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Every five years, the eyes of the
art world turn to Kassel: documenta is considered a world show of new
art – and never has it been as international as in 2002. Directed
by Okwui Enwezor (right), Documenta 11 is sending out signals from the
global village. Until September 15, documenta will be addressing globalization
issues like the simultaneity of the non-simultaneous, the clash between
rich and poor, power and powerlessness, the ensuing conflicts and their
Kutlug Ataman, born in Istanbul, lives in London; Artur Barrio, born in Porto, lives in Rio de Janeiro; Ouattara Watts, born in Abidjan/Ivory Coast, lives in New York; Fiona Tan, born in Indonesia, lives in Berlin. Currently, all in Kassel in North Hesse. These are just four of the 118 artists represented at documenta 11 and having a common link: they live at the interfaces between cultures, they are at home in the “global village.” Their biographys stand for the geographical diversity that characterizes documenta 11 – and which was never as strong in any of the preceding shows. Although documenta has enjoyed sporting the label “world art show” since its inception in 1955, it really only embodies it for the first time this year, for the first documenta of the new millennium. The artistic North-South Passage through continents and cultures leads from the group Igloolik Isuma Productions, from the Canadian Arctic, to Destiny Deacon, who belong to the generation of “urban aboriginal” Australian artists. What was supposedly on the periphery has now shifted to the centre.
What theme is capable of linking and holding this diversity together? Globalization, transnationality, post-colonialism are keywords for documenta 11. The art on show in Kassel in the year 2002 deals with some of the issues posed by globalization: the simultaneity of the non-simultaneous, the clash between poor and rich, power and powerlessness, the conflicts in our world and their consequences. Diversity. Not art for art’s sake, but art as part of the intellectual discourse on the world in which we live – that is artistic director Okwui Enwezor’s concept. For documenta 11, politics and social criticism have been brought back into art.
art is never just a matter of form, but also of content. Here art has
a message which it is sending out as a signal from the “global
village” in the form of videos, installations, photographs, and
Internet projects. Images are on show at documenta 11, but only seldom
paintings. However, more than two thirds of the exhibited works were
created specially for the documenta.
Shattering the western focus
shatters the narrow focus of the West’s global viewpoint and fixes
its gaze on the larger sphere with its new political, social and cultural
conditions,” writes Enwezor in his foreword to the catalogue.
And in order to circumscribe that larger sphere, the documenta head
and his six international co-curators have divided the show into five
platforms: platforms one to four have already taken place – as
discussion rounds in Asia, Africa, Europe and the Caribbean. For Enwezor
and his team these are elementary components of documenta 11, not additives.
That is why those discussion contributions can be downloaded from the
Internet as videos, or read in various publications. The themes of the
platforms – democracy as an incomplete process, legal systems
in the process of change, creolization, urbanism – provide the
intellectual framework for the fifth platform, which is the actual exhibition
in Kassel. Initially, the media’s culture sections were bristling
with criticism of the documenta director’s obvious preference
for theory, of the apparently conservative return to the political in
art. Now that this has assumed a visible shape, their judgement is largely
positive: documenta 11 is more appealing to the senses than expected,
despite the fact that it contains a few slightly more impenetrable works
that only become accessible after much reading.
Time as entrance fee and theme
That social criticism and politics in art
need not necessarily be cold and theoretical is shown here by the French
artist Annette Messager, who has staged a colourful puppet theatre of
cuddly toys – at first glance, an amusing confusion of dolls and
animals moving up and down; at second glance, a horror scenario of disability
and suppression. Whoever enters the walk-in installation by Cuban artist
Tania Bruguera is overwhelmed by a physical unease, blinded by glaring
floodlights that hinder orientation; the accompanying threatening noise
in the background is of guns being repeatedly cocked and their cylinders
rotated. Artur Barrio from Brazil has prepared a sensual experience
for nose and feet by covering the floor of a narrow room with coffee.
Anyone going to Kassel should bring a lot of time with them, for many of the video installations demand this “entrance fee” of their viewers. The theme of time also plays a direct role, for example, in the project by Japanese artist On Kawara, who has long since become established on the international art scene. His “One Million Years” in the central room of the Fridericianum illustrates the extent to which dates determine the measure of our existence: a man and a women alternately read out the dates of all the years from 998 031 B.C. to 1969 and from 1969 to 1 001 995 – thus rendering both past and future perceptible in the present. This too is a kind of attempt to archive, a theme addressed a number of times, be it in the black-and-white photography of the South African Santu Mofokeng, showing prisons in the townships, or in the work of Georges Adéagbo. In his room he has arranged found objects from Benin and Kassel, a collection of traces from North and South – a wooden boat, traditional sculptures, and beside them a record of 1970s German hit songs, books, clothes. “The way people here throw things away,” comments Adéagbo, “it’s as if they were throwing away money.”
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