One of our highlights at this year‘s dOCUMENTA(13) main venues certainly was Neue Galerie. We got absorbed by contributions, which not only engaged with the medial conditionality of our “reality”, but did so by means of an unconventional take on their respective artistic medium, such as seen with Wael Shawky, Roman Ondak or Geoffrey Farmer.
It was great fun to track the funny associations in Observations (1995-2011). Slovak artist Roman Ondak arranged 120 cuttings from a book that remains unknown in 72 frames and dispersed them onto the grey walls of the museum‘s basement. While the pictures recall press photographs of everyday objects and situations their captions are quite enigmatic – because while being descriptive and prosaic, they‘re unexpected and inexplicable especially in their relation to the picture. They either accentuate seemingly irrelevant details of the pictures or decontextualize the depicted scenes in unforeseen and, most important, quite amusing ways. The resulting disorientation of the spectator questions our common reference frames but also our trust in the factuality of pictures. Ondak’s take on an individual interpretation of conventional “reality” seemed all the more refreshing, in contrast to the many (pseudo)-scientific artistic endeavours at dOCUMENTA(13).
Less amusing, but nonetheless a fantastic take on the factual is the beautifully nightmarish animation of Egyptian artist Wael Shawky: The musical film Cabaret Crusades: The path to Cairo (2012) is part of the tetralogy Cabinet Crusades (2010 – ongoing) on the Christian Crusades against Jerusalem. In order to illuminate the present situation in the Middle East, the films narrate historical facts. But contrary to a documentation or a costume drama the events are re-enacted by precious antique marionettes, puppets commonly associated with fiction and fairy tales. They perform the sanguinary story in beautifully detailed sets and the whole animation is of an amazing epic quality where atmospheric takes alternate with intense close-ups. We could hardly leave the room before the end of the animation – the contrast of its fantastic aesthetic and its topicality being quite intense. But there was so much more worth to be discovered.
The delicate yet abundant large-scale collage Leaves of Grass (2012) by Geoffrey Farmer is set up in the upstairs Loggia of the museum. Farmer arranged hundreds of shadow puppets, cut-outs from Life magazine, the most influential illustrated news magazine in the US, published from 1935-1985. He strings 5 decades of iconic faces, products and events together in a massive retrospective, detaching them from their former magazine context. The relevance the media once at least partially attributed to those pictures has vanished. Their dense layering makes them form a colourful body, which from afar looks like colourful grassland. And just like leafs the cut-outs gently move when beholders pass by.
Suddenly this rustling chronicle made us realize, we hadn’t yet explored Karlsaue at all. So we left Neue Gallery and headed down into the greens.