A visit to Documenta13
Thursday 21 June 2012
Our Assistant Registrar Fiona Moorhead has joined the ranks of Gallery bloggers to share some snapshots of her recent travels...
Documenta is a contemporary art event held in Kassel, Germany once every five years. During the 100 days of Documenta, the population of Kassel swells as hundreds of thousands of art fans make the pilgrimage to this small town in the middle of Germany. You have to wonder how the town's citizens deal with this onslaught, and what they think of the strange and wonderful artworks left behind. This year, for Documenta13, I made the journey, and here are a few thoughts and images I've taken away from this visit.
A notable feature of Documenta is the variety of venues: in addition to the main venues of traditional museum and gallery spaces, the event spreads across the city, invading city gardens, a planetarium, natural history museum, an abandoned hotel, shops, cinemas, the train station and a children's library, just to name a few. Many artists present works that are incidental to the location in which they are presented, but some artists create works that respond to their environment.
One artwork that had a strong connection to its location was Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller's work 'Alter Bahnhof Video Walk' which was based in the Kassel Hauptbahnhof (main train station).
Visitors were invited to borrow an iPod loaded with a video and sound piece, which instructed you to follow the video maker's movements through the station. The narrator mused on the physical location (taking you to the platform where trains departed to concentration camps during World War II), as well as more internal wanderings, through ideas of memory, place and relationships to loved ones. The result was an intriguing form of augmented reality, where the events taking place in the video seemed to segue into reality. The 'guided tour' feeling of the work offered another perspective to our experience of Documenta, where, armed with maps, we navigated through Kassel, trying to find Documenta venues, and sometimes encountering unexpected things along the way.
With hundreds of artists' projects, lectures, congresses, film screenings, performances and other events, no one can possibly see the full gamut that Documenta has to offer. Instead, we all see just a small slice, and like our experience being guided around the train station by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, we are at times engaged with the physical experiences, and other times wrapped up in our own imaginations.