In June 2012, Matthew Schum traveled to Germany to create an account of Documenta 13. This project was loosely inspired by an urstyle of art criticism that independently commissioned writers used to cover the Paris Salons in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. These Salon Reviews often took an à la carte approach to the inordinate exhibitions held annually by the state’s Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture. Upon compiling a series of entries gathered on the move in the opening days, these journals would be modestly bound as handbooks made to be transported easily, perused topically and potentially disposed of like a daily thereafter.

Documenting DOCUMENTA attempts to apply this practical invention to the pervasive use of weblogs today. Blogs share with the handbook the tactical benefit of being itinerant and informal. As an appropriated format, it affords the writer an opportunity to intervene in a spectacle and to curate a more biased, focused and faceted account of the many ‘Salons’ currently held around the globe each year. The drift of the project is that the reader can imagine a little pamphlet bound, so to speak, by a current and fugitive technology, that is less glossy than art magazines and more adventurous than condensed newspaper reviews tend to be.

 

TOPIC: Learning from the Istanbul Biennial

Q: Why the margins of a weblog to review the biggest international art exhibition in the world?

Since the 10th Istanbul Biennial, the inevitability of blogs as a general context for art criticism (or something like it) has become more obvious and prevalent. Looking back, the difference in working this way was that it allowed for an embedded reporting that could adjust to the variety a biennial and its local art scene offer. Throughout the process, the idea of a blog remained new to me, but I knew what I didn’t want - stargazing was kept to minimum and the art was contextualized at the street level.

Also at play was the difference of philanthropy versus commercial interests in journalism. A blog like this one can allow for an extra freedom in the field that art magazines may not provide.

These two factors - of leeway and altruism - would seem to pose the question of whether noncommercial weblogs are better suited for the task of capturing an international exhibition, especially if a writer intends to detail a fragmented exhibition like the roving 13th Documenta.

 

TOPIC: Recycling Salon Reviews

Q: Why the margins of a weblog to review the biggest international art exhibition in the world?

The blog has a lot in common with the origins of art criticism. In particular, the short-form writings known as Salon Reviews, popularized in 1765 by Denis Diderot, are making a comeback. The blog, like the Salon Review before it, does not unravel as a single congealed 500- or 1,500-word article. Instead, brief passages released under subject headings are written to give a single topic, such as an artist or an artwork critical treatment.

One hundred, or even two hundred years ago, Royal Salon critics compiled "handbooks" in this way - on the go - as they wandered the galleries and later, the city streets. The modesty of the medium lent these reviews an autonomy. This independence was lost until recently, due to the enclosure of the art press by the PR industry. Today that same modesty has returned in the extraneous, yet essential, ephemeron of the weblog.

In his second Salon of 1846, Charles Baudelaire wrote of art that, "It is true that the great tradition has been lost, and that the new one is not yet established." The same thing could be said presently of art criticism. It is more accessible - yet not always self-aware - due in large part to a precarious publishing industry.

The coincidence of this old Parisian format of the Salon Review contending with contemporary art relates to an everyday paradox: namely how "new media" continues to propel us back in time. The visual culture of the twenty-first century experiences itself elsewhere, thanks to new media, in images recycled from yesterday, last week or the last century. Despite these (oftenwonderful) consumer distractions, we have today formats besides the commercialized nostalgia that often fill our television, cinema and visual art. New media, admittedly, does offer new platforms for critical reflection as an efficient means to recirculate recent history.

Yet, blogs are not used often enough as the old Salon Reviews were - to remark on the contents of major events. Exhibitions promising new proposals in the field of visual art rarely face the critical scrutiny they deserve. These new, more accessible outlets may give us that opportunity.

Without challenging the entertainment value of the upward mobility that is at the heart of social networks, it is clear that the international art press is too often reduced to reporting on quasi-celebrities while they have a good time and have their photo taken looking sharp.

In recent years, Boris Groys has persuasively argued that everyone today is a self-designed work of art. Is it not also the case that everyone today is a self-styled art critic, commenting on images in comment boxes around the internet and on social media? Perhaps Joseph Beuys’ famous proposal would apply and that these masked critics are fulfilling their ancient duty as artists, intervening in the social property of visual art, whomever these artists and art critics are.

Even as nineteenth-century newspaper critics ignored what became the avant-garde (the same newspapers, according to Baudelaire, that had by 1845 become a spiteful organ of the self-conscious rank of bourgeoisie mobbing the Louvre) Salon Reviews were made quietly and at the margins. They covered art like sport: they were physically present in the spectacle but separate as critical voices. They were offering an assessment of game changers entering the field, whether it came in the form of Modern artists like Delacroix and Manet or innovations like photography. Groys explains where this culture of artifice and constant change has led us to today via new media.

As a final note, there is little in the mobile debriefings from Kassel to come that will inspire the hope of nurturing another Diderot, Gautier or Baudelaire, dear reader, but one can set forth with a commitment to independent thinking that Salon critics were expected to possess, regardless of who they held the pen for.

 

D13 Webstie Shortcuts

Documenta 13 has a confusing website. It is basically a blog without a vertical, top-to-bottom blueprint. Sliding panels reveal links placed in grids leading to more overlapping planes with more grids. The result is a novel design that silos information. Theoretically, I support moving away from the Lazy Susan scheme that makes the internet as complicated as a condiment rack. Yet, the result is a treasure hunt that demands more than it apparently gives at first sight.

Don’t be discouraged, there is excellent material to be found in the form of essay PDFs, podcasts, videos and shopping. Some highlights:

Start with dogs:

http://d13.documenta.de/#/research/research/supertag/dogs

An Adorno download:

http://d13.documenta.de/#/research/research/view/musik-und-neue-musik

The Hatje Cantze catalogs:

http://www.hatjecantz.de/documenta13/en/documenta13.html

Documenta’s importance is framing the current zeitgeist, explains super curator Catherine David. This is more insightful than obvious as it comes from David herself:

http://d13.documenta.de/#/research/research/view/the-specific-position-of-documenta-within-visual-cultural-events-with-reference-to-documenta-x-1997

Relive Documenta 11 as biography with Okwui Enwezor:

http://d13.documenta.de/#/research/research/view/revisiting-documenta-11-2002

There is programming in Afghanistan but to find your bearings, this might be the most important link:

http://d13.documenta.de/#venues/venues/fridericianum

Eight other venues can be found here:

http://d13.documenta.de/#venues

Book your "dTOUR" walking lectures, departing from various venues. Hosted by "World Champions", these tour guides possess "different knowledges" and they maybe older or younger than you (depending on how old you are):

http://d13.documenta.de/#dtours

This was the highlight of the computer section for me—a 1970 exhibition at New York’s Jewish Museum that saw the world futuristically through the computer's aesthetics:

http://d13.documenta.de/#/research/research/view/systems-esthetics

VW, the livery company behind Deutsche Bahn and the finance bank, Sparkassen, are the international corporations advertised as the "Major Sponsors" of d13:

http://d13.documenta.de/#partners/sponsors/major-sponsors

Last, but not least, the "participants" listed in the artist category:

http://d13.documenta.de/#participants/participants

 

À Rebours

The 1884 novel by Joris Karl Huysmans, Against the Grain, currently opens the d13 website on the "Panorama." The website offers no explanation or context as to why the book was placed there and how it connects to the art exhibition.

In this "decadent novel" a neurotic dandy retires in his early thirties to amass a collection of exotic curiosities and a library of rare books. He makes such a magnificent wunderkammer out of his luxurious house on the outskirts of Paris that he never leaves. His agoraphobia involves a retreat that shortly becomes a total eclipse. Protagonist Des Esseintes dissolves into the frontispiece of history, internalizing the ambiance of the art gallery as homestead. This contemplative lifer, forming a one man illuminati, would seem to be at odds with the charitable image of populist knowledge-sharing at the root of biennial culture—a more open and public vehicle to curate contemporary art.

À rebours, the book's original French title, is notoriously difficult to translate. The Documenta page contains the English version titled Against the Grain (alternately Against Nature depending on the publisher). Why Against the Grain and not À rebours was used on the website is also curious given the Northern European propensity towards polyglotism and the novel's fame. Plus, the out-of-timeness of the original French really seems more appropriate for an exhibition happening only once every five years.

Nonetheless, the act of arbitrarily reordering canonical sources and contesting inherited knowledge systems outside of the academy, as Against the Grain did so magnificently as a work of art, makes sense in the context of Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev’s many intriguing explanations of Documenta 13's exhibition themes—themes about being "worldly" not internationalist and refraining from the universalist/humanist tradition that sees the allure of the natural sciences as separate from the social, for example.

Perhaps Against the Grain is on the website as a surface image meant to be taken as an ironic gesture. Curator-Aesthetes presiding over biennials (or this quinquennial) invariably frame their exhibitions as breaks with time. Somehow, the refrain goes, letting go of the ergonomic joystick of twenty-first century individualism allows us to see our collective role in a pressing historical process. Such a relent, if it is possible for anyone other than curators, remains a decadent business in the global scheme of things. À rebours...

 

Directing Failure

In the 1990s and 2000s some questioned whether curators were encroaching upon the primacy of the artist. With Documenta 11, Artistic Director Okwui Enwezor proved what an undeniably creative director - one who was not afraid to use artists to prove global theses he had obviously thought a lot about - could do.

Enwezor is credited with rethinking the international scope of the contemporary art exhibition format. In hindsight, it is clear how much Catherine David refashioned Documenta 10 as a temporary global hub.

Besides bridging geographic regions, the question of consolidating power is extra relevant to Documenta because it entails instant entry into the historical registry of the exhibition. Intense scrutiny follows each strategic choice from day one, as artist lists and artistic themes are unveiled. The money behind it is secondary to the fact that inclusion in Documenta has been a canonical seal of approval for the many who have been part of it since the early 1970s, whether the artwork comes from an established or emerging artist.

The weight of granting this affirmation in a public forum ensures that curating Documenta is not art, but the art of compromise. Politicians could easily relate, no doubt.

The burden of institutional memory, coupled with managing the unintended consequences of executive privilege, was obvious when Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev gave her press conference on June 6 in Kassel’s Kongress Palais Stadthalle. Her lecture began by sharing bad news in order to get it out of the way. The Director acknowledged that a plan to ship a meteorite to Germany from Argentina by artistic duo Guillermo Faivovich and Nicolás Goldberg had been abandoned after it agitated local indigenous groups and sparked the ire of anthropologists. Christov-Bakargiev also explained that the plan was not nearly as insensitive as it sounded and that Documenta was a testing ground for bold proposals.

Though it was quite clear moving the sacred space rock was probably a terrible idea from the start, one could empathize with the fact that any proposal made from a platform as powerful as Documenta, especially ones that work outside the comfort of western knowledge and continental consensus, almost guarantees failure and, worse, accusations of insensitive (read colonial) appropriation. What we could call geographical condescension is by now inevitable in a list of directorial failures. How the director handles failure is the actual skill in question it seems.

Adding to the problem of unavoidable eurocentrism is a tendency by curators to compensate by dabbling in more fields of knowledge than one could possibly specialize in. Besides imperialism, the accusation of dilettantism is also inevitable. For d13, Christov-Bakargiev took eclecticism to what seemed like a pleasurable extreme. Starting from the problematic meteor that never moved, she used her press conference to speed through a list of research interests that a legion of "interdisciplinary scholars" couldn't possibly cope with in ten years' time (often skipping over several pages at a time for dramatic effect), let alone 150 visual artists in as many days. Overextension is the wrong word when genetically modified organisms are (sort of) categorized as art objects, the digital is categorized as nearly extraterrestrial, binary code is considered the destruction of the symbolic, future-knowledge is categorized as an art history already haunting us, a theory of dog-love is categorized as a cure for anthropocentrism, exhibiting is categorized as a "choreography of displacedness" and the cognitive misdeed of "epistemological closure" parades as a new way of unsettling artistic methodology—as though Foucault was a name seldom heard in art schools.

No doubt this buckshot of "mental suspension" aims for a mystical prey that academics dare not hunt. While keeping up with the barrage of proposals became less and less likely, I sensed both the majesty of what Christov-Bakargiev was after and the fact that it could never be caught.

Still, the passion of the chase and that it is still rooted in intellectual curiosity makes Documenta and biennials like it different from the extravagances of the market system and its rote appropriations of contemporary artists in exhibitions thinly veiled as art supermarkets a very small fraction of the so-called 1% could afford and the speculative re- de-appropriations that gallery-led art fairs have become.

The measured willingness to go over-the-top adds intrigue to the inherent politics of Documenta while distracting from the burden of history-making that bears down upon the Artistic Director and which makes him or her an easy target for our grievances with art world savagery.

As with all political appointees, we judge the decision-maker by what they do, not by what they say they will do.

 

I am a Decoy

Towards the end of the Q&A at the press conference, a vanity blogger from Canada asked Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev about the personal satisfaction that came with being the face of Documenta.

This was an attempt to embarrass the unflappable curator while making her out to be a fellow narcissist. Christov-Bakargiev gave a refreshingly honest answer, "I am a decoy so artists can get things done."

The curator offered four guiding positions for Documenta 13:

1) What does it mean to be in a state of siege?

2) What does it mean to be in a state of hope?

3) What does it mean to be in retreat?

4) What do I do when I am on stage when I am performing?

By the time the herd of us press writers reached the main venue and finally began consuming the 13th Documenta, I gladly realized that these four guiding positions were also decoys that probably related more to the public position a Director faces at a press conference than to the inner workings and manifest outcomes of Christov-Bakargiev’s unpretentious approach to curating.

 

Breath of Modernism: Entering the Fridercianum

Few writings could capture the immediate sensation of entering the Fridericianum better than Richard Shiff’s "Breath of Modernism (Metonymic Drift)" (published in In Visible Touch: Modernism and Masculinity, ed. Terry Smith, University of Chicago Press, 1998).

The "breath" in Shiff’s essay is a vacuous wind that follows modern art's loss of autonomy. Once lost, art's symbolic power becomes metonymic (or an indefinite series of replacements). The loss of aura unleashes meaning which drifts between images and artworks with an unconscious force. This rapid movement takes on the agency of humans due to our investment in symbolic systems, including artworks. A painting stands in for social experience and the microcosm of an exhibition momentarily re-stages history as activated images. Instead of the autonomous materiality that also gave art fixity, everything today is reproducible and therefore conceptually adrift.

"You breathe the object, Shiff writes, "the mountains you are viewing, you breathe this object like air, in and out. You assimilate bodily to the medium that allows vision to operate (because the atmosphere is translucent), but this medium also conveys something of the object's physicality. The object's physicality dissipates." These are not mountains on the edge of a city or dotting a coastline, they are figments of representation assimilated by the artist and, eventually, the viewer. They conform to the record of perfection that informs memory, interpretation and allow art to form the communities that share its images of things, whatever they are.

In other words, Shiff frames the work of art as an act of psychological investment in visual art happening in the face of an immoderately visual world. A work of art is primarily a bodily act of consumption, not merely one artist’s product. In this sense, globally minded exhibitions ensure material objects and immaterial artworks substitute a sole perspective in an ever-expanding symbolic world in which contemporary art is only one agent or metonymic marketplace.

Nothing could have summed up Shiff's theory of agency drifting between the experience of art and the worldly experience it records better than Ryan Gander's I Need Some Meaning I Can Memorize (The Invisible Pull), which created a draft that blew between the entryway, three opening rooms, and the antechamber leading to the central exhibit in the rotunda. The engineered air trap felt noticeably artificial as it filled the exhibition space with Kassel’s damp continental air.

As the breeze passed through the crowd, floating in their hair and filling their open blazers, the outdoor climate that was transfused into the museum seemed to be a metaphor for the comings and goings of international avant-gardes that have over the years been exhibited in the Fridericianum. Gander's piece also filled the Kunsthalle with the cold breeze of history. It carried with it an unconscious desire still palpable in this advanced EU nation to replace the dread of the past by restoring culture in the present.

 

In the Middle of the Middle / The Brain is a Rock

The rotunda in the Fridericianum serves as the nucleus or "brain" of Documenta 13, according to the curator. The metonymic drift begins here with late third- and early second-century B.C. figurines of the Bactrian Princess from Central Asia. These seated goddesses give a face and a shape to the central nervous system Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev had in mind. It is not so much a brain as an overarching notion that art is a telephoto lens through which history and the beliefs we implant in things jump between shapes. An object of primeval importance slowly but surely changes shape until it becomes the immaterial fetish of conceptual art.

Lawrence Weiner's text-on-glass The Middle of the Middle of the Middle of points to an uncertain core of principles and perceptions that are as much a figment of reality as they were during the Bactrian Princess' time. Our humanity has always been expressed by our fascination with objects, the installation suggests, or more specifically our ability to construct objects out of beliefs. Today, as cultures of consumers, we still embed knowledge into our objects, no matter how dumb. Superstitions have not gone away; they have been replaced by new mediums masking old religions and revealing emergent beliefs that require new placeholders. This was the timeline the rotunda-brain suggested for contemporary art as a conceptual repository for the modern and premodern worlds that came before it.

In this expanded sense, the rotunda is nonetheless an amazingly tight exhibition given that it spans 4,000 years of art history in a modest room.

Wall texts reveal material details that allow for tangential connections. Such as when the soft green chlorite, limestone and lapis lazuli of the Bactrian Princesses share mineral predisposition with Sam Durant's Marxist meditation, Calcium Carbonate (ideas spring from deeds and not the other way around). Taken from a seminal Italian socialist named Carlo Pisacane, the quote (etched on the sack of calcium carbonate) suggests the material world manipulates the artist, not the other way around.

Two nearby white stones, identical in appearance, by Giuseppe Penone contemplate the same determinism found in Durant's sculpture and yet go a step further. If the medium gives the artist his ideas, then the creative act can be reduced to replicating a stone from a riverbed. In Essere fiume 6, the real and the fake are indistinguishable halves paying witness to each other. The artist's age-old inability to reflect reality (or nature) has become another reified industrial product reproduced by the conceptual artist.

Material regressions live in both Tamás St.Turba’s Czechoslovak Radio 1968 and Judith Hopf’s crude masks. The former (from 1969) considers how messages can be made in an authoritarian environment. In such a space, a brick transmits the same amount of information as state controlled media (none). Yet in the hand of an activist, the brick may actually send a message depending on who wields it. Hopf's masks duplicate the fascination with primitivism found in modern art, such as the paintings of Picasso and the works of various Surrealists, that we find revisited in the rotunda. Using packaging material from cell phones, these are a détournement von Breitenau according to the artist, referring to her other d13 work regarding a monastery that was later to become a concentration work and education camp. The ugliness of contemporary capitalism is made from containers that hold technology’s atomizing personal digital assistants. Hopf contrasts this cellular, "personal" existence to the privation of monks and sufferers of internment.

Hopf's masks give "the brain" another face resembling a stone totem staring back at the viewer devoid of invitation or mimetic expression. In this work, the artist casts history as shadow faces made from trash convening in a present moment that cannot have meaning until it is dislodged from the different forms of determinism that each object here relates about its own time.

 

Inside Morandi's Vitrine

"Chardin does not paint with color, but with feeling." Diderot used these words to describe looking at one of his favorite artists. Still life paintings as Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin executed them could not be reduced to the application of pigment upon stretched cloth; Chardin's palette was the vase, the tobacco box, the kitten, the perch, the goblet, the bouquet—the kitchen or the drawing room depicted upon the plane. He, according to Diderot, could render the life of objects as animated as figments of the oikos, or household, that humankind has always made singular in their separate daily lives. To arrest life at the meager level of substance was to capture objects as they actually "live" via the magic of painting, perspective, line and color. The still life has the potential to be an especially artful object created to behold others in an infinite regress. Diderot witnessed in Chardin's most inimitable works the image and the things depicted losing distinction.

This blurring of life is replicated in the formal approach as well, the non-finito. The brush carefully bedims the outlines of objects in order to loosely contain volumetric shapes. The expression of paint as material is, in fact, an eighteenth-century innovation, even if it defined a great deal of painting after Realism and especially Impressionism. Art historian Norman Bryson has written about the non-finito in still life as having a magnetic pull on the viewer, an effect Chardin did best and Diderot first commented upon. "The blurring of the forms marks a kind of homecoming of the subject into the ground of being," according to Bryson. It is also "a critique of still life's tendency to dwell for too long on the face of familiarity, and thereby to produce visual unease."

This soft touch around the edges can be found in Giorgio Morandi's still life on display in the rotunda. He, too, transmits the unease enclosing everyday life, its objects and its modest pleasures, just as his artistic forebears did in Flanders and Spain before Chardin mastered this tradition in France. With Morandi, we are in the company of artists in their sixteenth-, seventeenth- and eighteenth-century studios that came before him and it is as though he is painting for the Ancien Régime or some other time before him. Yet, we cannot forget that these humble containers, painted again and again, are also deflecting the hysteria of a reactionary culture that nearly destroyed European civilization, as conflict erased whole parts of the material culture that preceded the wars of the twentieth-century.  Seen in the vitrine, each object is removed from the formalism of genre and from the bubble of the artist's studio by the expressed exile each object occupies. Literalness in Morandi's work is lost in the double image of the artist's own retreat into a separate world expressed by these modest things.

One bold curatorial move in this central installation in Documenta 13, notable for its simplicity and its power, is the inclusion of vitrines next to Morandi's paintings that re-stage his studio as inner exile in a minimal set of props and books - a Chardin monograph sits among them - to no surprise. On the glass shelf above the books stand the vases he painted over and over. Each of these objects he returned to has a discrete longevity. Each presupposes a role in the life of the house and an attachment to its fate. Each is as useful and as insignificant as the next, like the foodstuffs that have come and gone across a worn chopping block.

Following Diderot, the tonality of the objects - not just their color or texture - can be seen while pacing between the painting and the painted objects.

The quiet unease of mid-century banishment is still tangible in these old paintings hung in the rotunda.

 

Afghan Hotel

Like many participants, Mexico City-based Mario Garcia Torres contributed a writing, bound as a small pamphlet entitled A Few Questions Regarding the Hesitance at Choosing between Bringing a Bottle of Wine or a Bouquet of Flowers. (Baudelaire would approve of these little books, no doubt, as they are unpretentious and to the point.)

In this pamphlet, No. 026 in the d13 library of "100 Notes — 100 Thoughts," Garcia Torres discusses the formality of accepting an invitation, comparing a dinner invite to the negotiation that a curator might have with an artist participating in an upcoming exhibition. An exchange between Harald Szeemann and Alighiero Boetti is the basis of a story that explains how Garcia Torres came to accept an invitation to do a work in Afghanistan that reversed the invitational relationship artists have to exhibitions and their conveners. It is subtle, but one gets a sense that the artist may view a curator as a kind of concierge here.

In research into Szeemann's Documenta 5, Garcia Torres notes that the thematic nature of the exhibition led to a letter of protest by Robert Morris, signed by Carl Andre, Hans Haacke, Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt, Barry Le Va, Dorothea Rockburn, Fred Sandback and Robert Smithson. Their contention was that they were being instrumentalized “to illustrate sociological principles” that trespassed upon their artistic autonomy. Since that 1972 exhibition, in part due to Szeemann’s influence, the illustration of themes by artists in periodic exhibitions like this quinquennial has become standard procedure. Garcia Torres explores this thematization of artworks using the hotel as an analogy for thematic enclosure—or art being housed in an overarching curatorial structure.

Occupying a hotel once part-owned by Boetti in Kabul finds the artist exploring his own instrumentalization in Christov-Bakargiev’s Afghanistan project (this is the unstated subtext I gathered from the pamphlet). The artist manages, through research and his stay in Kabul, to turn the relationship of curator to artist on its head by making a hotel residency that explores the role of artist-as-host.

The work of Daniel Buren and Martin Kippenberger are two of several correlating artistic occupations Garcia Torres researched. Buren, for example, explored the role of artist-as-host in his mid-1960s commissioned work in the US Virgin Island of St. Croix because he was uncomfortable with how museums entombed his art installations. In 1992, Kippenberger not only invited himself to Documenta 9 via one of his artistic PR-posters, he invited himself to occupy the top of Walter De Maria’s Vertical Earth Kilometer before the Fridericianum.

Likewise, instead of an artist being invited to fulfill a thematic part of an exhibition, like a guest in a hotel, Garcia Torres invites Boetti’s hotel to be a guest in Documenta 13. This role reversal also meant Garcia Torres hosting other participants in the Afghanistan "Other Positions" project for d13.

Garcia Torres wonders during his occupation of Boetti's old hotel if, "what Boetti was negotiating in his Afghan lodge was to be inviting while setting the rules of the game ... [T]he artist and his (sometimes casually requested) collaborators and accomplices engaged themselves in creating a number of works that were appealing, ensnaring and enigmatic enough to captivate viewers but to make them conscious of their guest status. For, when conceiving a piece, an exhibition or a text, one should be able to charm the guests into inhabiting the work just enough to have them question their possible roles while entering the work."

Inhabiting this short text, the reader is given some insight into the inevitable alienation that ultimately binds together an exhibition. Following Boetti, quite literally, Garcia Torres makes a case for aestheticizing the formalities of inclusion that guide exhibitions. His Hotel One also disperses the insecurity that the individual negotiates as a guest while making a case for how an artist can humbly accept an invitation to intervene in projects working on the periphery—even if it is the geopolitical crux of Kabul.

Other discourses of “occupation” are no doubt connected to this intervention. The work unravels as a meditation on personal inhabitance, how conceptual art conceptualized every aspect of everyday life and (art world) hierarchies central to its practices. In a larger sense, considering how the city of Kabul has been conscripted into tribal rivalries and the international proxy wars that have been going on since the Cold War, the artwork considers how the role of host and role of guest is a reflection of our democratic societies.

Jimmie Durham's History of Heat

Jimmie Durham has spent his artistic career insulting Europeans; or, more accurately, pointing out how insulting the rise of Euro-American culture has been to its own values of equality, restraint and world beautification. As he gets older he needs fewer and fewer pieces of visual information to recapitulate the contradictory relationship the West has with its own image.

In his Documenta 13 installation, Durham has placed two vitrines in an empty greenhouse. Beneath the glass roof and polyurethane walls insulating the shelter, we find no plants or signs of gardening - only a sparse room generating a stifling heat from the sun above a planked wooden floor.

The vitrine on the left tells the history of Europe through a host of pathetic details, including the bones of a colonizing Neanderthal found somewhere in present-day Georgia and a struggle to create proper sanitation that lasted two thousand years.

To the right, the second vitrine holds two tools emblematic of their era: a stone-age blade made of rock and a rifle bullet from World War II corroded by battery acid.

What does the combination of miserable heat, Europe’s sad story and pair of out-of-date weapons add up to?

Any number of things.

Clearly, one subtext is that the West has had a good time ruining the world while making it better; but that doesn't mean the imperialists have outlived their original, atavistic heritage just yet. Technology often merely gives an empire a means to realize destructive desires with enhanced speed, represented by the items on display. This "speed," as a lived condition, has for the last one hundred years been defined by petroleum-powered machines and weapons.

It may be that the oppressive heat in the room is an oblique comment on global warming - a direct result of our global car culture. Surely, the petrol industry provides one link between the emergent history of globalization and the weaponization of the planet. Is this what links the copper alloy bullet eaten by (car) battery acid to the ancient artifact mercilessly dulled by the eons of erosion that have passed since some desperate caveman flayed his dinner with this rock? I don’t know. But the heat trapped within this greenhouse on the edge of the Baroque Karlsaue Park did not become any less unbearably hot as I stood next to my fellow Europeans peering into the truncated history Durham offered up.

 

Susan Hiller's Jukebox World

A jukebox installed in the white cube makes for an exciting, if predictable, sight. These relics of the post-war baby boom have an anomalous luster. Ready for your musical command, the light and rhythm break up the visual envelope of the gallery. It is an icon suited for the enjoyment of all ages.

An Adornian (yawn) idea of mindless music providing empty consumers with canned emotions and thoughts frames the critique one could make of Susan Hiller’s work quite well; this refrain was also listed when Phil Collins' 2005 karaoke videos took a musical route through the black box by reactivating the band The Smiths. The latter was a surprisingly penetrating way to localize international subculture in a pop music stage set. It took the monotony of the screening room from the 1980s discotheque to the museum and back again. The World Won’t Listen came at the tail-end of the "relational art" fad and, like it or not, it did critique the inclusiveness of that curatorial genre by not limiting itself to just being a karaoke party: accompanying music was recorded by professionals, singers were auditioned, backgrounds were selected, videos were made and happy events were performed in social club settings.

Hiller's jukeboxes could fit into a relational art niche—and probably were done before—but curators are now grouping her work into the broad category of "artistic research." A self-conscious need to embed history into the jukebox trope is one telltale sign. The 100 tracks found in each jukebox are, according to the wall text, "utterances haunted by the past. Constituted in a public forum as a restless and incomplete archive that strategically opposes society’s constant revision of its recent history." That is a lot of work for one jukebox containing 100 songs. Selections in Hiller’s playlist are nonetheless exemplary in their international range, while sharing in scope the general theme of social commentary and/or rebel songs.

They are great songs.

There is little doubt that a lot of research went into amassing this impressive compilation, but "reactivating" transnational history in the form of an "artistic archive" is a very generous way to characterize a jukebox - even for the iTunes age. It is nostalgic in kind and clearly meant to be a transcendent example of a popular database, one that nearly everyone has in their possession on their PCs nowadays, reverse engineered to be outmoded analog technology. Would an iPod plugged into the wall carry the same weight?

Artistic selection largely explains the difference between mine and yours. This elective aspect can come off as an homage to the sourced material or it can confront the researcher with the dreaded noblesse oblige of a musicologist rediscovering less-known creative products for the pleasure of the biennial tribe.

To my mind, this is where artistic research can cross the line from creative stockpile to dubious or self-congratulatory intellectual property taken from authentic and unassuming sources. When the equivocal act of arraying information automatically equals the hard work of experiment and synthesis that is at the heart of research (or songwriting for that matter), ones eyeballs might just begin turning upwards from the ambient glow of the 1950s version of the iPod towards their brow involuntarily furrowed beneath the headphones strap—even as their foot taps along to the "technological ghosts, temporarily captured in a heterogeneous collection."

I bet Phil Collins has a great record collection.

 

YouTube Assassins Archive

Lebanese artist Rabih Mroué comes from the theater. Conflict makes the images he collects - he is not their maker.

When I interviewed him during the 2009 Istanbul Biennial, he stressed the fact that his training was not in the visual arts. He also resisted being pigeonholed as a researcher-type. "I work against the archive. I’m reflecting upon the meaning of the archive," he told me when I asked about his penchant for exhibiting metafiles that tend to occupy the cusp between personal data and government control. The role he envisions for himself seems to be that of an interlocutor for the war images he finds. Each file or image contains innumerable relations and in his onstage and video-recorded performances Rabih Mroué exposes the power lurking in these relations, which are always at root asymmetrical, visual and therefore inconclusive.

In his performances he debriefs the audience, contrasting documents only to deconstruct the very evidence he introduces with calm diligence. His artistic lawyering is, by turns, humorous and cutting: the moment a conspiracy has been nearly put right, new evidence is introduced that dashes any hope of the truth being exposed. War, it seems, does more than destroy lives, it defies presenting a corrective meaning in its aftermath; it is negation, outright. To interrogate its visual culture may be foolhardy but the artist preservers. From a more localized perspective, his presentations are intriguing because in them found material "is a pretext to draw a map of the history of Lebanon and the region and the Middle East. It’s always a pretext to talk about our daily lives, where we live politically and socially."

For his Documenta 13 installation in the Hauptbahnhof, Mroué looks at the current civil war in Syria through disturbing videos of people being shot and killed in the first person he has evidently found on the internet. The YouTube videos of assassins as seen by their victims made with cell phone cameras and handheld devices are confused and noisy documents. To add to the discord and distance of the macerated videos, the artist has made clever little flip books that show the assault frame-by-frame as the soundtrack plays with the push of a button. Each flip book rests on an ink pad that stains the user’s fingers with blue ink. The temporarily mark personalizes the media images that came out of Iraq and elsewhere when voters were forced to dye their fingers in order to participate in an election.

Like his previous work attempting to come to terms with the Lebanese Civil War that lasted from 1975 to 1990, the central thrust of The Pixilated Revolution also probes the obliteration of armed conflict. Only now the visual vacuum of war has the sting of immediacy instead of the aura of history. In this sense, few works in the exhibition could be considered as timely as this one.

Baudelaire critiqued photography for its allegiance to the mob, which threatened the ouster of art. Mroué's critique comes to an inverted conclusion: time-based media forfeits no allegiance and guarantees no single truth or objectivity. It is inherently political, little more. The Rodney King case in Los Angeles is a relevant precedent for Americans (King died on June 17, 2012).  As soon as it is taken, video and film footage is relinquished to the politics and turmoil that preceded it and make it relevant. Like photography, time-based media as a means of surveillance has no extra truth separate from its user.

Live action here functions like the other anti-archives found in Mroué's previous work: nothing definitive is proven by launching the investigation we see in the video at the rear of the installation. Here the artist gives one of his signature lecture performances, exploring all the what-ifs each fatal clip prompts.

The same images seen on the walls in the main gallery, hung as video-stills are analyzed in the lecture. Each freeze-frame shows the inaccessible drama Mroué tries in vain to expose in the lecture. Naked violence, we are made to understand, escapes comprehension along with the life that leaves the victim. Excessive force has not been captured on film, despite appearances; it has been relegated to the oblivion of the archive which swallows citizens’ identities in the same summary way it gave it.

The imperfect archive, in this case, happens to be YouTube but it could be a KGB file, Pentagon papers or any other kind of database capable of storing incriminating information while deflecting public scrutiny. The poor quality footage is only as unfortunate for the victim as it is advantageous for the aggressor. Whether it’s a cover-up or a file inadvertently redacted by an imperfect medium, the official story cannot be undone by countervailing sources, the artwork tells us.

Panic, outrage and futility are the only remaining subjects in the footage. As we see in blown-up video-stills freezing the boogeyman in fuzzy portraits of pixilated soldiers aiming at their compatriots, the artist tries to find multiple angles to footage that was taken from a single, ill-fated vantage point. More than just the casualties of armed conflict, this pointblank perspective is an analogy for the arrested development of a digital age where life and information cease.

In the end, Mroué's theatrics encircle the constant dissipation of information (including disinformation) that is left in the wake of war. This Documenta installation critiques the government and the inactive policy of the international community that has wasted thousands in the last year; but it also critiques the fidelity of the recorded image as news or evidence witnessed from outside the war zone.

The counter narrative offered to the government story does as much to dissemble as to reveal a true image of violence and this is due to the treachery of the camera - not the distracting theatrics of the performer. This breakdown inherent to the media reframes life and death changing hands as experience only. Mroué is at great pains to have this media take on a life of its own given what it has "seen" and the silenced dissent it "represents;" but it cannot.

Bearing witness to the act of revolt, and its near impossibility under present conditions, is at the heart of The Pixilated Revolution. It asks if the revolution in new media is a reactionary force or if it is actually up to the task of serving and protecting dissidents. If it is not, what would it mean if a device could be invented to record violence, in particular, with perfect objectivity?

Protest images are not made with ideological intent, the artist says amidst the lecture video performance, they simply record events.  This neutrality is what scares authoritarian regimes. "The Syrian Government is at war with the image itself," Mroué reflects at one point. I doubt the artist thinks the Syrian authorities are alone in their struggle for image monopoly in this conflict or in their preference to smother the opposition, hors-champ.

 

Bird Bunker with Allora & Cazadilla

Some of this Documenta's most intriguing works dealt with human development in the most remote and prehistoric sense. Art super-duo Jennifer Allora & Guillermo Cazadilla gave one of the strongest examples of this. Their contribution is a video entitled Raptor’s Rapture, installed in Kassel's World War II bomb shelter. This bunker made for a haunting black box with its arched, brickwork ceilings and drafty cellar air.  The space holds within it an ominous history. Visitors must wear a hardhat and after descending into the caves, it is difficult not to imagine the horror of being trapped in the bunker during the aerial raids that flattened Kassel.

Unlike some of Allora & Cazadilla's previous work that was criticized for being over the topRaptor's Rapture is extremely simple. It shows a musicologist playing a 35,000-year old flute found in southern Germany. Next to her sits an equally ancient species of Griffon Vulture. The latter stares curiously at the musician as she struggles to elicit notes from the primitive flute. Close-ups of the bird on its perch and the flautist's strained face contrast the blackened background of the recording studio.

The woman breathes into the flute from different angles to varying effects. Most of the sounds are hollow. Each reorientation suggests that she is enacting a list of conjectures made in scientific journals as to how this flute was played by the ancient virtuosos that crafted these instruments. When the montage cuts away to the searching eyes of the vulture, though, it is clear that this is more than a visual musical essay.

With each gaze from the vulture in her direction, the mystery of the animal eclipses the high-tech certainty of the moving image that seems to want to recreate a primordial scene of animal and human face-to-face, gazing at the strangeness of the other. In the wall text, the artists' described the encounter as an analogous moment, "when the birth of music, the birth of speech and the birth of humanity took place." All that is missing is a crackling campfire.

Despite being quite captivating, nothing in fact occurs—except for the intensity of the musician's face contrasting the expressionless face of the scavenger. Even with the shrill sounds of the flute, the bird-image imposes silence into the suspended space of prehistoric music. The animal stillness that suggests the bird is listening with its Old World vulture ears to the flute's bird-like sounds absorb the viewer in the act of listening to the minimal shrieks. At one point the peculiar creature seems to sleep or meditate on the noises, groveling its head downward before it stirs once again in response to a penetrating note.

The effect of the interaction is unusual: strident tones escape from the flute yet the visual impression is utterly soothing as the high-definition lighting shows the calm disposition of both actors. It is easy to be drawn into this uncanny interaction and the discordant yet tuneful drift through time. It was both theatrical and absorbing.

Allora & Cazadilla’s video-art tact was very much on display here. Added to their well-documented talents, the setting in the bunker was ideal and it made this work one of the standouts among numerous offsite installations.

 

The Legacy of Beuys' Erweiterter Kunstbegriff

Matthew Schum: I was eavesdropping from one of the tables out in front of the Fridericianum when I overheard you talking about your experience in 1972 at Documenta 5, curated by Harald Szeemann. This exhibition marks a turning point in contemporary art credited with making Documenta what it is today. You said it was clear at the time that the exhibition was a complete redefinition of art. What made it seem so different in 1972?

Dirk Schwarze: The visitors of art exhibitions expected paintings, drawings and sculptures. But in Documenta 5 they saw photos, videos, a circle of stones (Richard Long), an igloo, artworks of people with mental defects and actions (performances). A lot of people didn’t accept this change—most of them didn’t know Dada, Fluxus and Arte Povera. There had been many people who thought that this would be Entartete Kunst (degenerate art).

MS: How did the Joseph Beuys' Organization for Direct Democracy  installation reflect this change in art at that time?

DS: It was during the third Documenta that Joseph Beuys had been invited. In 1964 and 1968 he had shown objects and installations. Now, in 1972, he didn't show anything because he realized, for the first time, his new understanding of art (Erweiterter Kunstbegriff). In the center of his Documenta work he stood thinking and talking.

MS: What was your role in the Organization for Direct Democracy?

DS: I was sitting in the background of the office for the whole day (from 10:00am to 8:00pm) and writing down what the visitors said to Beuys and what he himself answered. Most of the visitors didn’t notice me.

MS: What responses by the audience stand out in your mind? Were they in general angered or amused?

DS: Some visitors thought Beuys had become stupid; others were amused or asked what this discussion had to do with art. But most of them were engaged, very strongly.

MS: How did you and your fellow collaborators feel about working with Beuys? What experience did you walk away with?

DS: At first I didn’t know exactly the meaning of Beuys' discussions, but we felt that they were important for the future of art. For myself, it was the starting point for a lot of talks with Beuys. If you look on my internet blog (www.dirkschwarze.net ) you will see how often I wrote about Beuys.

MS: Thank you Herr Schwarze.

 

Raster Rhythms: Interview with Istanbul artist Cevdet Erek

Description

In Cevdet Erek’s art, units of measurement, as official calculations, are reprised as art interventions. At Documenta 13, looped fragments of low hissing digitalized rhythms alter the unity of a commercial interior on the unfinished top floor of a department store. Room of Rhythmsis an immaterial intervention that confounds the familiar metrics of art by moving away from the measured space of a white cube gallery and the objects that tend to fill them.

At the last Istanbul Biennial, Erek gave out a small ruler to visitors marked with dates (not centimeters) that served as a surrogate history of modern Turkey (if you already knew Turkish history). This simple move isolated historical developments from shared world history and other corresponding dates on the Gregorian calendar. Scale was left to precipitous events on the timeline itself without intersection.

Measurements, then, express what Erek calls “sonic timelines” that are always manipulatable and though they are sounds, they relate to visual strategies previous conceptual artists have used: starting in 1913 when Duchamp started construction on his Three Standard Stoppages or when Walter de Maria installed his Vertical Earth Kilometer for Documenta 6 in 1977, to name two relevant examples.

In the Documenta 13 work, visceral beats and pulses introduce units of overlapping measurement that enclose the viewing subject in the otherwise vacant installation. The result is a break from the immediacy of graspable signs, images or objects found elsewhere, in the street and the exhibition.

Interview

Matthew Schum: Was the Documenta installation the largest space you have worked in?

Cevdet Erek: Yes. I have installed work in bigger spaces, such as exteriors or in performances and gigs, but as a defined space, yes, this is the biggest so far.

MS: Did you feel that the work resonated with the department store environment that one had to walk through to reach the work on the top floor of the mall in Kassel’s town square?

CE: Yes, absolutely, that was one of the main strategies—to construct a fast shift between realities. There are two entrances to my space, Room of Rhythms. The first uses as an emergency exit stairway leading directly from the street. Someone taking this entrance finds her/himself in the department store after touring the space.

The second entrance, which seems to be the one that you used, enters from the children's section of the department store. There's no ticket control this way, so some of the people who go to the shop to buy stuff for their kids (not for kunst) may suddenly find themselves in the installation space. As far as my observation in the first week (I am back home [in Istanbul] at the moment), the shift—taken from either direction—creates some kind of alienation in terms of where you come from and where you go afterward.

MS: The consumer environment had what kind of effect upon what you created?

CE: It had many. The Reduziert signs come from there. On one of the signs I printed, “chronocracy” (a word I bumped into in a text by Peter Weibel), another one reads, “für immer reduziert” or “this section is closed on Sundays.” All of these deal with time plans, sales seasons and, in general, time measured as value.

MS: Could explain further your idea of “sonic timelines”?

CE: Yes. Simply imagine you are trying to create a timeline, a simple representation of chronology or of dates and times in sound, not in visuals.

MS: Was there any specific “sonic timeline” that you had in mind when you made your work for Documenta 13?

CE: Yes, a few. First, a structure or a set of grids in a loop. For example, a week equals a seven-beat measure. Documenta equals a five-beat measure. To be able to talk about this five-year cycle of über-planning (remember the biennial ruler [12th Istanbul Biennial, 2011]) was always in mind. There were sounds gathered from the urban context, such as the traffic beeper for the blind from a street in Kassel (this equals a second) among others. They are all synchronized to each other at the scale of 60 beats per minute; but then all (except the beeper) are introduced to some attacks of arrhythmia (as in a heart) via a filter. After providing this structure (grid, ruler, millimetric paper, but translated into sound), I introduce the final rhythmic layer, which consists of some sounds referring to select events (again, both historical and everyday). For example, I play a short bit of a Mayday song each 365 hits (once every 365 seconds, which transforms a day into a second). As the piece evolves, I will be adding some more events on the timeline.

MS: Is it possible that there is something extra sonic about Istanbul that is also in your work—perhaps it’s refined and retransmitted, but there nonetheless?

CE: Probably. I have spent my life here listening to it (even while doing this interview). I have studied, performed, recorded and shouted here. It is quite a sound culture and place, at all times. But, I don't really choose to analyze or structure the effects of my ambient environment.

MS: Did you study music and did any other training lead you to sound-based artworks?

CE: Yes. Formally, I did a MA and PhD in sound after studying architecture at the academy and I have been studying all sorts of interesting stuff in this area, myself, since childhood.

 

Human & Señor

“Servitude and freedom—this is in the last and deepest analysis the differentia by which we distinguish vegetable and animal experience. Yet only the plant is wholly and entirely what it is; in the being of the animal there is something dual. A vegetable is only a vegetable; an animal is a vegetable and something more besides. A herd that huddles together trembling in the presence of danger, a child that clings weeping to its mother, a man desperately striving to force a way into his God — all these are seeking to return out of the life of freedom into the vegetal servitude from which they were emancipated into individuality and loneliness. ... The plant is something cosmic, and the animal is additionally a microcosm in relation to a macrocosm. When, and not until, the unit has been thus separated itself from the All and can define its position with respect to the All, it becomes thereby a microcosm. Even planets in their great cycle are in servitude, and it is only these tiny worlds that move freely relative to a great one which appears in their consciousness as their world-around (environment). Only through this individualism of the microcosm does that which the light offers to its eyes—our eyes—acquire meaning as ‘body,’ and even to plants we are from some inner motive reluctant to concede the property of bodiliness."

Taken from the second volume of Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West, first published in 1928, this quotation presents ideas relevant, at least, to this viewer’s take on a piece that lends itself to interpretation of any number of things: the exhibition, the way art is produced today in this international setting, the relation of artworks to artworks in such a context and, even, the world at this point in history. The work is Pierre Huyghe’s untitled installation in the Karlsaue Park.

The work presents a small forgotten Eden in an unkempt state that stars a brown female puppy named Señor and a white bitch with a pink painted paw named Human. Their master and the artwork’s groundskeeper, fed the dogs. Señor hungrily munched on a bloody bone on one of my visits and Human drank stagnant water from a mossy trough. The older dog, like his laconic keeper was skinny and seemed to be put together with birch tree branches. Their names, Human and Señor, indicated that these live characters were like the other set pieces, analogies or entities of the microcosmic sort Spengler describes above: distinct samples of the larger totality of which they are a part—just as the artwork is one of many in the exhibition and the viewer is just another viewer.

Sunken within a berm at the center of the yard—full of compost debris and puddles reflecting Kassel’s perpetually cloudy skies—reclined a nude on a bench cast in cement. A bulbous beehive coiffure of honeycomb cornrows engulfs the statue’s head. It is the stuff of Surrealism in which the generic and the ordinary become uncanny; the eyes of beauty have been replaced by an insectarium. The microcosm of femininity is trapped at once in the classical signature of the sculpted female and it is encased in the intractable industry of tiny, prehistoric creatures that the artist has installed on its head.

The sore of the beehive renders perfection ungraspable and hazardous. The assemblage in this sense functions like the vacant lot itself—like a cut on the face of the larger exhibition in the Karlsaue.

The dogs ensure Huyghe’s defunct idyll does not appear utterly joyless. Yet, while the young one, Señor, looked healthy, the older dog, Human, was emaciated. If these dogs are meant to be taken as metaphors, as the names might suggest, the scenario looks more like a situation in which this is how one begins, and that is how one ends.

In Spengler’s scheme of things, the indivisible microcosm of the individual body has been overrun by the irrepressible strength of the drove where the statue sits. The honeybees covering the nude represent multitude and macrocosmic vitality in a swarm. This constellated body made of many smaller ones has no awareness of the larger whole that it has affixed itself to. The inwardness of the face, expressing the soul in aesthetic terms, is replaced here by an insignia of a mass without interiority at all. Huyghe’s odalisque adds to the Spenglerian ideal of distinction that is the providence of humanity as form consciously articulated with Nature’s unconscious profusion.

As a simplistic yet startling conflation, this covering over of the model with an impermeable veil adds what Surrealist writer Georges Bataille called the informe to the realm of the body. L’informe is a counteracting formlessness blunting order and beauty with the kind of macrocosmic energies on display in Huyghe’s piece that the discrete unit is never really free from. In Bataille’s telling of things, the body itself is above a producer of such chaos—a veritable factory of the informe’s barely appreciate shapes. It is a world-within-worlds principle of inevitability and reconfiguration that sees the macrocosm—that of the universe itself— reflected in the smallest dab of spittle hawked on a sidewalk or a formidable ant colony on the move.

What Huyghe’s dogs, bees, odalisque and lone gardener reflect planted in their neglected clearing in more specific terms than this kind of Bataillean rumination on human undoing and destruction may be irrelevant. If you like, the odalisque replica is a kitsch stand-in for an art-world planet with so many bees flocking to the scene, aware of little more than their recess in the cove. It may be a more transcendent look at classical beauty and its ongoing unnerving. Perhaps it considers the future of the dysfunctional times we in the West inhabit. It may be a set for an apocalyptic film. Surely, it is a contemporary rendition of l’informe, a truly Surreal piece in the Bataille sense of that canon.

In any case, Huyghe’s untitled rubbish yard did its job by cutting through the business-as-usual atmosphere that makes exhibitions like Documenta appear to be routines in collective careerism and safe-art production. All the Documentas and all the biennials need an anomalous piece like this one to complete the event by offering a contrast from the whole, a crack in the overall surface. The work recycles the attention of the viewer willing to pause there awhile; it rejuvenates the senses. Art here was able to provide a reprieve and Huyghe’s Untitled did so in Documenta 13 with authority—as did the art collective Gelitin at the Venice Biennale last year in a different yet equally effective way.

Untitled is not the first piece to blur the conceptual lines between artwork and compost pile or to make art using people. More than a critique of something, it appears to be a meditation on the decline that is rehearsed daily in the news and played out in our political contests. Each reiteration of society crashing reframes the distinct body of the current time as elemental to the multitude, to the formless picture of the history as vast as the universe that Bataille privileged as recklessly déclassé, and that Spengler feared as human perception lost in the darkness of animal sensuality. With this artwork, Huyghe simply made it difficult to tell the forest from the trees, which had, in this corner of the Karlsaue Park, begun to overgrow.

In the end, the Huyghe piece possessed an uncommon punch not because it had a clear message or purpose, but because it held experiential truths of the sort summarized in the words of Deleuze when he wrote: “We are all little dogs, we need circuits, and we need to be taken for walks. Even those best able to disconnect, to unplug themselves, enter into connections of desiring-machines that re-form little earths.” On such a walk on such an earth, a bone to gnaw on and a yard to play in does not hurt.

 

About Matthew Schum

Matthew Schum is a writer and curator based between Los Angeles and New York. Recent curatorial projects include: David Hartt, Interval, Eamon Ore-Giron, Morococha, Sanya Kantarovsky, Happy Soul, Mark Boulos, Antigone and the Gates of Damascus, Orit Raff, Priming, Nir Evron Endurance, Patricia Fernández, Paseo de los Melancólicos, and Isabelle Cornaro, This Morbid Roundtrip from Subject to Object for LAXART in Hollywood. Schum is currently editing a monograph on artist Mark Boulos with Forma Arts, London, a co-curator for Elevation–86, Death Valley, and a cofounder of Publication Studio Los Angeles.

Schum received his PhD in art history at the University of California, San Diego. He has worked for the Museum of Modern Art, the Walker Art Center and Flash Art International, taught modern art history in the US and the Netherlands, and collaborated with artists in Turkey, Germany and California. A 2012 curatorial fellowship highlighted the 30-year anniversary of the Stuart Collection at UCSD.

Documenting DOCUMENTA follows a similar project as the 2007 Istanbul Biennial for the haudenschildGarage. This newest project is inspired by nineteenth-century Royal Salon Reviews which created multifaceted texts in several installments instead of an exclusive magazine or newspaper article.

*Banner image Lawrence Weiner ‘The Middle of The Middle of The Middle of’ and Giuseppe Penone ‘Essere fium 6'