Arshake publishes today the last of eight stages of Pasquale Polidori’s journey at Documenta 14 with the touching performance by Phia Menard and a final note on today and yesterday Kassel experience.
…We stand in line along with the others, three or four hundred of them. Very few of them are from out of town, almost all of them are from Kassel and the surrounding areas. The performance begins. An hour and a half of bated breath with Phia Menard who builds a big house out of cardboard all by herself on the stage. The design is regular and childish. The sounds of adhesive tape and strange rasping are amplified; then she takes an electric saw to the walls, giving the house a temple-like quality; lastly, she sits and watches the building collapse under the weight of a heavy and incessant rainfall which floods the stage for twenty minutes, melding with the smoke and noise of a disturbing catastrophe…
The action staged by Phia Ménard (Immoral Tales, Part 1, The Mother House, 2017) is minimal in concept yet magnificently intriguing with every gesture, sweeping away all remarks and comments about what we have seen this afternoon. Our minds are now still as we make our way back to the countryside in the middle of the night through the dark woods and villages, thankful for having had the fortune to attend Ménard’s performance. We are convinced that if luck is on our side and we can avoid certain moral euphemisms, documenta 14 will be an aesthetic experience that is both moving and exhilarating.
Abbreviated Final Note.
One always tends to underestimate the role that chance plays in the critique of an art exhibit of this dimension, but all it would take is a bit of good sense and trust in the numbers to understand that the formula used today by biennials and events like them are not suited for rash judgment. This can be applied to professional critics as well. Had they had a bit more courage, the curators of documenta 14 would have done us all a favour by abolishing the ritual of inauguration; those two or three “carousel” days make it impossible to see any works at all. At best they give us a way to get an idea of the concept behind the administration of the works. From an aesthetic standpoint, this is equivalent to a semi-fiasco.
Whenever we talk about aesthetics, we talk about the concrete possibility of understanding and fulfilling a work well beyond its instrumental insertion within a broad theme-related context and about how we can establish an exchange between ‘work of art’ and the ‘theory of a large-scale exhibit’ in such a way that the work does not result less than what it truly is. In fact, aside from the critiques on documenta 14, which are usually (and hastily) negative, the problem remains of the real meaning of an aesthetic experience according to the framework dictated by documenta 14.
While waiting in line to get into the Henschel-Hallen, a woman from Kassel who criticized the current edition of documenta as being cold and disorganized brought up an issue that might sound like a question you’d hear at a tourist office. But it was actually a delicate matter that you’d hear in a university lecture hall during a Contemporary Art Phenomenology course: what will a person attending documenta 14 for two or three days see and what impression will he or she have?
How does the variable of time interfere with the experience and the impression it leaves us with? How do we come into contact and become familiar with a work when the context is so broad and intricate, when any kind of focus often depends upon fortuitous factors and not upon the fame and reputation of the artist on display? What if the work becomes a “material” instead of being an item to put on display? A “material” with a variety of roots like a heteromorphic plant made up of more than just an idiom and should be experienced in alternative forms of pure vision (as opposed to a simple interpretation) or a momentary participation in the artificial context of the exhibit (?). And if we accept the fact that the aesthetic experience of documenta 14 does not consist in the encounters with the works (shall we see this one or that one or should we wait for another occasion to see it…) but it entails the comprehension of a political and moral issue that came into being well before the placement of the specific work in Kassel’s exhibit space which must now be pursued and traced in the works on display as opposed to what can be found in critical anthologies or comments and explanations by the Chorus. How can we fulfil this understanding during a visit to Kassel?
Documenta 14 deserves the credit for being able to raise these questions in an explicit and irritating way and, in some cases, in spite of itself. On the one hand, you can avoid the catalogue of works on display because you realize that it would never work, considering the exhibit’s general layout and that it’s not just artwork we’re talking about here; we’re staking the claim that justifies allowing visitors to experience the exhibit in their own manner and according to their free will (thank you very much!). This is an exhibit where information about the artists is brief or corresponds only to the general subject matter of the exhibit itself. Lastly, we can ask the Chorus to indicate what to see by using words to explain the perspective of the Curator Team to visitors.
Arnold Bode introduced the idea of hosting an art expo in Kassel back in 1955 under the pretext of a flower show that was already being hosted there at the time. It would have been an easy logistic model for the first documenta. We must point out, however, that the roses have become thornier over the years.
[These notes, with all due thanks to Marco Santarelli who shared the documenta 14 experience with me, are dedicated to the memory of Luigi Billi (1958-2016), in memory of the first trip to Kassel in 1997, and the exhausting and fruitless search for a work by Lois Weinberger that was actually right under our eyes (and under our feet) – perfectly out of our view.]
A multimedia and multidisciplinary artist and philosopher and an experimenter with every medium (technological and otherwise) which might extend his aesthetic practise – centred particularly around language -, Pasquale Polidori embarks on the narration of a journey that starts with his visit to the exhibition and continues in a more intimistic sphere, where he reflects on the universal themes that revolve around art as a whole, and around his own way of occupying space, of reaching audiences through institutional channels (or of being kept away from them).
images: (cover 2) d14. Henschel-Hallen. © Mathias Voelzke (1) Phia Ménard (Immoral Tales, Part 1, The Mother House, 2017) .