Document for dOCUMENTA (13), Part II
9:30 Saturday morning, after a much-needed cup of coffee, I took the tram to the middle of town and started to head for the Neue Galerie. Over coffee, I’d discussed my plans for the day with my hosts, Martin and Angelika. I wanted to find Tacita Dean’s chalk drawings; I would walk through Karlsaue Park to see the work housed in the park; I had to check out the Neue Galerie and the documenta-Halle; I would re-visit the Fridericianum if I could, and I would try to make it to a talk by Mark Dion at the conference “On Seeds and Multispecies Interaction: Disowning Life.” This was an impossible agenda, of course, so I decided, for one, to skip Tacita Dean because Angelika told me the wait would be very long and I could see all the Neue Galerie in the time I’d stand in line for Dean’s drawings.
On the way to the Neue Galerie, I was sidetracked by a few other spaces I just couldn’t not go into: Gerhard Byrne’s A man and a woman make love opened the morning to doggedly deadpan humor before I’d had breakfast. I then stopped into Paul Chan’s painted book cover installation which didn’t seem to fit the space well. Then I studied a room of small, collage-like paintings by Francis Alÿs before suddenly deciding I had to see Dean’s drawings—they were too ephemeral to miss—and so I ran the half mile down to Ex-Finance Building to get in line just before it grew all out of proportion.
Only fifteen people were allowed into the room at a time, since Dean’s Fatigues consisted in six wall-sized (approximately 6 by 15 feet) chalk drawings on blackboard, and were so delicate as to be susceptible to destruction by any large number of visitors at once. As I entered the room, it seemed possible to me that already much of the chalk had come off the blackboards: It filled the air, I could taste it, and I could feel it as a soft, silty layer beneath my feet. The chalk compositions of the Kabul River and Hindu Kush mountain range in Afghanistan were landscapes of swollen waters, floods, washed out basins, huddled mountain peaks, slopes riddled with profuse folds and crevices. The river and flood compositions conveyed a particularly impressive volume in the water mounting over hidden rocks. Stuck into the topography or sometimes abutting it were phrases in delicate cursive script which filled in the narrative of an irrecoverably damaged film that had been Dean’s original conception for the show: weather coming in; a wide open sense of space.
Leaving the Ex-Finance Building, the strange excitement of the day ahead began to set in, and I felt the way in which art could weird a space or a place, making time seem at once strangely accelerated and suspended. I headed next to the Neue Galerie where I spent most of my time looking at a Joseph Beuys exhibit and then a gloomy painting by a 19th century German painter—Carl Spitzweg’s Nachtlandschaft mit Bär—neither of which were part of dOCUMENTA. The most-notable dOCUMENTA works at the Neue Galerie were probably the collection of Canadian painter Emily Carr’s post-impressionist, Pacific Northwest First Nations-influenced paintings, and Geoffrey Farmer’s monumental Time magazine collage-puppetry, Leaves of Grass. My overall impression, however, was that dOCUMENTA was better-suited to less-conventional spaces than the formal gallery, so I quickly departed for the park.
From the Neue Galerie, I took the alternative route to the park, down the steep hillside from the Schöne Aussichtstrasse (“Vista street”) on Natascha Sadr Haghighian’s dirt trail: a clunky path hewn by hand and full of awkward, quick switchbacks, beaten right alongside the formal route from the high street to the sunken park—a monumental staircase memorializing German soldiers of WWI and WWII. Recordings of Haghighian mimicking barnyard and wild animal noises called out from speakers hidden in the trees and brush. The gesture was playful and serious, kind of like my scrambling down the crude slope. A bawling goat ejected me onto the green of Karlsaue Park’s 1.5 square kilometers (almost half the size of Manhattan’s Central Park) of field and trees.
Part III of MPW’s dOCUMENTA (13) review follows, focusing on Gareth Moore, Pierre Hughye, “Systems Art,” and including a transcript of the “operetta” by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller for Forest (for a thousand years) 2012.