dOCUMENTA (13) and the Blind Horror of the Meteorite’s Point of View
Maria Chehonadskih Born in Stary Oskol, Russia in 1985. Writer, activist and curator. “MAM” editorial board member. Currently lives in London.
dOCUMENTA (13) (curated by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev).
Fridericianum, Kassel. 06.09.2012–16.09.2012
In Lieu of an Introduction: 100 Days, 100 Friends, 100 Euros…
I took to writing a text about dOCUMENTA(13) many times and each time my attempts have failed. I was just one of those who happened to be at the epicentre of the organizational process of this cumbersome and complexly organized event. Any attempts to discuss the particularities of the current dOCUMENTA fell into infinite grievances about a heavy workload, the organizational process and the hypocrisy of the artistic community. “The cost of transporting this work could have covered the yearly expenditures of the population in three African countries,”—this is how I reasoned about the giant installations in the documenta-Halle. What floated in my memory were only unflattering scenes that were not much related to art itself. However, the occupational hazard of internal work in the art process is poorly connected to “aesthetic enjoyment.” That is why, the core staff of dOCUMENTA was comprised of managers who knew nothing about art. Nevertheless, my naïve experience of an explorer into all the secrets of the big project hinted that certain facts of working life should not contravene with the communitarian and anti-hierarchical pathos of the exhibition.
I had enough time to see the exhibition. I was just one of those people who spent all the stated “100 days and 100 nights” at dOCUMENTA. In spite of this, in three months of work, I still did not succeed in carefully and attentively getting acquainted with all the exhibition projects, to delve into the intricacies of the jargon invented by ‘dOCUMENTA’ curators, or to read even half of the “principal” texts on which the exhibition rested. Returning home in mid-September, I—much like the other prisoners of the 100-day program, including the curators themselves—felt free at last. Time passed, and a complete picture of what this project was about finally emerged in my mind. I understood that my personal experience is an important piece of the puzzle without which the whole picture could not have materialized, since the exhibition itself readily disintegrates into fragments. To this end, I wrote what any other person who had bought into the advertising of an “unforgettable 100 days, spent with dOCUMENTA,” along with other fellows and interns, needed to write.
In the official statements from the team of curators, it was said that visitors would encounter something bigger than a simple exhibition; that is why dOCUMENTA had to be “lived through” and a hundred days was an adequate term both for the artists and the temporarily employed staff to dive into the exhibition and comprehend its life-building pathos. dOCUMENTA positioned itself as a project of slow and thoughtful co-participation: cooperation between artists and the curator, the curator and agents (co-curators), agents and staff, staff and artists, and finally, with all of our surrounding flora and fauna (including Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev’s dog).
The deliberately expansive politics of the project extended further—the exhibition did not just take over the entire city, but also other regions of the world, and it seemed that it aimed to sever the mode of express-consumption familiar to a biennale tourist. “Well, if you want to understand anything, stay with dOCUMENTA 100 days and 100 nights,”—urged the project website, adding: “Buy a season’s pass for 100 Euros and visit us again.” Indeed, hundreds, and even thousands of people, as well as those who were in one way or another involved with dOCUMENTA, bought the season’s pass. The human capital of the exhibition amounted to the work of 18 agents (co-curators), about 100 assistants, coordinators and staff, 100 tour guides recruited out of the local Kassel residents, 100 students from various European art academies, and a good hundred lecturers and artists. According to Christov-Bakargiev’s conception, everything had to come in 100s at the dOCUMENTA, no more and no less. And within that hundred, everything was divided into other numbers, hierarchies, communities, gender roles, rights and responsibilities.
As marketing specialists put it, the most profitable projects are those where a producer is at the same time a consumer. And in the contemporary reality of the creative industry, the best indicators of budget optimization are found in projects where such a symbiosis allows to save on wages: for example, agents are reincarnated as midlevel managers who take on all the routine work; students receive experience, see exhibits, increase audience numbers in the lecture program, and work as artists’ assistants free of charge; the so-called international fellows work full-time, but their fellowships are twice smaller than the salaries of official staff. And each one of them lives on a project their hundred days and hundred nights.
In that sense, dOCUMENTA (13) opened another door into the new world of contemporary society, working 24 hours a day. Although we got used to supermarkets being open around the clock in Moscow, and that we can buy a TV at 3 a.m., I was surprised to learn that performances, lectures, discussions and film programs could run almost everyday. I was truly amazed with the fact that Tino Sehgal’s project This Variation is reproduced eight hours a day without breaks or weekends. The work represents a complex choreography of bodies, sound and dance, taking place in complete darkness. The spectator enters a closed, unlit room and unwittingly interacts with a whole chorus of voices, sounds and movements. Since eyes do not get used to darkness right away, this may initially appear as a sound installation. However, after some time, visitors begin to distinguish the contours of the dancers’ bodies. Depending on the number of people, the performers establish a certain type of relationship with the viewers. Their voices may intensify, their movements may become more rhythmic, transforming into a complex dance. When I was in the room, the dancers virtually attacked some chattering rich ladies: they surrounded and implicated them in a frightening ritual dance. Thus, the behaviour of the performers also depends on the behaviour of the spectator, so that the latter may experience a whole array of feelings, from complete euphoria and happiness, to anxiety and discomfort. The spectator could dance, hide in a corner, or even lie on the floor along with the dancers.
Once, at a bar, I was introduced to one of Tino Sehgal’s performers, an artist doing a residency at the Jan Van Eyck Academie. I immediately began to sing praises to the virtuosic work of the team, however, I could not resist and asked what it means to him as an artist to reproduce the same performance every day for eight hours. He answered that performance as a genre is currently dying, since we are not dealing with a unique and inimitable situation, but with a mechanical reproduction of the same action. I thought that at the moment, I could not define Sehgal’s genre of work. Perhaps, it should not be called a performance. A genre in which this work is made, apparently, does not yet have its own name: it is not a dance number, nor a theatrical piece, nor a ballet. There is nothing strange or surprising that the above-mentioned forms of art are reproduced. What is strange is that art could be measured by an eight-hour workday. During our conversation, the artist admitted that the aggressive character of the relations between the spectator and the performers did not emerge immediately, but was the result of the annoyance and weariness of the latter. In the stream of conveyer reproduction, spontaneity and improvisation, which are an integral part of Tino Sehgal’s project, expressed the physiognomy of everyday work of his performers. Of course, the spectator does not ask herself or himself such questions, and does not see the difference between a unique event of the performance and its staging, i.e. its infinite repetition. The spectator arrived for the first and only time in order to see it. But the point is that instead of an event (where in the moment of the “here and now” we enter into a certain relationship with the body of the artist), we encounter a routine reproduction of an event. It would seem that this would not influence the content or form of the work; however, in this case, the mechanism of repetition had seemingly recoded the ontological function of art, since the artist has become a cognitive unit. In that sense, Sehgal’s performance could be regarded as a poem on the everyday work of a contemporary cultural labourer.
The Metaphysics of the Landscape: Geography, Form of Life and dOCUMENTA’s Jargon
Without a doubt, dOCUMENTA bared the nerve of contemporary life—a complicated system of the circulation of people and goods in the global world. It is impossible to grasp and see this system as a whole, because the subject of this system is able to see only separate fragments of the whole picture. dOCUMENTA’s world, created during these 100 days, may only be amenable to analysis if we try to see it from a bird's-eye view, but how high must it be? And what if no manner of height exists, or the journey to reach it is beyond human capacity? The curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev decided to experiment with fresh philosophical ideas of speculative realism, to prove the groundlessness of both relativism and any form of metaphysics.
On the one hand, to see it from the bottom up, dOCUMENTA can be regarded as an experience of a stroll. Similar to a stroller, the spectator had the opportunity to independently choose, to some extent, one or another footpath. In any case, the curator had no intention of determining their route in any way. One could get stuck on one path for several hours, but spend only five minutes on another. Perhaps, owing to this, many remained satisfied with the exhibition. If a leftist intellectual showed up, (s)he found an appropriate fragment of the world for herself or himself there; (s)he would go see the works of the Lebanese artists Rabih Mroué and Walid Raad, then would visit the anarchist platform, And… And… And…, and then sprint through the Fridericianum and leave completely satisfied. Prim institutional staff delighted in the return of the high aesthetics of objects and narratives. Moderate critics of the art system remarked that the exhibition is great precisely because of a lack of ubiquitous first-rate stars exhibited ad nauseam. Tourists enjoyed the Kassel Park. It seemed that dOCUMENTA’s very infrastructure and geography resisted the universality of the spectator experience.
The second phenomenological position was to assume the point of view of a meteorite rushing steadfast towards the Earth, which, in essence, meant not having a point of view at all (since objects and inanimate entities do not have a point of view in principle). It turns out that we are capable of learning such radical indifference and nihilism from a meteorite (unlike human beings, a meteorite does not care where and why it flies, what it will collide with, what it will become, and for what purpose it will destroy anything alive on its path), that we could throw out such old fashioned anthropocentric categories as high and low, force and weakness, power and slavery, violence and resistance. Indeed, who would think about a collision with a meteorite from this point of view? Natural disasters were previously regarded as divine punishment. Subsequently, Marxist critique accused capitalist production of bringing about an environmental crisis, and now we arrive to the existence of a meteorite, on it’s own, and it does not give a damn about religion, capitalism, class struggle and ecology. Thus, the problem is that all of us are carriers of a humanist consciousness, but in reality, there are people and there are objects—various forms of life, their micropolitics and internal conditionality. Thus, capitalism, an environmental crisis, and religion are simply some of the effects of complex relations between various actors. This way, the fall of the meteorite presents the point of view from “above,” but only relative to the scale of the human body.
The unrealized project by the artists Guillermo Faivovich and Nikolas Goldberg who planned to bring the El Chaco meteorite from Northern Argentina for 100 days and to install it near the Fridericianum, close to Walter de Maria’s invisible work from 1977, Vertical Earth Kilometer, became a striking embodiment of this metaphor. The weight of the meteorite is 37 tonnes, thus, its transportation could have become the most expensive in the history of exhibition projects, and El Chaco would have received the status of the largest object in the history of art. According to the curator’s idea, the meteorite would have made the southern hemisphere a “temporary point of reference and mediation on objecthood, time and place”; it “could have functioned as a gigantic transitional object, temporarily shared by many people for the moment of its exhibition”. However, anthropologists and various members of the indigenous community in Argentina expressly forbade the removal of the meteorite from the region, regarding the project as another expression of colonialism. To all the reproaches concerning the meteorite scheme, the dOCUMENTA curator retorted: people are so dim and conservative that they still revere the idea of private property. Supposing that the meteorite belongs to them, they remain the hostages of conservative notions of inheritance.
What is symptomatic in this story is how philosophy resists any forms of exemplification. Viewing this sketch from the perspective of Bruno Latour’s actor-network theory, the situation becomes even more convoluted. According to Latour, society should be analyzed from the point of view of interaction of human and non-human actors that form networks. Within these infinitely multiplying, complex formations, there are two types of relations—intermediation (a simple transport of force of another entity more or less without transformation) and mediation (a complex transport of force of another entity with many transformations and differences). Thus, a meteorite and a human being as intermediaries are in themselves equivalent; in a specific system, one symbolizes a cult, the other—worship. However, entering into new relations within the dOCUMENTA exhibition project, for instance, they become mediators: their internal complexity is at once exposed (according to Latour’s theory, a human being and a meteorite are equally complex), because they are influenced by a number of other actors. Thus, an active ideological construction is triggered: one expresses the position of force and power, and the other, a position of weakness and oppression.
Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev goes further; for her, Latour is too conservative. His method is based on poststructuralist materialism, where objects and people still “signify” (i.e. function within the linguistic logic of signifier/signified). Relying on the theory of intra-action of the ecofeminist Karen Barad, Christov-Bakardgiev proposes to examine any form of relations outside language. There are no separate entities, mutually dependent on the precedence of causal relationships (one flows out of another), but agents of intra-action, and consequently, the perspectives of agents of observation. Thus, we could speak of the being of phenomena, not caused by subject-object relationships. Nevertheless, Barad’s conception incorporates a Foucauldian analysis of the apparatuses of power, which means that it is impossible to avoid social constructivism. She argues that phenomena are conjoined with each other by the logic of the apparatuses of power, and until they liberate themselves, hierarchies, as much as subject-object relations (even imaginary ones) will continue to exist. Therefore, people will have to wait before they can merge with the Argentinean meteorite.
The paradox is that while we remain dOCUMENTA spectators, we have no concern for the micropolitics of the meteorite (if those even exist), much like the meteorite does not concern itself with us. However, we are concerned about the micropolitics of the curator, since it is Christov-Bakargiev who is concerned both with the former and the latter, and that is why everything that is connected with the notorious piece of rock still remains “all too human”: religion (the meteorite as a cult of worship for local people), capitalism (the most expensive transport), class struggle (postcolonial world).
In that sense, the curator did not succeed in avoiding the expression of all the qualities not foreign to human agents. She became a big director, having prudently and hierarchically combined the relations between people, animals, and objects, drawing a veil of “speculative realism” and “ecofeminism” over all spheres of social life—art, architecture, design, science, literature, philosophy, history; all conceivable and inconceivable forms of life—from activism to the community of dogs and bacteria. She did this, of course, with one single purpose—to provoke the intra-action. The weakest link of the direct transfer of “pure” ontology onto exhibition activities did not only have an illustrative result, but also showed the discrepancy between the frankly modernist logic of the curatorial work and the claim to nihilism.
In the framework of the exhibition, neither the ideas of the big project, nor dOCUMENTA’s post-war antifascist and liberal ideology, nor the forms and work on the exhibition grounds were reevaluated. If we are to go all the way and occupy the point of view of the meteorite, then why was the main component of the project in the Fridericianum rotunda called “The Brain,” whereas the grounds located on the place of the former concentration camp “Breitenau”—“The Unconscious”? Works touching on the favourite theme of animals and ecology were placed in the Museum of Natural History. Not to mention the so-called four conditions of dOCUMENTA, corresponding to its four geographical sites: under siege—“I am encircled by the others, besieged by the others” (Kabul); on retreat—“I am withdrawn, I choose to leave the others, I sleep” (Alexandria/Cairo, Banff); in a state of hope or optimism—“I dream. I am the dreaming subject of anticipation” (Kassel), and on stage—“I am playing a role” (Banff). dOCUMENTA is in some ways more reminiscent of a childish or fairytale painting of the world. Under siege—let’s hide in the playhouse, having grown tired of playing adult games; let’s go to the forest and walk through the park and search for zones of autonomy there. It is sufficient to introduce four principles into this world in order to foolhardily enter Kabul territory with a mass of trinkets from contemporary artists and then wonder why many begin to invoke post-colonial theory. The answer is always the same. If you only ask primitive questions, you simply have no imagination to envision that another world and love are possible. Besides, it is so boring and banal to throw around clichéd phrases and reproduce thoughts that have lost all their poignancy.
Let us return to modernist logic and realism, which work hand in hand at dOCUMENTA (13). Here, we see how inadequate the idea of the transformation of life itself would be for this bundle (even at the level of rethinking dOCUMENTA’s stodgy and conservative infrastructure). Eighteen co-curators participating in Christov-Bakargiev’s project had received a nickname corresponding to her philosophical sympathies—agents. They represented various professions ranging from the philosopher and the writer to the scholar and the film critic. According to the plan, the agents had to “mediate” the space, ”creating a new chain of phenomena.” However, in practice, they resembled more of a bureaucratic hierarchy of angels—seraphims, cherubim, and thrones, serving in the name of the dOCUMENTA kingdom, attempting to outdo one another in virtuosity, or conversely, portraying the bad, fallen angels—coming late to discussions, dumping projects onto the lower ranks in the hierarchy and being motivated only by the large fees and the corresponding symbolic capital. Perhaps only here did the cynical form of retreat become fulfilled, replacing the old logic of struggle, protest and position.
The methods of curatorial work had more of an opposite effect of strengthening the philosophical concepts of spectacular relativism. It is worth mentioning the main projects, as well as the individual couplings and connections between them. As is known, dOCUMENTA’s itinerary began with “The Brain”—the perusal of the glass rotunda of the Fridericianum. I will admit that in my view, this is the strongest part of the exhibition in which the position of the curator is focused and worked out in detail. This part of the exhibition is literally, “inhuman nature.” Everything that was presented at the rotunda pertains to an internal life of objects, their complex and contradictory condition of being in the world. According to the curator’s conception, all the presented articles were designed to express dOCUMENTA’s above-mentioned principles. Here, one could find sculptures, manuscripts, photographs, everyday objects, decorative art, fabrics, branches, and rocks, amongst which a dramatic polylogue is being played out.
The rotunda is inaugurated with Vyacheslav Akhunov’s conceptual album. The artist’s decrepit “anti-Soviet diary” is stored under glass of the museum cabinet. The entire context of the creation of this album disappeared along with the USSR, so the only thing looking back at the observer is an ossified scrap of anonymous and blind memory. Amongst the artifacts, there were also “Bactrian Princesses” (2500-1500 BCE), mini-sculptures of female figures from Central Asia. All the parts of the body of these fragile statuettes were carved out of minerals, so one can only speculate what wonders of archival storage and care preserved them until the present day. Conversely, other artifacts are interesting because of how they “did not preserve”—for example, objects of art affected by the Lebanese war, transformed into pieces of materials melted together. The melancholic row is complemented by the photographer Vandy Rattana’s image of a Cambodian pond before the start of the Vietnam War. The water basin was destroyed during American bombings. The neighbouring graphic of a Vietnamese artist Vũ Giáng Hương, documents everyday life of local peasant women during the war. Altering the viewing itinerary, it is possible to notice that the narrative, however briefly, is intercepted by a life-asserting intonation: Kabul ceramic vases and rope dolls of the Cairo artist Wael Shawky are a living monument to human handwork.
Another impressive drama unfolds around Rudolf Kaesbach’s neoclassical statuette from 1936, which is in dialogue with a series of surrealist objects, photographs and toiletry items. A real detective story emerges out of the relationship between objects, which could potentially lend itself to a literary transcription, although there is much more emotional intensity upon direct observation of the artifacts. Man Ray’s ready-mades from the series “Objects, to Be Destroyed” are copies, recreated in the course of several decades (from 1932 to 1971). The presented photographs relate to Lee Miller, a model and the artist’s lover. During the Second World War, she was a photojournalist, and in 1945, on the day that Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun committed suicide, she visited the Dachau concentration camp. Subsequently, as a photojournalist, she traveled to Hitler’s apartment to capture the scenario of the Führer’s suicide. From the bathroom, Miller collected perfume, a comb, a powder box and other objects. Subsequently, she took a series of photographs not directly related to the incident. In one of them, her pose imitates Kaesbach’s female sculpture. This statuette was considered an exemplary model of neoclassicism and was gifted to Hitler at the end of the ‘30s. The journalist found it inside the dresser in the bathroom along with the perfume. This tragicomic psychoanalytic session ends with a series of self-portraits of Miller, taking a bath in Hitler’s apartment.
A grievous sense of loss, lack, or even anguish, is augmented owing to an ontological view on art and culture, unfamiliar in contemporary exhibitions. Against the backdrop of thousand-year-old princesses, centuries-old works of art and immortal stones, unfolds the life of the world, so that even the presented chronicle of the Egyptian revolution in this series appears merely as an atomic particle, swimming in the ocean of phenomena heaped onto each other.
The Fridericianum’s exhibition site sustains this note until the very end, although, in places, it misuses the crescendo. “The Brain” continues with Ryan Gander’s conceptual minimalism — the empty spaces of the ground floor are elegantly wafted by a gentle breeze. Pictures of different varieties of apples, which the München priest Korbinian Aynger sketched in the dungeons of the Dachau concentration camp, make way for the artist Mark Lombardi’s work, who died in 2000 at the time of the opening of his personal exhibition. The panels depict detailed diagrams of mafia contacts of the owners of global corporations. What follows is a series of installations by “physicists and lyricists”, where laboratory instruments and physics formulas neighbour with artistic opuses. It is almost impossible, and perhaps unnecessary, to tell one apart from the other. One of the strong works of the show is a series of narrative drawings from the ‘30s made by a recently discovered Jewish artist Charlotte Salomon. It is represented as a stern museum installation and contrasted to Anna Boghiguian’s chthonic work, disproportionately sprawled along the whole room. In the dimmed hall, the spectator could walk from one stand to another, examining Salomon’s watercolours. These works narrate difficult everyday life of an entire generation of Jewish women before and during the Nazi regime lodged in the decorations of her companion’s expressionist mythical feminism, which was slightly disconcerting. It seemed that two opposing personalities were collided here, with one evidently occupying the space of the other. The exhibition concluded with Michael Rakowitz’s marble casts made from books, lost as a result of Kassel’s bombing during the Second World War.
Other dOCUMENTA sites, to varying degrees, continue to develop Fridericianum’s methodology; however, the logic and beauty of unfolding stories are completely missing there. For example, there is a set of very different artists at the train station [Hauptbahnhof]. The only similarity between them is their ‘exotic’ geographical origin. We are either shown Rabih Mroué’s refined and witty analysis of footage of Syrian revolutionaries captured on a cell phone, or the spectacular postmodern work of the Zimbabwe artist Kudzanai Chiurai, and of the same ilk, a hysterical homage to Rebecca Horn by Malaysian female artists. And suddenly, from political formalism and postmodernism, we proceed to an ironic work by the artist Bani Abidi, deriding the ideological lining of state-order work of a guild of Indian sculptors-realists (similar to the Socialist Realist artists, they sculpt giant statues and busts of bureaucrats, representatives of the state and businessmen from the highest castes).
Correspondingly, what was presented in the museum of technology, the Orangerie, had everything to do with science-art. Moreover, the works of the dOCUMENTA participants were mixed in with authentic museum artifacts, apparently, to underline the phenomenological nature of the curatorial approach. However, in my view, this approach falters at the encounter with the artistic ego, which was impossible to hide. Attempts to show that the artist as well as his or her work is simply one more object amongst others did not prove successful. The same exhibition logic can be traced at the New Gallery [“Neue Galerie”], where the presented political and social works are also interspersed amongst the permanent collection. Undoubtedly, many strong pieces could be found here, such as Wael Shawky’s marionette video-play of the Holy Crusades, Susan Hiller’s karaoke of revolutionary songs, and a series of Roman Ondák’s conceptual photo-observations. However, their merits are not emphasized, and are certainly not dependent on the work of the curator. What is presented in the documenta-Halle is more or less disparate work; however, the exhibition stands out with the presence of big names and impressive size of the pieces.
In the Park, any kind of structure and logic is missing altogether. Many remembered Pierre Huyghe’s atmospheric installation. The feeling that the artist was inspired by abandoned Soviet construction projects in the midst of the forest belt never left me. The work was also somewhat reminiscent of the sets to Tarkovsky’s film “Stalker.” In the artificially crafted vacant lot in the middle of the Park, the artist was making compost. A swamp formed from the piled heaps of concrete slabs, surrounded by poisonous flowers, a growing thicket of tobacco and marijuana plants, and various varieties of weeds. In a secluded corner, amongst the heaping piles of various materials, there lay a statue of a nude female figure whose head was swarmed by bees. From time to time, wild Spanish dogs with painted pink paws appeared in the wasteland. They found themselves food amongst the various flora and even fauna of the park (at the time of my visit, these were skulls of unknown animals). In time, the decomposition of organic and inorganic materials produced new forms of nature. The spectator could make an existential stroll along the wasteland, and end up in an atmosphere resembling Andrei Platonov’s stories, of course, only if we agree to transport this atmosphere into the context of late capitalism. The artist attempted to examine dOCUMENTA’s ecological thematic without childish exhilaration: instead of the reverence for the defense of environmental rights, he showed the terror of nature, which attacked and decomposed organic and inorganic forms of life. There were no other such works at the exhibition—all the other site-specific projects played on Kassel’s history, or the landscape of the park itself.
It is possible to single out another leitmotif at the Park’s exhibition site, which is community-based art. This is what, for example, Robin Kahn’s project resembled: in a tent installed on the territory of the Park, women from Northern Sahara were preparing ethnic food during the dOCUMENTA opening, after which, there were held numerous human rights workshops and master classes on cooking couscous (which, by the way, were conducted by graduate students who came to dOCUMENTA to work on decolonial theory, but who, ultimately, ended up turning into an object of their own research). In other pavilions, there were endless hypnosis sessions, voodoo therapies and new age workshops. The artist Chiara Fumai called her sessions “Witch performances”. During the action, she chased out men and anti-feminist-minded women, and then, in a sepulchral voice, proceeded to read a compilation of various feminist texts. It seems that an anti-thesis was found for the curatorial anti-humanist thesis. In post-apocalyptic times, repressed forms of pseudo-religion allegedly acquire emancipatory meaning.
We could consider the outcome of this whole experiment as the bloated and legitimated-by-art meta-position of the curator, who decided to exhibit her own picture of the world. On the whole, dOCUMENTA (13) could be read as a philosophical parable on the catastrophic transformations of the material and objective world, created either through the mediation of humans, or without their participation altogether. Anthropology here could be thrown out the window as an insignificant element.
The story told by the curator promulgated the aura of the anonymous memory of things and objects. Work with the museum storerooms, historical sources, and card indexes from various regions of the world, colossal in its scope, is not asserted here by the classical methodology of archival representation. An indubitable curatorial innovation here is the new form of exhibiting objects, based on the pronouncedly phenomenological perception of art objects. However, the transposition of these methods onto the human material turned out to be unsuccessful. In the majority of cases, connections between works seem too obvious and banal (at the Train Station—the postcolonial, in the Museum of Technology—Scientific, in the Museum of Natural History—natural, in the Park—forms of life), or, inversely, contrived and speculative (sometimes it is unclear what is in common between presented works, apart from their thematic or regional proximity).
Moreover, for the majority of critics of speculative realism, the ontology of agents acting in this world on equal footing (from the glass bottle to the human being), is a mirror of capitalist realism or contemporary cognitive production, where the only acting forces are mathematics, networks and the market, and human lives do not have fundamental significance, much as the lives of other animals. Democracy in that kind of world has also become formalist. If we are to see the world from the point of view of a meteorite, then nihilism may also spread to the living conditions of millions of people. When networks are controlled by corporations, or created within the framework of large exhibition projects, what becomes important is only the formal level of numbers, positions and oppositions (the GDP is rising, 75% of the electorate voted for the candidate, 100 days and 100 nights of ‘dOCUMENTA,’ etc.).
Thus, the question remains open: should we treat the dOCUMENTA (13) as a phantasmic world of one curator, or should we rather attempt to identify new aesthetic and ethical platforms within it? Perhaps, these questions could be answered positively. It is true that we must show greater concern to the declared paradigm of speculative realism as much in art, as in philosophy. Possibly, the one to offer the most sober view to the practical function of an object-oriented approach would be someone who would really imagine the point of view of a meteorite—the catastrophic horror of being, where the subject creating art appears to us in a radical image of an inanimate Other. And now follows the next question: do we want to live in a world of bare structures, 24-hour performances, bodies and objects mangled by war, examined by the pathologoanatomical gaze of the curator? If so, then we force ourselves, neither more nor less, to relive and perpetuate the horror in which contemporary society already lives. If, however, we are not satisfied by the current state of affairs, then the question to the artistic community is, What could withstand the blind and bewitching force of the point of view of the meteorite? For now, it is evident that the documentation of protest actions, personal stories of participants, archives and heroic images of a human being are decidedly powerless. So let us try to take the point of view of a meteorite, keeping in mind as much the feeling of horror, as all these urgent questions.
- ^ Speculative realism—a stream of philosophy based on the idea of return to pre-Kantian forms of thought. Its representatives take the position of radical anti-humanism, rejecting the metaphysics of subject-object relations, i.e., any forms of correlationism and causal relationships between being and judgment. Speculative realism proposes to view the human being alongside and in relation to other beings (the animal, natural phenomena, organic and inorganic forms of life). See Graham Harman’s collection of essays where the development and formation of these ideas is explicated in detail: Harman G. Towards Speculative Realism: Essays and Lectures. Winchester: Zero Books, 2010.
- ^ The subheading of the main curatorial text is precisely, “to see from the point of view of the meteorite.” See Christov-Bakargiev C. The dance was very frenetic, lively, rattling, clanging, rolling, contorted, and lasted for a long time // The Book of Books. Catalog ⅓. Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2012. P. 30–46.
- ^ Ibid. P. 30.
- ^ See Latour B. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.
- ^ Hammarström M. On the Concepts of Transaction and Intra-action. The Third Nordic Pragmatism Conference—Uppsala, 1–2 June, 2010.
- ^ Barad K. Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Durham: Duke University Press, 2007.
- ^ Christov-Bakargiev C. Op. cit. P. 35.
- ^ Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev’s favourite argument, which she constantly used in the course of lectures and discussions of Maybe Education and Public Programs of ‘dOCUMENTA.’
- ^ I am indebted to Alexei Penzin for this observation; he compared ‘dOCUMENTA’s’ agents to angels, playing with Giorgio Agamben’s image of the bureaucratic apparatus of power. The meaning and definition of angel hierarchies is examined in: Agamben G. The Kingdom and the Glory: For a Theological Genealogy of Economy and Government. Stanford: Stanford University Press. 2011. P. 145–165.
- ^ Galloway A.R. The Poverty of Philosophy: Realism and Post-Fordism // Critical Inquiry, vol. 39, issue 2, Winter 2013.