Last week, a standing room-only crowd experienced a delightfully idiosyncratic poetry reading by poet, author and video artist Tan Lin. He didn't recite the texts—combinations of composed lines, bibliographic citations, and all manner of snippets from text messages, programming languages, gaming, and social media status updates. Instead, the audience read silently as the words appeared projected on the wall. Lin instructed the audience to please keep their cell phones on, as a second projection featuring a live Twitter feed allowed audience members worldwide to comment on the proceedings.
Perfume was in the air, and not metaphorically. Various aromas simulating wet sphagnum peat moss, Glade air freshener, a rose pressed between the pages of a book Lin's father gave his mother, Banana Boat Sport sun block, and CB Wet Pavement London perfume, among others, wafted through the room, propelled by electric fans; this "perfume soundtrack" (Lin's words) accompanied the first of his two videos.
You won't find Kanekalon, a synthetic fiber commonly used in artificial hair, on many checklists—which is just part of the reason it's the chief material in New York-based Icelandic artist Hrafnhildur Arnardottir's site-specific Nervescape, commissioned by Alanna Heiss for the Clocktower Gallery [through Sept. 4]. Arnardottir (who frequently goes under the moniker Shoplifter) has long used artificial hair in sculpture, performance and wearable art, including the hair sculpture that Björk wears on the cover of her 2004 album Medulla. Arnardottir uses artificial hair (among other materials) to explore issues of desire, bodily adornment, vanity and naturalism. Nervescape is her largest sculpture to date, and a major extension of her idiosyncratic oeuvre.
Deep blue, brown, green and vibrant yellow predominate in this towering soft wall of cascading fake hair, built upon a preexisting metal structure. The hair takes over the architecture while making for a work that's inviting and surprisingly meditative. You want to look at it, but also to be with the riot of colors in a million strands. You want to touch it (which you can), enter it (which you also can) and let its mysterious power envelop you.
One of the excellent things about dOCUMENTA (13) is how the curator, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, laces the exhibition with multiple themes and enthusiasms, which makes for eventful and compelling viewing. She is like a conductor before a symphony teasing out nuances and motifs while sensitively guiding and responding to the music, or perhaps like a visual novelist, constructing a complex, multilayered "story" from diverse subjects and materials. Among the several motifs that course through the exhibition are books and Afghanistan.
Three important publications accompany dOCUMENTA (13). The Guidebook is a wonderful guide to the works in Kassel; Kabul and Bamiyan, Afghanistan; Cairo and Alexandria, Egypt; and Banff, Canada. The Logbook chronicles the development of the exhibition since 2010, including photographs of in-process works. The Book of Books is exhaustive, including essays and artists' projects; it also reproduces 100 Notes–100 Thoughts, a series of small notebooks (they are also available for purchase individually) by artists and thinkers from all sorts of fields, that includes facsimiles of actual notebooks, essays, conversations, conceptual writing, and the like. dOCUMENTA (13) also hosted On Retreat: Chorality, an international writers' residency in the Dschinghis Khan Restaurant next to Karlsaue Park, and ample programmed readings.
Since 1991 Kassel's Hauptbahnhof is no longer an important hub, or even the city's "main station"; that was the year when Kassel-Wilhelmshöhe opened a couple miles away, connecting the city with high-speed trains. The Hauptbahnhof is still in business, but as a local commuter station, without much hustle or bustle. But after all these years the Hauptbahnhof is still a major site for dOCUMENTA 13 and well worth a sustained visit. Twenty-eight works are housed here, among the station and outlying buildings.
Stars of the Karlsaue Park, Canadians Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller are also must-see (and must-hear) artists at the station. At a little office near the entrance visitors receive an iPod and headphones, and then can walk through the station as the media plays. The duo have filmed scenes and created a voiceover for After Bahnhof Video Walk (2012). Listening to Cardiff's hypnotic voice and following her gentle commands you move through the station, even its side stairways and obscure halls, and out to the tracks.
Throughout its history, documenta has at times featured artworks in the sprawling Karlsaue Park, just down the hill from the Fridericianum and outside the Orangerie, but never on the scale and magnitude that occurs with dOCUMENTA (13). One of curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev's best innovations was moving a sizable chunk of the exhibition--some 52 works--outside the museums and into the park. Developed around 1700 as a Baroque garden, in 1785 it was remodeled into a more "natural" English garden, and has since become a much-used outdoor venue. There is no central theme uniting the artworks here, but this diversity has a potent effect. Many installations are housed in specially constructed small houses, cabins or extant park buildings, while others remain in the open air. A walk (or a bike ride) through the exhibition becomes a compelling adventure over the course of several hours, full of surprises and discoveries.
Collage and acrylic on paper, thread, string, plastic lid
48 x 30 ¼ in.