Pasquale Polidori’s journey at Documenta 14, now on show at Kassel, continues with a reflection on the relationship between Map and Discourse, between venues, works and theory.
The concurrence of Map and Discourse is, at one and the same time, the exhibition strategy and the overall meaning of documenta 14. It should be noted that the primary publication is not a catalogue of works, but rather an anthology of critical articles that focus on points judged to be essential in the political analysis of the present (which is historical as well as geographical and anthropological) advanced by the scientific committee: “A critical anthology that reflects on past and contemporary moments and movements of resistance in order to better read the present and reconceptualize our restive, collective future” (Kassel Map Booklet, p. 51).
Regarding this debate (with its reflections on “debt and gift, the financialization of the future, economies of the exhibition…”), the works and the artistic experiences included in the exhibition play roles which are differentiated by conceptual weight and discursive ‘prowess’, in other words their willingness to position themselves within the discourse, acting as sources of support, as illustrations, as iconic captions appended to the concepts expressed in the text (an interesting reversal of the relationship between image and caption, where it is the image that acts as an explanation…), as allegories or examples of aesthetic and artistic expressions of a moral approach, and as an ‘active’ mirror of moral thought. It will be said (hastily) that there’s nothing new here, and that the relationship between Theory and Works has always been thus. And indeed all is as it ever was, and here as elsewhere (elsewhere, where there’s something to say) the selection of works occurs as a consequence or in parallel to a certain critical set-up, and therefore ‘looking at the artworks’ and ‘doing the exhibition’ is equivalent to ‘reading the theory’.
It is no accident that the ‘catalogue’ is called The documenta 14 Reader, and a visit to documenta 14 is thus declared to be an experience of reading, in which the various venues are roughly organised in the form of an equivalent number of articles, in the understanding that an article can assume different narrative forms, including poetry and short story. Then there are sections of the book/theory whose reading is more persuasive (Documenta Halle, Palais Bellevue, Grimmwelt Kassel, Stadtmuseum Kassel), perhaps because between theory and works there is a more creative dialectic and – one could say – a form of co-extension of the viewing and the discourse which does not follow the clear outlines of a rigidly pre-established design (in the sense of intellectual tailoring…); in other words, the works (or the artists) are not there to act as a direct illustration of the theory. And there are sections where, apart from the presence of extremely interesting works, reading the exhibition provokes confusion and even irritation because of the excessively caption-like relationship between theoretical concept and the presence of works or artists (most of the Neue Gallerie and the Neue Hauptpost).
The works themselves obviously do their part, and not only in their verbal distribution in the exhibition spaces. There are several works which, albeit functioning within the theory, elude the close examination of critical discourse in general and enrich it in ways that exceed expectations:
Yervant Gianikian and Angela Ricci Lucchi’s video installation, which narrates a journey to Russia taken in 1989 in search of the last witnesses to the avant-garde (Journey to Russia, 1989-2017); Roee Rosen’s lengthy counterpoint of text and image on Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice (The Blind Merchant, 1989-91); the Prinz Gholam duo’s body/image/myth mimesis (Speaking of Pictures, 2017, and other works); the pervasive and tenacious urban acoustic work of Pope.L (Whispering Campaign, 2016-17), in which a whispering voice gives information regarding facts and people of a lesser – and never told – story of the city of Kassel; the lucid, domestic melancholy emanating from Anna Daucikova’s documentation and report on the lives of others (Thirty-three Situations, 2015); Annie Vigier and Franck Apertet’s sloping floor, which summarily and fairly abruptly presents the correlation between spectacle and exhibition (Scène à l’italienne – Proscenium, 2014); Maria Eichhorn’s complex work (Rose Valland Institute, 2017) of linguistic arrangement and relocation of artworks taken from Jews during the Nazi era.
And the list could go on, of works that insert themselves in powerful and original ways into the theoretical themes, without being crushed by them or reduced to marginal notes in the critics’ texts. Likewise there are also superfluous works, overly anxious to obey the curatorial moral imperative and in doing so damaging it by an excess of simplistic rhetoric (Regina José Galindo) or a reassuring aestheticization of the social document (Ben Russell).
… to be continued…
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 -, 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).
Documenta 14, curated by Adam Szymczyk with a team of about 18 curators
10.06-1709.2017, Kassel, Germania (and Athens, until July 16,2017)
images: (cover 1) Maria Eichhorn, Unrechtmaessige Buecher, 2017, (Neue Galerie) © Mathias Voelzke. (2) Prinz Gholam, Speaking of Pictures, Installation View (Museum Sepulkralkultur) © Liz Eve (3) Pedro G. Romero, Israel Galvan and Niño de Elche, La farsa monea, performance, 2017, (Gottschalk Halle) © Fred Dott (4) Susan Hiller, Lost and Found, 2016, (Grimmwelt) © Liz Eve (5) Pope.l, Whispering Campaign, 2016–17 (Friedrichsplatz)