While in Germany I thought I would take the chance to visit Documenta14 in Kassel, and Munster Sculpture Project, on the rare occasion that they are both occurring in the same year. Having never been to either of these before it was an opportunity to further engage with the structure and implementation of these large art events which feature prominently on the global artistic circuit, and continue to develop my critical perspective on structures for the production and display of contemporary practice.
In 2015 I wrote a review of the Venice Biennial, Strangled Speech: Colonial Modernity at the Venice Biennale, which addressed the limitations and contradictions of such events. (Shortlisted and published for the International Award for Art Criticism, September 2015)
To some extent i had higher hopes for Documenta given its relative position as one of the more socially and politically embedded events of this kind, As well as this editions curatorial approach to have the program taking place also in Athens to potentially offer a critical counterpoint. As Helena Smith writes
“As the meeting point of the economic and migrant crises that have consumed Europe. Athens offered “fertile land” to explore the global complexities of possession and dispossession, displacement and debt.”
I can’t personally pass much judgement on the effectiveness or value of this part relocation from Kassel as I was unable to travel to Athens, However I have read with great interest the various arguments and counter-arguments about its monetary benefit to the city or spotlight on contemporary art in Athens. As well as its neo-colonial approach to using the city, and inaccessiblity for many Greek artists and local audiences.
“There’s anger because they haven’t taken circumstance into account,” says Nadja Argyropoulou, a curator in Athens. “Their theory is beautiful, radical and timely, but they didn’t mingle or take the leap into the everyday or address the reality here. Circumstance is what humbles theory and makes art as important as real life.”
My experience in Kassel over a few days was of a number of individual artworks and practices themselves being engaging and a welcome new exposure for me, However the format of these events often feels so stifling to the transformative potential of any individual art work.
I managed to meet up with Artist friends from Canada and the UK, who were working on an experimental education event, Under the Mango Tree, which I was consequently able to attend. As I didn’t go to university but have been persuing my own education in alternative/ autonomous settings, this subject matter is always very interesting to me. There were some engaging and informative contributions from the likes of Sofia Olascoaga ( Centro intercultural de documentation, Mexico) and Oscar Andrade Castro ( The Open City of Amereida, Chile) and some nice touches with the organising of the events components in an experimental format. However, as I may have predicted within the context of Documenta it felt like a closed discourse. One has to hope, if there is really a belief in the transformative and emancipatory potentials discussed, that these ideas get taken elsewhere and put to work by those in attendance.
Sculpture Project Munster, was for me, markable different in its accessibility and interrelation with the city at large. It’s reoccurrence every 10 years, possibly saves it from the overload of biennials, triennials, quadrennials, and quinquennials.
I rented a bike and enjoyed as much of the public sculpture works within a days cycling around and felt like I saw quite a lot to not only get an impression of this years commissions but get glimpses into how it’s developed and layer the city over the decades through the sculptures that have been selected to remain. I particularly enjoyed engaging with the accumulation of works over the last half a century spread around the large Munster Aasee lake. As well as the archeological approaches to spaces of the city such as Pierre Huyghe’s use of a former ice rink and Mika Rottenberg’s use of a closed-down shop that used to sell Asian products, as a ready-made installation set-up to explore “the seduction, magic, and desperation of our hyper-capitalistic, globally connected reality”.
That evening in Munster I was hosted by one of the local project spaces who were contributing to the SPM program with Freihaus. A connection emerged between the architecture team delivering Freihaus, and mutual friends, members of Assemble who have been working on the Granby Workshop here in Liverpool in approach to projects. Thus continued a long night drinking beer and discussing approaches to art practice, German politics and large scale exhibition events in the project spaces courtyard garden.