This post is the fifth in my series of interviews of social practice practitioners, curators, organizers, and writers as part of SOCiAL: Art + People, and I was delighted to have the chance to learn more about the groundbreaking exhibition dOCUMENTA (13).
This Wednesday, October 24th at 7pm at the 18th Street Arts Center in Santa Monica, a panel of curators, artists and students invited by the Otis Public Practice program will discuss the multivalent, ground-breaking exhibition dOCUMENTA(13) (which took place this year from June 9 to September 16). Documenta is a large-scale exhibition of contemporary art that takes place every 5 years in Kassel, Germany, and is open for 100 days. This year’s edition was helmed by curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev (recently named the most influential figure in contemporary art by ArtReview), who envisioned an event centered around both the frictave and romantic potentials of globalization in the dual worlds of the West and the Middle East (and the fluid digital terrain that melds and complicates their relationships). Otis Public Practice student Tamarind Rossetti instigated this event after returning from a field internship working with documenta artist Mariam Ghani. Her desire to unpack, interrogate, and reflect on the exhibition with a group of Los Angeles based artists and curators (including curator John Tain and artist Leslie Labowitz-Starus, in addition to Ciara Ennis, director/curator of the Pitzer Art Galleries and Pilar Tompkins-Rivas, director of residency programs at 18th Street Art Center) speaks to dOCUMENTA(13)’s resonance in the field, and in the development of young artists in a rapidly changing world.
Sue Bell Yank: What was the impetus behind holding this event?
Tamarind Rossetti: The Otis Public Practice Program places students around the world in field internships during an artist’s installation of a project so that we experience how the field actually operates. I went to documenta to work with Mariam Ghani on her pieces A Brief History of Collapses, 2011-2012, a video installation, and Afghan Film Archive, an online database of the Afghan films that had been hidden from 1995-2002. The breadth and intensity of the works I saw at documenta were so meaningful in thinking about how to develop my own work that I wanted to discuss these with friends and colleagues who are interested in: public practice, archives, political art, and site-generated works. We asked Pilar Tompkins-Rivas from 18th Street Arts Center to moderate a panel we convened of artists and curators, including me, who would present their experiences of the exhibition in order to consider, what can we learn from dOCUMENTA(13) and what does it suggest about current developments in social practice?
Sue Bell Yank: And what do you think is the relevance of this documenta to the state of socially-engaged art practice?
Tamarind Rossetti: Mariam Ghani’s artwork had a specific impact on how I understood and experienced documenta, because her pieces dealt with recurrences of collapse, recovery, and mirroring of histories. One piece showed a dual video projection traveling through the Dar ul-Aman Palace in Kabul and the Fridericianum in Kassel as a voice described the multiple lives each building has lived. This piece worked with building, occupation, destruction, re-habitation, while the viewer sat in the building being described, visually and historically. There was a feeling of being in two places at once, in many times at once, of the changeability of history, and the persistence of destruction and rebuilding/repurposing, redefining.
John Tain: This edition of documenta was very much engaged with various forms of artistic work identified with social practice, and the curators seem to have adopted many of the strategies to be found in such work in their own thinking. Carolyn Christov-Barkagiev’s participation in this year’s Creative Time Summit would seem to confirm this.
Leslie Labowitz-Starus: The overall experience of documenta this year was one of expanse across locations, and thinking about the big picture, how all the elements of this complex exhibiton functioned. There were multiple locations throughout Kassel, seminars in Kabul, work in Cairo and Banff. It was impossible to see it all. I saw so many amazing things, and I’m sure I missed so much. In addition to the physical multiplicities, artists from multiple generations, backgrounds, experience, and their work came together in all these places to create a whole exploration to how art relates to society at large. There was also a meeting place in Kassel where the artists and community members from Kassel got together and brainstormed how art can respond to the changing world. Knowing the past structures of society that have not worked, and thinking about what is next. What comes after this capitalistic model that is no longer working for the society? And how can artists inform and help create that?
Documenta isn’t about one artwork. It’s about all the artworks, spread out all over the city, the world. Bringing artists from the other sites: a question of what s going on in the world.
The exhibition is saying, how do you know about these things that you don’t really know about, but only see? It’s bringing things together so the visitors can see and experience in a different way: different than the news, than the media.
Read the rest of the interview here.