Get Together is a review of the dOCUMENTA (13) exhibition in Kassel Germany in 2012. The theme of the exhibition was Collapse and Recovery, it brought together artists from many countries and utilised both current and historic artworks. One of the outcomes of the exhibition was that it served to encourage collaborations, make connections across time and countries and to highlight parallels of experience.
The Documenta exhibition was born in the aftermath of WWII Germany, and originally consisted of works of art that were labelled Entartete Kunst, or ‘degenerate art’ by the Nazis. It was the start of a healing process for art in Germany.
Artistic Director Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev referenced this origin by cleverly weaving together aspects of the past, and of past exhibitions into the contemporary format of this latest exhibition. One of the reasons this article stood out to me more than the others is because it seems to allude to the idea of memory throughout. The theme itself is the first such reference; one cannot have a Recovery without memory of the Collapse.
…dOCUMENTA (13)’s sweetest and most profound gift to its visitors: its strange and tender love for what art has been and may no longer be. ‘The riddle of art is that we do not know what it is until it is no longer that which it was’ (Christov-Brakargiev as cited by Wilson-Goldie, 2012, p. 160).
Beyond the idea of moving onwards from past events, this quote makes sense to me on two levels; the first as a way of looking back knowingly at art-history, and secondly as a way of looking back on one’s own work.
In terms of art history, I think that clarity about the art movements is only really achieved with distance. When critics first look at new ways of art making it is harder to see the wider context because it is always difficult to reflect on that context while it is still occurring and you are caught up in the middle of it. The easiest way for a critic to look at contemporary art is to compare it backwards to what has come before, rather than to see it clearly as something that is occurring as part of a greater and still developing environment. Placing contemporary art alongside its precursors allows for a more informed viewing of both. Art doesn’t happen in a sealed bubble, it is constantly communicating back and forth in time and space.
On a personal level this quote resonates with me because I think that art is quite explorative, and an artist doesn’t necessarily know where they are going or how they will get there (perhaps it is even better that they don’t know?) and it seems to me that full understanding is almost always in retrospect. Our decisions and opinions are made by looking backwards, by comparing and analysing with the benefit of hindsight.
The driving passion for an artist is to create. Communication is an important aspect of art, but I think it is secondary to the need to express. That is, I believe that an artist’s primary concern is to create or express the work, and the secondary concern (which is still important) is that it communicates with the viewer; largely because some of the understanding of what has been produced is, even for the artists themselves, acknowledged in retrospect. Looking back on my own work I feel that I have a greater understanding of where I was going because having got there I can now review the path I took!
What I think is interesting about the concept of an exhibition like dOCUMENTA (13) is the way that it has approached the theme from all angles, not only inviting collaborations between artists of different nationalities (which is not an uncommon idea) but also allowing a discourse between contemporary and historic artworks, and contemporary and historic situations. To me this is recognition of the power of memory as a defining and influencing factor in art. Not only is it important to remember events that have happened, but also to create new memories, so that the past can be both acknowledged and processed.