Marc Lafia on Tue, 2 Jul 2002 21:31:54 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Re: RHIZOME_RAW: Welcome to the Multiplex: Documenta 11, New Generation Film Festival Lyon, LA Film Festival

Hi Lev

Some thoughts to share on Documenta

Documenta 11, Art and the figuration of History, the Social as Event
Marc Lafia

A few thoughts on Documenta below. Not a review but an attempt to read what
is perhaps its aim, its intent.

Entering the Museum Fridericianum, one of four exhibition halls of Documenta
and encountering the work of Leon Golub and Hanne Darboven, the staging and
terms of Documenta are set in place. Darbovenšs work is the permutations of
the possible. It is an algorithm of possible events, indexing what might be
a personal story about her father, a mathematician, and her grandfather who
practiced or trafficked in the coffee trade or so this was relayed to me by
the young guard in the room. As she said, after pondering it for hours and
days and hearing various docents discourse on the work, Darbovenšs system is
not easily readable, but in some sense it does not matter ­ it is a massive
record, a voluminous indexing of an activity I myself could not decipher,
was not certain of, yet there are three floors of hundreds upon hundreds of
letter-sized framed documents, all words and numbers, permutations of a
system. Are they records of something that has happened or a system to set
forth possibilities or permutations of what might have happened or could

Not dissimilar to what has put forward by any number of conceptual artists,
these documents are the record of some thing, these letters stand for
something, they stand for the fact of something, they are material evidence
of some claim, some presence elsewhere or transcription or transposition of
an elsewhere ­ they are not in and of themselves events ­ the event itself
is elsewhere ­ under the cipher of a new calculus. And perhaps this is the
difficulty of history. It is an elsewhere that is too easily contested, too
easily charged becoming a calculation for some end and we are never sure who
is speaking and for whom and what is and isnšt being said. As Godard said of
cinema, we might say of history, that it is alone ­ away from us, too close
to us, and we are its ghost, never certain of the facts, only the affect of
a time past.

The works of Leon Golub move away from specific fact to the affect of police
torture, a generalized maelstrom of vileness, violence, brutishness. His
quick painterly sketched depictions of what he is well known for, depictions
of beatings, brutality, violence to persons, women, men, imprisonment ­ with
writing on the works, Œthis is youš, Œwe can disappear youš bring us inside
the event of what history generally presents as a remove. His work is the
event of affect, not a specific event but a seething, poison that is.

In an adjacent gallery to these two artists is the work of Zarina Bhimji.
The video ŒOut of the Blueš extends and folds these strategies,
problemitizing fact, affect and memory. A camera slowly moves through empty
houses, barracks and commercial properties abandoned in 1974 when Idi Amin
banished Asians from Uganda and Bhimjišs family fled to the U.K. As such the
very notion of remembering and knowing, of what can be said to have been
lived and what is lived, or what is said to have had happened is raised into
question. What exactly happened there? Again there is elsewhere.

It is in this space between the illustration of event and event itself,
between - History which points to something ­ and Art which in itself is
something ­ that Documenta traverses and stakes claim or rather makes
problematic, that is the claims of each, history and art, turn their
respective strategies, their methods and discourse onto each other.

Documenta uses the procedures of art, the materiality of the art work, art
as a display of works, of physical things, a display of objects, materials ­
it mobilizes presentation and display, the well worn strategies of artists,
museum and material culture for the purposes of opening up history, memory,
being, time and conflict.

Documenta is a theatre of history, of politic. of art; it is a collection of
props, procedures and tactics, a splayed database of the lived real, an
orchestration of many disparate voices, but primary voices, authors who are
the agents and actors, the very beings in the cross fire of living culture.

Documenta is a spatial visualization of what often has been figured in the
form of historical critique in writing ­ taking the evidence or even the
very meta idea of evidence, of voluminous, forensic, physical material
evidence that creates an alternative reading of what may have happened ­
this is the predominate and outstanding strategic procedure of Documenta ­
situating the social and political ­ or recasting or refiguring these terms
and opening them up in the space of art to be seen anew and to be
re-considered. It is art taking on history as the performative, as an open
index, history as always lived, always interpretative, history as a
particular reclaiming of events, of memory, history as living.

A number of the works in the exhibit, retrace and traverse sites of
political crime, war, atrocity, genocide, aggression and in the post 9-11
world ­ we may fell closer to what we may have felt were far away things ­
so it may be that these things touch us more then they once may have. The
works implicate us in the social political ­ in a reality of a world of
violence, territorialization and use a legalistic, a juridical strategy of
amassing material fact to make a case. It is interesting how these same
strategies of display of objects, repetitive objects, multiples of objects
could easily be transposed into minimalist sculptures, the work all tends to
be sculptural, objects in space, most pronouncedly the video work­ but here
rather than objects that just are, these objects, these artifacts, this
material evidence refers back to the world, not the materials themselves but
to the world in which we live and the things that happened and have happened
in this world. 

This reclaiming of history, of the social is at the forefront of Documentašs
project and again another example of the space of art extending critique,
mobilizing its formal strategies to examine and take as subject matter other
domains as it has with the sciences, the network, biology, entertainment and
so forth. Art has become a stratagem to examine and display material culture
and Documenta uses this well honed post minimalist, post conceptualist
arsenal of the last 30 yrs to examine the problematic of the world as

Fact in the realm or domain of history, is never such, as fact is the
contestation or politicization of fact which causes all to disappear inside
history ­ in Documenta they are brought out to be seen again, to be
considered again in a new configuration, in the language of art, or in the
medium of display that wešve come accustom in seeing in art. Here history,
politic is inscribed through material artifact ­ art is used to problemitize
and brings back and reclaims the everyday, the difficulty of the everyday.

It is too easy to dismiss Documenta as political ­ it is too easy to dismiss
this work on the level of content, of representation ­ it is more
interesting to note the arsenal, the repertoire, the rhetorical strategies
so well developed by contemporary art and museum practitioners, each of them
understanding well the shape and shaping of knowledge that both museum and
artist engage, in terms of indexing a work, displaying a work, isolating the
work in a space, in the vitrine, the frame and so forth. Whereas artists
have been concerned with the museum as a medium and moving away from the
object to the very event in which art is made to be art by virtue of the
institution, the context of the institution, and the object in the space of
the institution ­ Documenta takes these strategies, these advances to move
beyond the play of the archeology of objects, objects that irritate and
tease the artwork with its obsession, its fetish of the object (and why not)
that is the art context, the art apparatus, teasing the art world to know
itself as that procedure which produces art by virtue of its sanctioning ­
taking in something under its confines into its apparatus ­ what ever its
failings Documenta uses the art apparatus to reflect back on the world and
the very archaeology of material culture to reclaim the world.

Documenta's aim is the reclamation of subjectivity, history, memory in the
space of art ­ it uses art as a discourse to write a new figuration of the
social. In the space of culture there is no safety, there is no bounded
ness, there is no closing off the world in the place of what we may have
thought of as culture.  Documenta extends us and brings us back to our
selves and the world we live in and our bearing on how it is we make the
world, ourselves and art.

Follow up posting on Documentašs video work, the spatialization of the
moving image, forth coming.

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