Document for dOCUMENTA (13), Part III

Document for dOCUMENTA (13), Part III

With over 50 works or installations scattered through Karlsaue park, it was possible, in the single afternoon I spent roaming the grounds, to visit only a fraction of these. Impressed as I was by the Alter Bahnhof Video Walk, I sought out Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller’s second dOCUMENTA piece, this one tucked away in a small, ungroomed copse: Forest (for a thousand years). I arrived at the end of the 25 minute audio loop, and as people came and left I settled down on the dirt, comfortably reclined against a sapling, as I let the vaguely narrative, theatrically spatialized sound collage develop an intenser atmosphere around me.

Just outside the bower (or bunker?), by the placard asking visitors to silence cell phones and refrain from conversation, was another sign—-a dialogue with four parts, an accompanying text possibly, also titled Forest (for a thousand years). There is something vaguely musical about the four-part structure of the text, and this was emphasized by its apparent relation to the sound installation inside the grove, where dozens of speakers fixed in trees and plotted throughout the thicket seemed to develop little episodes or themes: chatting and whispering, much as in Cardiff’s The Forty Part Motet at MoMA PS1; Arvo Pärt’s “Nunc dimittis” performed by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir (also reminiscent of The Forty Part Motet); sounds of intense physical exertion, clanging metal, heavy machinery and loud motorized vehicles, explosions; then quiet rustling and animal noises (confusion between recorded and present human sounds, recorded and present birdsong), sound of footsteps, atmospheric sounds. A transcription of the placard follows:

Cardiff and Miller, “Forest (for a thousand years),” 2012

The success of Forest (for a thousand years) had much to do with its use of space, setting, and circumstance. Like the Alter Bahnhof Video Walk, it used the location and duration of the festival to its advantage, melding aspects of performance with environmental art and art “happening.”

In a related manner, the next piece I visited in the park, Pierre Huyghe’s much-lauded Untitled (2012), made use of the landscape in a way that went beyond what we normally think of as “installation,” becoming something like, as Caroline Jones describes it in the most recent issue of Art Forum, a form of systems art. Huyhghe’s miniature park within the park—a landscape, an ecosystem, an environment of things “made and not made” included stacks of cement bricks and slabs punctuated by large hemp plants; sizable mounds of sand and dirt and asphalt; an uprooted “Beuys oak” from Joseph Beuys’ dOCUMENTA (7) 7000 Oaks project (1982); Huyghe’s dog (a skinny, white, wild-looking dog with large ears and her right foreleg painted bright pink to just below the shoulder—quite calm though perhaps vaguely annoyed by the visitors); and a marble nude statue, reclining in a wide, shallow pit, an active honeybee hive engulfing her head.

Huyghe’s work demonstrated a kind of sureness—a confidence that critics, professional and amateur alike—respond to. The work is, in a word, persuasive. It’s also dramatic—and as the beehive statuary, neon dog, and uprooted Beuys oak might have indicated, it is at times nothing less than sensational. I felt this way standing back from the sign, some 10 meters distant from the nude statue, that warned me not to approach any closer. I also felt this way eyeing Huyghe’s seemingly exhausted dog (I admit, by this point, I may have been “projecting”) whom, I later learned from the catalogue, was a recent mother also weaning her two pups on the grounds of Untitled (2012).

Huyghe, “Untitled (2012)”

In this respect, Huyghe’s work suffered in comparison to another piece in Karlsaue park that could also be considered a work of “systems” art. This was Gareth Moore’s encampment (also untitled): a petite village with less of the conceptual fireworks of Huyghe’s piece, but all of the same sensitivity and intensity. In fact, in its own way, Moore’s “camp” was equally dramatic, but it suffered critical neglect by refusing to turn its theater into readily-consumable materials amenable to the image-information culture of the 21st Century. In other words, Moore’s work-site asked its visitors to check their cameras and cell phones at the entrance. No photography, no attractive blog post.

For a coin of any domination plus the temporary abandonment of image-recording devices, the visitor received a chestnut token with which she could redeem her goods on exiting the space (the coin was forfeited to a tree trunk sculpture, whose bark was cut with small vertical slits into which the coins were inserted). If she so desired, the visitor was welcome to stay overnight on the premises for a maximum stay of three nights. According to the signage, the camp featured “dry rooms” (I noticed Moore’s shack and two others), fresh water, an outhouse, laundry and mail facilities. A concessions stand sold a variety of goods from postcards to gum, snacks, and cold drinks (bartering welcome). A coupon from the dOCUMENTA (13) Guidebook entitled the visitor to “1 free hot shower/OR coffee/OR Morning Whisky/OR Beans on toast.” Had I known about it in advance, I would have skipped “Air BnB” and lodged here for the night. Not only would it have saved me the hours of searching for a room in Kassel during dOCUMENTA (as you can imagine, the small city stretches itself to accommodate the influx of visitors), but it would’ve been a comfortable zone of respite (and for the hour I spent there, it was a zone of respite) from the camera-gawking elsewhere prevalent in the city. Much of the strength of Moore’s piece resided in the way in which it refused, flat out, absorption into the spectacle of the art fair. In this way, the work posed a subtle counterpoint and even, a possible critique of some aspects of dOCUMENTA (13) itself.

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