documenta 14. "Learning from Athens", part III


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The quinquennial exhibition documenta 14 whose permanent home is Kassel in Germany­ is staged in this 14th iteration in tandem in the Greek capital. The show opened to the public on April 8 in Athens, a city under serious strain and one day after Greece and EU finance ministers signed an agreement on new austerity measures for payment of its debt.

Hosted by public cultural institutions sites and other locations among the city, Learning from Athens will last 100 days, closing its doors on July 16.

This is the third and last part of a series of three articles about documenta 14 and will cover the last two of the main venues: Athens Conservatoire—Odeion Athinon and Benaki Museum at Pireos Street Annexe. 

Athens Conservatoire—Odeion Athinon

We start the third and last walk through my most preferred venue, the Athens Conservatoire—Odeion Athinon, which is focused on sound art and holds a marvelous exhibition in the underground floor. The show presents the relationship between score, voice, sound, and performance, explored through contemporary artists who are interested in the intersection of movement, rhythm, music, and performance and who use scores and musical instruments deeply engaged with everyday life and social reality.

Numerous experimental instruments and diagrammatic works, implement practice and theory while displaying a utopian potential for the reorganization of systems.

Before entering the Conservatoire building, in the garden surrounding the facilities, Norwegian artist of Sámi heritage, Joar Nango (b. 1979) has built a kind of tribal community village, with elements from different indigenous peoples from around the world. Nango’s installation European Everything (2017) is referred as a mobile theater, so performances and communal cooking took place throughout the first days. When not used as a stage, the site can be used by visitors as chilling out place.

Nearby, American artist Pope.L’s Whispering Campaign (2016-17), installed in various forms across several Athenian venues, incises in the art of hearing and being heard. Here the campaign takes the form of a turquoise safe and stands in a corner, if you pass by you will hear the whispers.

Entering the building from the side, not main entrance, Epicycle by Greek minimalist composer Jani Christou (1926–1970) is visualized by many graphic scores, ciphers, and sequences. Epicycle represents a conceptual framework for something that can never be fully realized, it is used by the documenta 14 curators to expand the idea of music, inviting the visitor to consider the “continuum” of artistic experience as a musical score.

Hanging nearby are series of scores by American experimental musician Pauline Oliveros (1932-2016), for example, Score for Composition (ca. 1981), which is presented in eight sheets framed. The Mexican musician Guillermo Galindo (b. 1960) shows his series Exit/έξοδος (2016-17) that comprises an ensemble of homemade instruments constructed from the detritus found at a refugee camp near Kassel and Lesbos boat wreckages.

In the adjacent wing, the Turkish artist Nevin Aladağ (b. 1972) invites us into her Music Room (2017), an assemblage of household furniture, where each item has been converted into a musical instrument. The work shows how creative inspiration can be found in the banalities of everyday life. Improvisational jams were activated several times a day during the opening days and will continue during the 100 days of the show.

Same space than Music Room and surrounding the stage are located Fantasias (2016–17), the last collages of almost centenarian Austrian-born, Guatemala-based Elisabeth Wild. Her pieces show crystalline architectures of high-gloss cutouts.

Through the glass wall of this music saloon, can be seen the open air atrium of the building which hosts the installation and performance Βιβλίο Καλλιτέχνη/Materialization (2017) by Rumanian artist Daniel Knorr (b. 1968). From a mountain of scrap materials found around Athens, Knorr selects pieces of refuse from this pile, crush them with a press and then paste them into the pages of books that are again pressed and plasticized and sold at 80€ a piece. The installation is completed with a video that shows all the process.

In the main room, Dakar-born Pélague Gbaguidi (b. 1965) presents her improvised school The Missing Link. Dicolonisation [sic] Education by Mrs. Smiling Stone (2017), which comprises walls of hanging paper, each scribbled with drawings made with lipstick, a series of green school desks, a video and a microphone wrapped in paper. On the desks, photographs of black people caught in the violence of the apartheid taken by South African photographer Peter Magubane are placed under large sheets of glassine paper. In covering these images of suffering, Gbaguidi brings attention to legacies of oppression preserved through education systems and official histories.

Behind Gbaguidi installation, hangs the great piece Interior Decoration (1981), by Colombian artist Beatriz González (b. 1933). A 140-meter-long curtain that shows Colombia’s controversial president at the time, Julio Cesar Turbay in a party. The artist collaborated with textile makers to create the decorative patterned fabric which could be ordered by meters. González shows political aspects of Colombian life, criticizing the violence and irrationality of power.

Likewise, next to Gbaguidi school it is placed the scenographic installation for the performance Zombification (2017) by Haitian choreographer Kettly Noël (b. 1968). Her zombie ballet, which included puppets had its one-hour public general rehearsal during the preview days.

Following the route, located in a dark room for optimal visualization, it is shown captivating video Report (2016) by Austrian Peter Friedl (b. 1960). During half an hour, the film stages multilingual nonactors untheatrically reciting from memory—in their native language— a translation of the namesake text by Franz Kafka.

On the way of leaving the main room, impressive work of British photographer of Nigerian fathers, Akinbode Akinbiyi (b. 1946). Forty-eight black and white prints grouped in four frames conform Passageways, Involuntary Narratives, and the Sound of Crowded Spaces (2015–17), taken by walking the streets of megacities like Bamako, Berlin, Cairo, Dakar, or Johannesburg armed with his Rolleiflex camera. A chronicler of the quotidian, Akinbiyi uncovers the hidden and makes visible the unseen.

Finally, going up to street level, in the semi-basement amphitheater, it is located Nigerian Emeka Ogboh (b. 1977) installation The Way Earthly Things Are Going (2017), composed by multi-channeled sound featuring funereal vocals matched with real-time LED displays of world stock indexes.

Benaki Museum—Pireos Street Annexe

Last stop is Benaki Museum Annexe on Pireos street, this site, according to curators statement affords an “opportunity to investigate untold, unfinished, or otherwise overshadowed histories and to take inspiration from novel museologies, such as those put forth by artists themselves”.

Before entering the building, in the patio lies the massive concrete sculpture 6×6 meters One Room Apartment (2017) by the Iraqi-Kurdistan born, Berlin based artist Hiwa K (b. 1975). At the venue, a big space is dedicated to Israeli artist Roee Rosen (b. 1963)  Live and Die as Eva Braun (1995-97), with ten numbered black banners and 66 black-framed works on paper, imagines Eva Braun’s life with Adolf Hitler, her death by his hand and her descent into hell.

The work in the following room by Indian artist Nilima Sheikh (b. 1945) also employs banners —this time richly colorful though. The series of paintings Each night put Kashmir in your dreams (2003–14) are scenes of bucolic joy alternated with visual quotes from ancient miniatures and Kashmiri folktales.

Image and text are for sure more than important in the Benaki’s show.

In film by Yervant Gianikian and Angela Ricci Lucchi (both born in Italy 1942), Return to Khodorciur–Armenian Diary (1986), Gianikian’s elderly father —a survivor of the 1915 massacre of Armenians in Turkey— reads his diary, recalling the terrible events of his youth.

Next, we find a major installation of over 60 small paintings from the 1970s by Tshibumba Kanda Matulu (born in 1947 and disappeared in 1981) —known as TKM— exploring scenes from Congolese history and its recent past: everyday life, people in fields or factories, are mix with violent scenarios of torture, executions, and political corruption. The images are also inscribed. TKM was

The new museology technics that recall the curators’ statement for Benaki is illustrated with La nouvelle muséologie (2017), work by Senegalese painter, curator, and activist El Hadji Sy (b. 1954). His work is made by butcher tables, bones, crab and mollusk shells, stone, ax, roots, leaves, bottles, soil, seeds, ashes, water, and a mask. On the wall of the same room, there are a series of photographs mounted as a mural by Lithuanian Algirdas Šeškus (b. 1945)Shaman (2012) is one of his last works after a long hiatus of 25 years without photographing.

Continuing with Peruvian artist Sergio Zevallos (b. 1962) work at Benaki, A War Machine. First Part: Fluid Mechanics (2017) is an installation that contains objects, drawing and writing in fabric in which, using Preciado’s explanation, two moments occur: one is a critique of the banks of knowledge, the practices and representations of colonial modernity. The artist becomes a counter-scientific that destroys the differences between normal and pathological, civilized and primitive. The second moment, using shamanism or animism will be displayed at the Kassel branch of the show.

Closing this long itinerary by 17 of the 47 venues, the last works we mention are Miriam Cahn (b. 1949) room filled with charcoal drawings and —again— printed texts. The drawings described by the Swiss artist as “unclear beings” date from the 1980s. More recent diaristic texts arranged on A4 paper in small print are located around on the floor.

As a colophon, the split between Athens and Kassel will remain the most distinctive thing about this Documenta edition. For sure it isn’t going to solve Greece’s unsustainable economic settlement but displaying social and economic decline, displacement, colonialism, violence and protest is in line with Greece present grief.

The complete artist list participating in documenta 14, can be checked here.

Text: María Muñoz. Photographs: María Muñoz and some of them by documenta 14, credits listed individually.

Front featured photograph: Emeka Ogboh, The Way Earthly Things Are Going, 2017, multichannel sound installation and real-time LED display of world stock indexes, installation view, Athens Conservatoire (Odeion), documenta 14, photo: Mathias Völzke

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