I attended my first documenta in 1992 – documenta IX. I was a teenager, and my family organized a babysitter to accompany me as they had more important things to do. Apparently, I wasn’t old enough to attend an art exhibition during the day alone.
Since then, I have gone each time. Luckily, I have relatives who live close by. Sometimes I spend a whole day at the documenta. Sometimes it was just a quick visit for just a few hours. This year I went alone and spent the day strolling around and exploring at my own pace. It was amazing – 8h and 20.000 steps.
Documenta fifteen was the best experience I ever had at a document, and I can at least speak for myself and the last 30 years. This may have different reasons. The fact I went alone – the people I went with certainly had an impact. My age, understanding, and approach to the documenta. And finally, the documenta itself, and that’s what I want to focus on.
This year’s documenta and I were made for each other. We had emerged from the same ideas, needs, activism, and thinking, …? (minus the antisemitism scandal, which I’ll talk about later as I can’t praise this year’s experience and leave it out).
As I was strolling around, I was reminded again and again of my own life, history, struggles, values, attempts to make things better, and many festivals and initiatives that are dear to me.
There was permaculture! The experience was built on the human ability to collaborate rather than abstract concepts, elaborate processes, and strange materials. There were beans, squash, zucchini, and much more growing everywhere. Things were built from trash and compostable materials. It was from the people, with the people, and in connection with the earth and our environment.
I went there – as always – without preparation. This is a gain and a loss at the same time. Many things I usually didn’t understand because I didn’t read up on the underlying concepts and ideas, but I also went there to interact directly with the art without an interpreter. When I understood something, it was an intimate moment – the art and me in direct communication. The message conveyed was beyond the intention of the artist. The art struck strings in my consciousness and subconsciousness woven throughout my life, not knowing the context and consequences. A leap of faith.
This year the language the documenta spoke, and mine were dialects from the same root, which was beautiful. I felt at home, I felt understood, and I had found a home in the otherwise aloof art world. It became tangible. It spoke directly to me in words, seeds, structures, and appeals that I understood.
Writing this article, I looked at the website and – for the first time – read the test. There it is. The first thing one sees sums up what I felt and uses many more words in an attempt to describe it.
As this year was all about communication, collaboration, exploration, community, and collective, it’s also about trying things out, being wrong, talking it through, hearing new perspectives, apologizing, criticizing, teaching, adapting your position, admiring, expanding your knowledge, making an effort to be forgiven, compromising, forgiving, learning and being open.
Maybe it’s my age that I understood that language, maybe it’s a movement I am part of, maybe it’s a collective voice, maybe it’s a bubble or a well we drank from that made me hear more this year. Maybe it’s the books I read and the people I listened to regarding global justice, anti-racism, feminism, empowerment, etc. Maybe it’s the combination of it all.
If there’s one thing I know, it is that I’ll make mistakes. I’ll use language, images, and ideas from the collective pool I picked up somewhere without knowing where it comes from, and it’ll be inappropriate, maybe even hurtful. I hope some people take the time to tell me about it, and I hope at that moment, I can live up to the person I want to be. The person who listens openly takes in what they hear, endures the pain and shame washing over them as they realize the pain they cause, the person who learns and makes up for it.
And now, as mentioned before, a few words about the antisemitism scandal. I don’t know if they are active and enthusiastic antisemites. I doubt it. But just like not being a racist isn’t enough, it’s not enough not to be a raging antisemite. From what I saw in the exhibitions, there is the will to listen and to learn and a painful awareness of the suffering of racism, injustice, ignorance and convenience of some cause for many. I don’t know enough to have a clear and easy opinion. I am simply grateful that it was criticized, brought up, it was discussed, it was reflected upon. That’s important. It’s important to be loud when doing so too. It needs to be called out when people are antisemitic, it needs to have consequences, and it should never be ignored. And the same goes for racism, misogynoir, misogyny, trans or homophobic behaviours, images and remarks, and so on.
We might not know that that’s what we are doing because we might not know the meaning or context or history, but as soon as it’s out, we should feel the lash back, and then we have a choice. With that choice, we become who we really are.
Addition 12.09.2022 As expected, I wasn’t aware of many aspects, especially of the attempts to resolve the situation through talking and experts analysing the situation. What I read didn’t make it any clearer, and for German speakers, I recommend this comment by Johnannes Schneider.
I haven’t found a comment from Max Czollek yet, but I am hoping for it as I highly value his view on the Erinnerunskultur/ Gedächtnistheater.