The Documenta Experience

August 10, 2012

Travelling to Kassel Germany in July to documenta (13) was a transforming experience beyond my expectations. The temperature was immediately refreshing at 68 degrees, with a big sky, rain, and then bright afternoon sun. I walked for 10 hours a day for 4 days and saw as much work as I could. What a way to experience art!

Happening once every five years, the work of over 300 international artists filled museums, an abandoned hospital, a train station, a library, and my absolute favorite was the park, Karlsaue. Walking through a lush green park with parallel waterways, as I looked out for small buildings that housed installations, sculptures, films or “art” experiences– all expansive ideas, and then walking back out to the openness of the park with an opportunity to absorb the work before you found the next, is a perfect way to experience art.

Karlsaue Park

The Fridericianum museum was where I started my journey. Quietly filtering through the entire ground floor of the Fridericianum, is a light blowing breeze manufactured by the artist and felt in the passageways, main thoroughfares, and open spaces of nearly empty surrounding galleries. Maybe it was this breeze that set the tone for my entire experience as I took my time and looked at the work with fresh eyes.

Museum Fridericianum and occupy documenta

Highlights for me included an ambitious work by Theaster Gates, the renovation of a hotel in the city using recycled materials. The space was alive, with an active workforce, personal items, and large screen televisions of musicians performing classical violin, gospel, blues, etc. Theaster will be the keynote speaker at the National Performance Network and Visual Arts Network annual meeting here in Philadelphia this December hosted by the Bride and Asian Arts Initiative.

Theaster Gates

The train station was a dark day for me, full of work that presented a world view full of political and social turmoil. At the end of the station, I appreciated coming upon the conversation of And And And which was an international conversation about borders. I am intrigued about how the gallery can be an active space for conversation and exploration on different levels, where ideas and conversation are the art.

Pedro Reyes, Sanatorium included 8 interactive artistic therapies providing alternatives to drugs to regain sanity in society. The program describes the work as seeking to extend beyond the sphere of art into the arena of culture for large scale social good. Another “artistic therapy” of sorts was the hypnotist piece, where you could sign up for a private session in a Zen space the artist created. I didn’t have the opportunity to engage with this work, though I enjoyed the idea. Both works were extremely poetic concepts that while I didn’t participate, I did enjoy thinking about them.

A powerful experience for me was Omer Fast’s film, where a man and wife have lost their son in war and reenact his return by hiring a male prostitute. An utterly disturbing look at war, the film unraveled the deep impact that war has on human relations. I was drawn into the challenging layers of this film and was glad to have a moment in the park to absorb.

C. Christov-Bakargiev curatorial statement reads….dOCUMENTA (13) is dedicated to artistic research and forms of imagination that explore commitment, matter, things, embodiment, and active living in connection with, yet not subordinated to, theory. These are terrains where politics are inseparable from a sensual, energetic, and worldly alliance between current research in various scientific and artistic fields and other knowledges, both ancient and contemporary.

I am fascinated by the possibilities where art interacts with other fields and exists as a living exchange of ideas and experiences. While I am not sure how my journey will impact the Bride, I am certain it will. There is so much swimming around in my head right now.

by Laurel Raczka, Executive Director