- South East England
Pint glass half full (half empty) with (euro) “slummy”
As in – “This machine only takes coins. Got any (euro) slummy, mate…?”
A stretched cling-film ceiling (floor) between myself and slummy.
Cling-film; a temporary measure for the preservation of things – sandwiches, marijuana, freshly applied tattoo’s. The things under its protection, by default, representing an undertaking between subjects.
This glass is plastic. Its weight offset through covered-steel, nickels, Nordic gold. You slosh it around in small circular motions – allowing the contents to feign a temporary state of freshness. It momentarily reinstates the bubbles – the fizz. The denominations begin to work themselves back up; to the surface.
The conditions of its collection are a familiar set of propositions. My parents still have a 1970’s Cornish studio pottery flagon. A close childhood friend; a dilapidated baseball cap from skateboarding days of old – uncontrollably bulging at constant point of rupture on his bedside cabinet. I have never required an equivalent. My slummy always seems to get spent.
I can’t write without there being an impending deadline. It has to be forced, squeezed – through me – like sand through the puckered mid-drift of a kitchen egg timer. It’s laboured and all-consuming; like our friend slummy it’s an exercise in slow, patient accumulation. Under these terms time gets compressed, ossified into lenses for the diffusion of stubborn thoughts, reluctant reactions – delayed sensations.
“Slummy” is a state of mind. A state of quiet and gradual saving. Foremost, it presents itself as a contract; of convenience. Each coin deposited doing its bit at rounding off the edges of transactions – past and future. Only in the present can it be static. Once mobilised it does its best at quelling the sharp sting of expense; matured enough now to re-join us on our travels – it’s spending money once again.
Note: I would like to formally acknowledge and thank the artist; Sam Venables for introducing me to the term Slummy.
Previews are always difficult to attend; oversubscribed, chaotic and incessantly postured – Kassel was no different. On arrival, 4 hours delayed, I headed straight to the centre of things; Friedrichsplatz – the press and information centre housed in an old department store on the squares fringe. Visibly overheated and clearly disorientated I clumsily achieved my “professional” accreditation – a laser printed piece of A4 paper; instructing me in columns of German, Greek and English. D14’s mascot, a Hellenic rendering of the owl of Athena – head vertically tilted eruditely giving me the eyes.
I ask for a map. Apparently, I can get one at the table opposite, but if I want the full map then I will have to head to the bookshop across the way, where for €3 I can purchase one.
I beg for the helpful attendant’s pardon;
“But if I am to buy the full map then why do I need the map I am about to be given?”
– “That map is just a condensed version, for those who choose not to buy the full map…” – she replies politely.
Acting on her instruction I head over to the table opposite taking receipt of the condensed map and a side of accompanying programmes and pamphlets generously piled on top. I turn to leave, but within a few steps of doing so am stopped in my tracks.
Apologetically – “Oh, take this too…”
It’s another map; a double-sided street map.
Curiously I enquire – “What’s this map then?”
– “This map will help you make sense of the map you are about to buy…”
“But, dare I ask, what do you mean?”
– “Well, apparently the full map is a little difficult to negotiate in places, so we suggest you take this one to cross-reference it with; so, you can successfully locate the venues”
“But that means I will have three maps?”– I state neither as an outright question nor statement.
– Looking me straight in the eyes she replies; “Yes”
Shuffling away mumbling; “Ok… danke schön”
For the fourteenth iteration of Documenta, and for the first time in its 57-year history, we’re split between two locales; the cities of Athens and Kassel – suffixed with the working-parentheses; “Learning from Athens”.
I was all too aware of the extensive integrated educational and public programme, both first hand through an informal round-table discussion with members of D14’s curatorial and educational team (attended in Athens exactly one year prior), and via the vast quantity of written (digital and paper) bumpf that I had managed to collect over the 12-month run-in.
Here’s a sound bite;
“…specific programming, research, and collaborative projects that attempt to move away from the spectacle and instead approach the transformative potential of the everyday, the real.”
(Pg. 1, Documenta 14 Map/Booklet)
The “everyday, the real” – Immediately on glancing at the programme I clocked the array of public, civil and ex-commercial properties temporarily sequestered as venues for the presentation of art; U-bahn station, Tofu factory, Shopping parade, Post Office HQ, pedestrian underpass – some used to great spatial effect, others not so much.
My immediate reaction, on purely a logistical level, was one of quiet disdain and immense frustration. A vast chunk of the performances I attempted to attend were either over capacity therefore unable to be accessed or experienced through a multi-faceted filter of bodies, smart phone screens, official and non-official camera people – and a ubiquitous preview-hum becoming louder with every passing action.
A small caveat here, namely Marie Cool Fabio Balducci work; Untitled, 2003 (pictured above) located in the main upstairs concourse of the Documenta Halle. The piece, a durational performance undertaken between artist or performer, and a series of monolithic up-turned or dismantled veneered office desks or divider walls – tenuously connected by a strip of clear scotch tape (sellotape for the brand-aligned) I was fortunate enough to witness this in full flow, with the Documenta Halle at its most ugly. The sound of this translucent strip of adhesive tape being lightly strummed by the fingers of this diminutive and alone figure was deafening. It was tantamount to alchemy; how this constellation of generic office apparatus managed to create a tone that not only stood up to the aforementioned hum, but managed to relegate it to the status of mere background interference. On that alone, the artist had me. Once tuned into its frequency everything else seemed to fall away, scything through the space with an incredible level of serene authority. It was bliss. In a situation where information and its administration had seemed to have gone walkabout the pertinence of this was not only humorous, it was borderline magnanimous.
Hand scribbled sheets of A4 nonchalantly tacked to walls, playfully accompanied by illuminous electrical taped arrows offering direction. A seemingly infinite supply chain of tradespeople still on the tools; cutting-in with paint brushes, tweaking trip boxes (one of which did actually trip, in the Kulturbanhof – temporarily downing all the lights) and a wonderful Marx Brothers-esque trio of maintenance personnel hammer-drilling the living daylights out of a stairwell wall; a hop-skip and jump from the exit of Irena Haiduk’s ‘Blind Room’ – where needless to say light depravation and the subsequent increased audio sensitivity it supplies was kind of the point. I could take a swipe at the poor volunteers standing dumb-sentry at every corner, but they not knowing what the fuck was going on was from as far as I could see pretty much the only way it was ever going to pan out. It wasn’t and shall never be their fault.
It was only with time that I realised in amongst the melee, clawing at the vast pile of new and old works, missed performances and overlooked collaborations that maybe I had missed the point entirely. That maybe the map saga that welcomed me was the clue to what was awaiting me and ultimately how I was going to solve this city and continent-wide puzzle. It was in the title all along “learning” – I would have to learn my way through what was on offer.
In retrospect, I should’ve realised this when nearly 36 hours-in a companion pointed out to me the small khaki-gold and black circular discs jubilee tied to the street lamp post upright’s; offering just the slightest hint of where it was I was supposed to be (heading); in this light, there unanimous elevation, for the roving eye just out of reach, could be nothing but intentional. Another clue missed I lament.
I can’t help but think A. If I had more time, and B. I spent less of the time I did have longing for the marquee moments – I would have left the city 48 hours later with a sweeter taste in my mouth. On the first day, at my most despondent I should’ve headed to Peppermint, sit down for a few hours, rest my aching feet, knock back a cup of something herbal (possibly peppermint) and unlearn some shit, learning a shitload in the process – supposedly. I do honestly regret that. Instead I pummelled along regardless attempting to cover as much ground as possible. It was only when I committed to a venue full-bodied and whole-hearted or was in a state comparable to sleep mode (admittedly with the aid of alcohol) that the bar seemed to raise itself ever so slightly.
I have to get the obvious off my chest – this all singing all dancing plane of learning thing (that I barely engaged with) was always going to be without its other half; Athens. I didn’t get to see any of that. Friends, peers and acquaintances generously regaled me with stories of walks and choruses, community-led conversations and radio stations – but none of it I actually experienced. For reference, everyone that I did speak to who had visited Athens actually had pretty positive things to say about it; it’s certainly a city of hosts and it’s hard not to think that maybe that’s what swung it in the right direction; an army of more than qualified maître d’s at the ready to do their job and do it with aplomb.
This put my level of interaction with Documenta14 at a huge disadvantage, and a regretful one at that. Unfortunately, and rather aptly, it came down to simple economics – I just didn’t have money to access it all.
One half of me is more than willing to hold my hands up and say; you get out what you put in, whilst the other half refuses to budge. It’s a simple exchange; it’s “slummy”, a transaction between subjects, between bodies and its relentlessly accumulative – for better, for worse.
 (Useless) printed instructions and manuals. Urban Dictionary. 2008
Irena Haiduk – Neue Neue Galerie (Hauptpost)
One such bar-raising moment was Irena Haiduk’s installation on the upper floor of Kassel’s ex-Hauptpost, temporarily assigned the new mantle of Neue Neue Galerie for D14’s duration. After ascending a mount doom-esque stairwell I was confronted with possibly the most intimidating display of signage (title’s, dimensions, mediums, etc.) I think I have ever seen attached to a single work – admittedly this work did have a heck of a lot of components requiring acknowledgment.
What was refreshing about Haiduk’s installation was just how unexpected it felt; as a space and as an experience. I literally fell through the door into what seemed palpably like somewhere else. It felt like a committed set of circumstances; where the artist had clearly put on offer a complex relationship of actions, instructions and transactions for the viewer to choose from and invest in, as they saw fit.
Down to the sheer level of detail and finish applied to these propositions and they’re packaging, its socio-historic narrative – the Serbian Yugoform company and its Borosana worker shoe – managed to retain an even keel to the experience as a whole; this pseudo “working” installation, close to Lynchian in atmosphere and effect.
Everything seemed up for grabs. I spent a solid 45 minutes sitting comfortably alongside the catwalk runway – as models passed me balancing copies of Proust on their heads – contemplating every one of the additions as and when they announced themselves. The décor, furniture, props, cast, items for sale, the mysterious performance happening on the hour every hour from behind closed doors – all this demanding an untoward level of attention and commitment, which I was more than willing to supply.
The crux of the work was the shoe, I will let you do your own detective work here, but in terms of the experience on the day, if you were female you could purchase a pair – this involved the standard trying-on of the shoe then a consultation with an official member of staff where they would verbally walk you through the contract of ownership. A heavy and hammy (think Stepford wives meets perfume counter) performance, where on completion you were asked a set of questions in regards to your income – depending on what you did for a living and how much you subsequently made financially dictated the price you would pay for the shoes.
In addition, there were a pair of marble tablets that you could pay to make charcoal rubbings of (excerpts about thingness taken from the vols. of Marcel Proust heavily referenced within the work) If this didn’t tickle your fancy then there were Yugoform enamel pin brooches’ and Sternberg Press books to pick up the slack.
This exercise in import and export was professional, methodical and efficient – even the D14 volunteers seemed to have a heightened awareness of what was going on compared to previous encounters.
As an artist who consistently looks to moments within popular and commodity culture as springboards to dive bomb off, it was no surprise to me that this work in its entirety had a certain allure – but I remember at the time feeling that there was almost a little too much on offer, feeling close to smothered by the generosity of the artist in that respect.
The performance in the blind room gave me the relief I required. Laying on a sun lounger in pitch blackness I was bombarded with a conversation that I quickly zoned out of. The hypnotic tone of the voice/s did their job and before I knew it I was exactly half awake and half asleep – completely at the mercy of what was happening to me.