Place; Fictions. Documenta 13.

‘An exhibition is always the act of locating artworks and bodies producing an understanding of the role of partiality, of importance of engaging with a site and, at the same time, producing a polylogue with other places. A place is no fixed thing; it has an episodic history and takes its particular aspect through an intense immersion’. 

Site is a vital component for 2012’s Documenta festival, held in Kassel, central Germany. Documenta 13 spreads itself out across multiple venues in the town; from more traditional art spaces, galleries and museums, to disused buildings, bunkers, old cinemas, the massive Karlsaue park and too the old, but still functioning Hauptbahnhof. Kassel is also not the only location for the festival, much further a field Documenta holds simultaneous exhibitions and events in Kabul, Alexandria and Banff, with many of the artworks in the festival drawing parallels and sharing connections with these off site locations.

Below I have focused on three of many artworks in Kassel in which the idea of place is a key element. In particular these three works explore site through storytelling and cinematic devices.

Mario Garcia Torres, ‘Have you ever seen the snow?’

For Documenta 13 Mario Garcia Torres brings together his on going research into the survival and location of the One Hotel in Kabul, where the artist Alighiero Boetti resided for period of time during 1971 to 1977. Many years on from this period of time, following much change and political unrest in Afghanistan and too Boetti’s death, Garcia Torres suspected that the One Hotel had since disappeared.

‘The city’s stories, people and buildings tend to vanish without a trace, but on occasion, they also reappear without warning’. – Garcia Torres, speaking of Kabul.

In 2006 Garcia Torres wrote ‘Share-e-Nau Wondering – A film Treatment’ which was a series of fictional faxes to the deceased artist about [an imaginary] journey to Kabul in 2001 to find the building which hosted the hotel. In the installation this piece is presented alongside ‘Have you ever seen the snow?’, an audio-visual essay consisting of 90 colour slides and a 50-minute sound track narrating the piece. This piece depicts the real quest of Garcia Torres search for the One Hotel, which, instead of walking the cities streets for days, came from endless Internet trawling situated in the artists Los Angeles studio; a virtual journey. And slowly the story unravels… the viewer is too taken on a journey, the forgotten One Hotel becomes an enigma, the story: a mystery, in which the viewer cannot help but become engaged in.

Mariam Ghani, ‘A Brief History of Collapses’

Mariam Ghani’s video installation too alludes to both real and fictional place, and also directly connecting the locations of Kassel and Kabul. Screened side by side, the two channel video installation  ‘A brief history of collapses’ explores two sites, one is the ‘restored’ Friedericianum, the place in which the piece is exhibited, and the other the stunning ‘ruined’ Dar ul-Aman Palace in Kabul. Across the two video screens a woman’s voice narrates installation. ‘The story, or stories you are about to hear may or may not be true…’ she first explains as the camera guides us through beautiful corridors and stairwells, endless rooms, windows, doorways, spaces. This opening sentence is a precursor to the piece as she continues we begin to explore to the sites, their similarities and differences, histories, myths, context and too architectural physicality. The viewer is drawn into the dialogue, truth and fiction merge, at moments the spaces correlate, an illusion, almost as if they could have at some point been one. We also catch glimpses of a woman, one wondering through each site and then disappearing again out of the camera the camera’s frame, the sightings only adding to the mystery Ghani’s video alludes to, is the camera supposed to be following the woman, and what relevance is she to each site?

View an excerpt of the video here:

Clemens von Wedemeyer, ‘Muster (Rushes)’

The sense of mirroring space is too prevalent in Clemens von Wedemeyer’s experimental video installation for Documenta 13, ‘Muster (Rushes)’, which focuses solely on one location – the former Benedictine monastery of Breitenau, a site near Kassel. The former monastery is immediately fascinating as a location, a site undergoing much history and many changes – first converted into a prison, then a concentration and work camp, before becoming a girls reformatory and finally an open psychiatric clinical. The site is the setting for the 3 films, which make up a video installation – each film playing simultaneously on large projection screens situated in a triangle formation. Each film focuses on a different decade in the location, again merging reality and fiction of the particular site. In 1990 a school trip takes place to the site, where the teenage students are sent to learn about the inconceivable events which took place, in the next screen its 1945, American soldiers enter the work camp Breitenau to arrest the guards and liberate the inmates, and in the third screen, is set in the 1970s the location now a girls reformatory, but also reveals to be the making of a film set in a reformatory… The three main characters of the films feature in each individual film enriching the complex nature and merging of the piece as they appear to almost time travel through the installation experiencing different eras of the site.

The formation of the installation itself allows the viewer to watch each piece individually; at the same time displaying the artwork as one connected film installation. Viewed at the two corners where two screens join, at times the films seemed to visually synchronise, the location, the actors, the mirroring of scenes, times blending together, a sense of the uncanny emerging.


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