dOCUMENTA (13): Archive Fever

The beautiful work “News from Nowhere” by Korean artists Moon Kyungwon & Jeon Joonho is tucked away in documenta-Halle’s basement next to the café – but really worth a visit. It is a video portrait of a man and a woman in two different futures of a post-apocalyptic world, by their pondering about objects they are connected transcending time. What’s special about this piece is its extension into three-dimensionality: Behind the screens, you will find props of the movie in an archival museum display set-up. On top of that, Kyungwon and Joonho have invited the Japanese design engineering firm takram to add objects to their installation, which seek futuristic solutions for today’s actual environmental problems.
This work made us realise that we have seen quite a large number of artworks in Kassel touching the issue of museum display (think Metzger in last week’s post), archival customs and – most of all – of artistic research and pseudo scientific methodologies. Numerous dOCUMENTA participants base their artistic practice on profound research and the subsequent display of the results – mostly with an arty touch, of course. This raises the question: What additional value can art propose to sciences? Are artists the new scientists, the new historians?

It started in Fridericianum, where Mario Garcia Torres displays the outcome of his research on Alighiero Boetti’s lost hotel in Kabul in a slideshow of pictures he found in archives, enhanced by a one-way letter correspondence that imitates objects unearthed in estates. Not far from this, Mark Lombardi demonstrates meticulously investigated economic connections between politicians in one of his notorious mind maps, creating a visual archive of maybe-conspiracies. Curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev (CCB) seeks to show the relations between the wonders of arts and sciences by inviting people like the physicist Anton Zeilinger, who demonstrates visual outputs of quantum physics. Akram Zaatari’s and Walid Raad’s installations both raise questions about the visibility of and access to artworks in times of crises, especially in the Arab world. Zaatari enclosed objects in a concrete block and buried it in the Karlsaue park, adding a fantastic philosophical issue to the subject. What is an archive worth if we cannot access it? Also in the Karlsaue, notorious e-flux founders Julieta Aranda and Anton Vidokle have dug up numerous ideas of the past century that sought to find currency alternatives to money, in their Time/Bank project. Their pavilion can be considered an archive of lost ideas, from which they try to generate a new one: we should all pay with our time instead of money. On top of that, the whole Ottoneum seems to be one big artistic archive for global environmental concerns.

Concentrating more on local particularities, Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller and Susan Philipsz have realized pieces at the train station that actively deal with this very station’s past, showing off their fair share of investigation. Similarly, a number of artworks deal with the former monastery Breitenau just 25 km outside of Kassel – among them Clemens von Wedemeyer’s outstanding three-part movie installation “Muster”, showing historical entanglements that he researched in situ. CCB had sent all artists to Breitenau before coming to Kassel – as an inspirational starting point for their projects. Why? This Romanesque monastery was turned into a prison, later served as a concentration camp, girl’s reformatory and finally as a psychiatric institution. Lots of pasts to dig up. So are artists the new researchers? We haven’t found an answer to our question, but we have certainly received some historical and scientific impulses. This is the sixth part of Niche Berlin’s thoughts on dOCUMENTA (13), read part one, two, three, four and five.


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