures are simple and drab beneath the gun gray sky and as I take them in I think of the nice German designer I met on the street last week after the Free Pussy Riot reading, he said, Kassel is the most shit town in all of Germany, why are you going there? Why don’t you go to Cologne? Did you know Cologne has more art galleries than bars? And it’s true that it’s not the most charming town I’ve ever seen, it’s plain, but being from Southern California USA, anything built before 1985 is quaint and fills me with palpable joy, look there’s a little graveyard! But anyway I am not here to visit the town. I am here for Documenta, a WORLD EVENT, because I am full of curiosity and that is just as good a driving force as any, I’ve recently concluded. But I really have yogurt on my mind, the kind so thick it would dumbfound Americans…. also I am very interested in these badly styled teenagers I see hunched and creeping around me, there is some furtive shame in them, I recognize tragic seed of American suburbia here….anyways I finally get off the tram in front of the alluring ‘Rathaus’ and from there try to find something called ‘Hugenottenhaus’, and I begin to understand the basics of how this works just a tiny bit, there are light green signs, very distinctive, everywhere, which indicate that a given space is documenta affiliated, and there are international art kids manning the doors, looking for your ticket, which I don’t have yet, I will get one tomorrow. There is a long line to get into the Theaster Gates piece which is the main thing at the ‘haus but a nice kid lets me into the Tino Sehgal show without a ticket, in the tailwind of about twenty teenagers.

total blackness!

total blackness!


My adventurous spirit dissolves immediately when I walk into Seghal’s piece, which is a warm black space, totally black, and maybe immense but I really have no idea.  There is  a woman in there somewhere talking intimately about being an artist and making economic choices and having that identity. Then a man speaks. I don’t remember exactly the content but the feeling was vulnerable, confessional, they were talking about what they’re not sure of. I wonder if they are actors or if anyone can just say anything in here? I kind of want to say something. I WANT YOGURT! I want to go in further but I am…scared of the dark I guess? I am still right next to the door, so that I can get out if I want to. I don’t want to fall or have a panic attack. I do want people to bump into me, and I do want to hear what is happening, and I want to hear what people are saying. These personal orations stop and a rhythmic acapella music occurrence happens, it starts with one person (participant!) making small sounds with her throat, clicks and hoots and then it spreads throughout the space with other people joining in, it is sweet and stirring and you understand that you are among players now, that the event is indeed rehearsed and designed. The blackness is so black that my exhausted, caffeinated mind makes buzzing static out of the blackness.  Or maybe that happens to everyone.  This static feels fertile, like anything could be born out of it.  The sculpting of a collective experience out of this black ink invites me to remember that we, with our actions and our bodies, are making the rules here. I am reminded that our bodies make culture. Eventually the black seems to get slightly lighter and I can see the tiniest bit and I make my way deeper into the room. I feel the mobs of people coming and going, I smell them, I feel their wind, they bump gently into me.

da brat

I think I should eat.  As I work my way through quite a currywurst (having found no yogurt) on the central lawn at dusk, I continue to feel the vestiges of sensation, warmth and wind of moving bodies.  It was refreshingly sincere, maybe the purity of the medium, pure sensation, there was no room for coolness, no space between seeing someone and feeling them, we were kind of naked.  There is a small stage nearby, a preteen girl is playing a keyboard and singing her heart out in a cover of ‘Beautiful’.  The kid is really talented, her voice is strong and big and seems to already have adversity and triumph already mixed into it.  Whose art is this, I wonder, and are they American, and is it ironic, and I really hope not because it is just so sweet, I ask one of the d13 guides and she tells me that it’s not Documenta related, it’s just the local café’s saturday night entertainment.  The singer, who really can’t be more than 12, hops up from the piano bench to hug her father (I’m guessing), vigorous applause swell.

I am so tired that when I close my eyes I see needlepointed hearts, so back to the shed for me.

my dollhouse


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