dOCUMENTA (13): On our way to the brain

dOCUMENTA (13) is happening and it’s not at all as bad as we feared after hearing Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev‘s (CCB) musings. In the coming weeks, we will present to you our pictures and thoughts of some of the exhibits in cooperation with art-savvy Niche Berlin. Let‘s start with our first impressions.

It didn’t start well: After all the ambiguous press prior to the opening we started at the Fridericianum with the so-called “brain”, the dimly lit rotunda stuffed with art works and artifacts is the nucleus of this years dOCUMENTA. Unfortunately we couldn’t quite capture the links between the densely arranged exhibits. As it turns out this is the whole point, but let’s maybe leave the discussion of CCB‘s holistic, non-logocentric approach aside. More importantly the contrast between the replete and confusing brain couldn’t have been striking to the blunt works in the entry halls we crossed on our way to the brain. The left wing‘s only visual exhibit is a handwritten letter of Kai Althoff, in which he explains why he had to withdraw his participation to this years dOCUMENTA13, and at the current state of his life he feels he wouldn’t be apt to produce something to meet his expectations. Indeed, although literally exposed, Althoff is not listed as a participating artist. Studying the written proof of his personal failure, visitors can hear a sound piece by Ceal Floyer consisting of the looped lines of a Tammy Wynette love-song whining “I’ll just keep on/till I get it right” (leaving out the central part “falling in love”). According to the guidebook, Floyers work Till I get it right (amended) (2012) somehow stresses the artists aspiration of perfection over a romantic (?) idea of artistic creation.

We were confused and not able to figure out whether CCB‘s choice of plumply pieces intended to make visitors susceptible to her „brain“ or whether she tried to be ironic – especially when we realised that what we first believed to be a cold draft in the ground floor was a deliberate breeze created by artist Ryan Gander. We were ready to like this for its subtlety – until we realized it was titled I need some meaning I can Memorise (The invisible pull) 2012…

And for a brief moment we feared all prejudice on CCB could become certainties, felt like everything was supposed to be confusing and meaningless at the same time.To make it short, after leaving the official entry halls of Fridericianum, we were prepared for the worst. However, we were suddenly excited about what we found beyond this major stage of CCB‘s curation. But we‘ll leave that for next week.

Want to know and see even more art in Berlin and beyond? Visit Niche Berlin.

This is the first part of Niche Berlin’s thoughts on dOCUMENTA (13), read part two, three and four.


also leave a comment
  1. Katy on


    Genau so habe ich mich auch gefühlt, als ich durchs Fridericianum und speziell das “Brain” geschlendert bin… ;-)Ich freue mich schon sehr auf die weiteren Berichte nächste Woche!

  2. Anonymous on


    probably the brain needs some more thoughts than you might have spent on it. i really appreciate documenta’s very intelligent and well-thought approach to contemporary life but it takes some time to get in since it may seem quite abstract at first. have you had a look at the guidebook or the notebooks? i guess you should.and have a look on everything apart the main venues (friedrichsstraße, hugenottenhaus, especially the hauptbahnhof (!!)…)best wishes, charlotte

    1. Mary on

      dear charlotte,would be great if you could take the time and give us more insights on your thoughts on “the brain”.

  3. Anonymous on


    the brain includes destroyed objects, such as those destroyed during the lebanon war. there are also the bactrian princesses, which are very very fragile and still endured for a very long time. carolyn christov-bakargiev once said that this may also be understood as a metaphor for contemporary life, beeing fragile, only stacked together, to be handled with care, and always in danger of getting broken somehow. there is also a piece by gustav metzger, a painting, which kind of survived in a forgotten box in his attic. he destroyed most of his works but carolyn and gustav found this and also the paintings shown in documenta halle. maybe one could understand this as a interpretation or narration refering to the leitmotif of “collapse and recovery”. i personally think that the brain focusses very much on “collapse and recovery”, on different traumas that people and things from all times lived through and still do so. maybe it is the experience of collapse and recovery that somehow connects people from different times and places. but the brain also demands more sensibility towars nature regarding the penone and the horacio larrain barros piece. it really is some kind of nucleus for documenta(13).best wishes and sorry for my poor english… hope you have a great time at kassel.charlotte

  4. ninichissima on


    I’ve been last weekend in dOCUMENTA and was completely stoned with everything what I’ve seen there. I don’t think that one can judge the show on one space only: although I do find ‘brain’ a successful idea and implementation. Isn’t it exactly what happens in one’s brain? Having both old and recent recollections, having both neat and unconventional thoughts, … Kai Althoff’s letter did not really touch me and somehow for me it was somehow just odd (or ‘off’?) and did not well fit with the overall exhibition concept (at least in that space/building).However, would love to read the rest of your review. I am posting mine very soon here

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