Tag Archives: Giorgio Morandi

Bienalisation of political arts (Otto Karl Kamal)

Bienalisation of political arts: Organ Kritischer Kunst

organ of critical art
August/September 2012

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Text: Otto Karl Kamal

Zuckerbrot und Peitsche – Militär und Kultur, eine Erfolgsgeschichte aus Kassel

Carrot and Stick – Military and Culture, a history of success outcome of Kassel

If we talk about Kassel and documenta, we must also remember that the place itself is a really important location for the German arms industry: since several decades it has been re-established in this historical place. The tactical proximity between war and culture is in no way new situation of geopolitical strategies. By means of the example of Kassel, we realise how cultural politics (on both global and regional level) crystalize as a part of hegemonic power structures, sometimes more visual, sometimes more sublime, but constant nevertheless. The most important armament players in the Kassel region (business volume of several billions of Euros):

Rheinmetall Defense, Krauss-Maffei Wegmann and Eurocopter1

Pablo Hermann, Afghaniswahn, 2011, Tusche und Acryl auf Papier, 20x30cm,

The leitmotif of Christov-Bakargiev about the reflection of the past is going beyond. “Kassel is the city which was destroyed and rebuilt”, says the boss of documenta. “And in the middle of the wreckage (ruins) the documenta was initiated. This aspect brought me to follow one question/idea: when I look at the present situation, I have a problem to comprehend with the simultaneousness of collapse and recovery. For Afghanistan, both counts: the state of things after and during the war. And that is very curious. The war ended in 2004, everybody came back and the war seems to be over. At the same time, everyone said the war is still going on there. The difference between now and 1945/46 is that crisis and no-crisis can now exist side by side. […]” (http://www.3sat.de/page/?source=/kulturzeit/themen/160698/index.html)

What Christov-Bakargiev is instigating here is namely that the war was over already in 2004 – while all the facts speak about proportionately more casualties in the time after 2004 than in the duration of 3 years prior to the “end of the conflict”.

Here I am “only” referring to the military casualties. The number of civil victims must be multiplied by thousands (just in the sole year of 2010 there were over 10.000 civilian deaths) (2)! The Allied troops from 2001 till 2004 reported exactly 200 deaths, and between 2005 and 2012 (…), there were 2944 (3). Bearing such numbers in mind, it is either sarcastic or aggressively naïve to speak about this aforementioned “no-crisis”, or “end of the war”. And the person, who is digging the history of last centuries’ Afghanistan, will find no difficulty to nail down the colonial causalities and effects from these approaches that triggers bigger or smaller armed conflicts. Considering this, the “no-crisis” idea of Christov-Bakargiev is extremely problematic to digest (4).

[…] if you show that in the after-war history of Kassel there are explicit connections to the actual examples of worldwide war destruction. In Kassel these themes, also without documenta, are present all the time, but without any wider public perception. Already the destruction of the city during the II world war was closely related to the presence of arms industry in there. The following history of success in rebuilding brought not only the much-discussed architecture of the 1950s to the inner city, but also a quick set-up of German arms industry hub Kassel anew: from Germany to Chile, from Kosovo to Afghanistan – Kassel arms production is in use. http://dorn.blogsport.de/2012/01/11/kassel-documenta-stadt-ruestungsstadt/

Jeramy Turner, “founding fathers”, 2007, oil on canvas , 2x2m

  • Zusammenbruch und Wiederaufbau“ / Collapse and Recovery

The only recognizable leitmotif of the present documenta under the curating and the conceptualizing by Christov-Bakargiev developed a big attraction to the public. This could be a cause of her careless approach to handle the traded conceptual guidelines for dOCUMENTA and to break with them (those which have the red guidelines for the show). The “no-concept concept” has a certain attraction to the public. Sometimes it appears clumsy or even naïve, like for example “colonial-manieristic” global expansion of serious white culture by the settlement of documenta in Kabul (…)

This supposedly serves to heal historical, social and cultural wounds to both oppressors and the oppressed. This naïve approach towards political complexes sometimes is scary or shows certain superficiality or directed exclusion of disagreeable truths. The recovery is preached (with the same words that were used 10 years before, when the terror of war began: democracy and freedom), but a “no-crisis” status (or, by deduction, “no status of war”) and its consequences are evoked without a radical analysis of causes and the backgrounds (e.g. economies).

The big art fair which had been installed by the western allies (and the new democracy-educated German allies) in the arms production city of Kassel could be used for the convalescence of the German public and consequently it was logical to show “degenerate Art” as rehabilitation. These socio-pedagogical pretensions are actual until today. Even if there has been a fight about the power of interpretation of medial symbols by the monopolization of art education, which for example is forced by documenta team that is nothing more than mere paternalism of the possibilities of artistic interpretation. This linear, mono-directionality of perception in arts, rather than being broken, is fortified. The thinking and interpretation patterns are pre-conceived and almost absolute. The observer’s perception is heteronomous; also the lecture of thematized conflicts and problems is pre-given: all go through the same procedure (Afghanistan). The Afghani artists were taught the learning process [to understand and put to practice: occidental, serious culture, art structure], and made to adopt the politics of European bourgeois art understanding and the methodic media-strategic application. But fundamental questioning of the power structures is blended out.

In this specific case, the social wounds caused by failed imperial war have to be cured by culture at present. And the best tactics for this are to bring “the patients” into the state of sedation, in order to leave the painful truth behind. The bad, inevitable (intrinsic, natural – therefore unavoidable) and unpopular war must be forgotten as soon as possible – that is the motto. This also could be a balm on the soul of the German military (Bundeswehr) a case of “military diplomacy”. And now, when we are intensely forgetting, we should forget within the same act which was the real interests that led to the occupation in the first place: the economic interests for the “safety” of the resources and free trade routes with the gas pipeline (5) in the foreground. In the whole documenta there is no such artistic position which makes this analytical work and looks behind the scenery of the actual geo-strategic warfare with angle-point Afghanistan. Marc Lombardi, featured in 2012 documenta, unfortunately never had a chance to do this.

Can we resent this ignorant attitude of Christov-Bakargiev? The fear of the truth has to be really big. Even to think loudly in this direction cost the highest mandate in the republic in 2010, because the president dared to name the issue very clearly. It remains hardly known, that Federal Republican presidial tragedy started also in Afghanistan.

Bundespräsident Köhler, 2010

Hair cracks of a liberal systems: bb7 – documenta (13)

  • Nationalism in international Cultureshow

[…] the pivot of the national-popular concept remains, through all the notes, the ideal relationship between intellectuals and nation-people, a relationship that has been lacking historically and still waits to be created. this relationship, is then developed in a positive sense by being linked to Jacobinism, hegemony, the organic bond between knowledge and feeling, the historical bloc, the recognition of the need to pass through a national stage, and the reflection on historical models (Dostoyevsky, Shakespeare, the Greek tragedians, Abba, Gioberti). At the same time it is developed in a negative sense, as the diagnostic key to a lack or absence, in the many polemical notes against ‘i nipotini di padre Bresciani’, Catholic intellectuals, the fascist writers of the 1920s ruralist-nationalist movement called Strapaese, and in the acerbic observations on a popular taste which has remained stuck at the stage of French serial literature of a century before.”

.(Quote: “performing national identity – Anglo-Italian cultural transactions” (s.188) Edited by Manfred Pfister und Ralf Hertel, Editions Rodopi B.V., Amsterdam 2008, ISBN: 978-90-420-2314-7)

This quote refers to the building of national identity in the 1920s fascist Italy, where the present documenta star Morandi was actively involved. Whether consciously or not Christov-Bakargiev’s historic misrepresentation is on a highest aesthetical level. Like practiced by Zmijewski in Berlin Biennale 7 (BB7), identity formation would ever be determined by national and ethnic parameters. Documenta is much more subtle, not the brute agitprop language combined with the rigorously failed attempt to apply over-identification (see more on Querfront strategies at the Berlin Biennale) (6). The aesthetic sensitivity of Christov-Bakargiev (we can hardly put it next to fearless masculinist Zmijewski) is relatively well balanced and she is avoiding the spectacular pop factory of Zmjiewski’s visualization tricks. She spied such fundamental differences – the reference to nationalism is well developed in various artistic positions of both art fairs. The focus on the national currents, like Christov-Bakargiev is doing in reference to her European Homeland Italy, mainly considering Arte Povera, and thereby declaration that Morandi is a spiritual father of the “movement” – this focus leaves us the aftertaste of nationalist regionalist cultural boost of Mussolini’s fascists (Morandi was a member of Novecento (7) & Strapaese (8), also associated with and professionally active in publicity organs of both “il selvaggio”(9), “il italiano”).

[…] [Morandi – d. Red.] He participated in the right-wing, ruralist Strapaese movement of the late nineteen-twenties. His attitude toward Mussolini, whose regime gave him teaching jobs, was more positive than not, although he was briefly imprisoned in 1943 for associating with anti-Fascists. (If ever an artist merited political amnesty, on the ground of unworldliness, it would be Morandi.) Fame came to him after the war: he won first prize for an Italian painter at the 1948 Venice Biennale, and became so revered in Italy that filmmakers, notably Federico Fellini, in “La Dolce Vita,” used his work as a ready symbol of lofty sensibility. Morandi had a last adventurous phase of nearly abstract drawings and watercolors that condense into swift marks a lifetime of looking. […]” http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/artworld/2008/09/22/080922craw_artworld_schjeldahl

If Christov-Bakargiev is blending this out – and she can do this only consciously, because she is one of the most authoritative voices about the mentioned art current of Arte Povera and the precursors – then we are questioning how serious are the requirements of documenta (-tion) of art and its pedagogical approaches. The orientation of nationalism subconsciously takes a more important role that we are enforced upon us. National orientation as well as the ground structure (development aid-export-model-documenta), also there are in the artistic works, “helping” to build identities.

Going hand in hand with the eurocentristic thought of serious culture (we also could name it competitive culture) which is also available as the export-goods/ware we can see an image of historical references to colonialism and presently to western imperialism that in some artworks is criticized but in the whole concept they lose any potential substance, because the applied schemes of system of war and art are not very distant one from each other. The lecture could be as follows: the superior Europeans & Americans, helped out by an economic dependence, built a dictate in so called crisis regions. This is a paternalism of political (military) and also cultural field. The other ones collaborate with resources (from oil over to the human capital all the way to Coltan) and get the equivalent pseudo-democracy and the western notion of freedom and security. And what is still much more important, the national (ethnic) identity of invaded peoples would be guaranteed. The system of carrot and stick proves to be a trans-disciplinary success model of military and culture.

Till Ansgar Baumhauer, Kriegsteppich, 2010/11, 165×85 cm

  • Elitism in Art

These references to nationalist traditions and their artistic bruises, which were described in the chapter above, should be re-interpreted from the class perspective. On the other hand, to deal with nationalism on the level concerning the whole society (persisting in documenta) is the extension of the same traditional thinking structure on a professional level. Furthermore, the statements of the BB7 main curator Zmijewski openly claims that only a small privileged elite is in allowed to create arts and this capacity is “naturally” only possible through guided academic appropriation – and it should remain so. Christov-Bakargiev shares the opinion. Elitist thinking schemes are the base of such a point of view. This aesthetic elitism is a counterpart to real essence of artistic activism, and so a counter position to actual currents of political art. Nevertheless, the mentioned leaders of the art fairs claim to represent such currents. The pluralist idea of, for example, Free International University, worked on by Beuys and others in dOCUMENTA 7 (1982) is, during dOCUMENTA 13 and Berlin Biennale 7, not more than a singular drop on the hot stone of art history.

  • Curatorship and Naiveness

Another further similarity between the curators of aforementioned art fairs is the naivety while dealing with the complex socio-political contexts. As Zmijewski fails in the fields of National Socialism and Shoah with exception of stupid provocative attitudes in the work with these issues, he has nothing to say. Christov-Bakargiev’s abysmally naïve position towards hegemonic politics in Afghanistan which were cemented with bombs and deaths is rough and negligent, historic reprocessing of fascist art-hero Morandi. There is one last question: is the committees of German Federal Cultural Foundation (Bundeskulturstiftung), who choose the actors, are they not able to research the people they install?

Critical Points in the questioning of the curatorial concept:

  • Heroization of controversial figures

Otto Kamal, “I didn´t see anything … except bottles”, digital graphic, 2012

Like mentioned above, apotheosis of some questionable persons as the cult of cultural heroes is initiated. The main figure for Christov-Bakargiev is Morandi, who has a brown past, impossible to remove.

[…]Morandi participated in the Novecento exhibitions of 1926 and 1929, but his work had greater affinity with the Strapaese movement, which was inspired by provincial cultural traditions. […] http://www.estorickcollection.com/permanent/Giorgio_Morandi.php

Such cementation of what we can denominate as an artistic myth exposes Bakargiev’s position as reactionary. Her explanation to prepare the way for critical and political art doesn’t really fit with the retro-renaissance positioning (the artists as a genius creator). Considering the fact that the new, so-called avant-garde movements in art are heading in the direction of communitarian production, Christov-Bakargiev appears conservative and deeply outmoded. Political art serves only as a sensationalist driving force of hegemonic culture, which is in the position to hybridize “the other” cultures. The critical alternatives to Christov-Bakargiev’s own culture are synchronized and fit into the sphere of influence of the hegemon. The Situationists were right in their analysis of art as the mild part of the carrot and stick organization of society.

  • Kader Attia’s Scars and Mask Cabinet (Kader Attia “The Repair from Occident to Extra-Occidential Cultures” 2012)

Firstly, I want to say that this critique is not an aesthetic analysis. Kader Attia’s work is to be considered as artistically and technically on the good level, therefore I even wonder myself how such a lecture could be done. The problem in this work is not the strange constellation of different contexts, rather the lecture as exotic comparison between two fundamentally different cases of human existence. On the one hand, we have plastic surgery of the victims of the WWI, and on the other hand the scarification (scar-tattoos) of African tribes. Both things are placed on the same level: first the mutilation caused by imperial war machinery, and second the cultural, aesthetically motivated (“natural” – because it is a part of ritual) corporal intervention without any deeper questioning of the ethically descendent of these acts. So, what we can call the “natural” scarification (in its own context, for its own sake) has none of the negative connotation, and is not comparable to the deformation caused by the most inhuman act – warfare. Therefore, the thing which is normal and aesthetically important for autochthonous peoples of Africa is for occidentals the horrible disfigurement. Vice versa, the mutilation of war participants means the same thing like natural creative deformation of the human body. Here we also see the parallel between the natural recurrings and corrosion of material (the ritual tribe scars are a prolongation of nature of the human identity), and the war of hegemonic power politics. Is the organic, natural corrosion comparable to the destruction forced by human valence? Here happens an aesthetic abolition of critics of destruction of imperial politics (WWI) by naturalization of war by equalizing human and natural catastrophes. The inevitable, “destiny determined” is museum-ized as a bad memory which could be revoked consciously. By the horrifying images of individuals they create simultaneous empathy with the victims of the First World War – the situation that brings the focus to “universal” human misery through war, but the reasons of such disastrous activity are in no way questioned and traded as yet another naturally occurring catastrophe and declared as regrettable but inevitable bad.

  • White War Wounds vs. Black Ritual Transformation

The fact is that there is a discourse of European position that makes evaluation, respectively a judgment of aesthetic manifestations of African tribes which is done through a bizarre comparison that has strong colonial features. By Eurocentric aesthetic the cultural healing is initiated. Kader Attia is speaking of hybridization of cultures, which helps “sub-developed” cultures but also the European Cultures. But it’s hard to believe, because for Europe, “hybridization” means the old privilege of interpretation. Considering European colonial history, it’s hard to believe that such hybridization is not valuable more than a new attempt to get the privilege of interpretation, in this case in the field of aesthetics, and this is a manifestation of an arrogant Eurocentric position. A hidden cultural racism in this artistic work and the equivalent theoretic discourse is not to negate.

The Afghanistan Orbital: Negation of war and imperialistic Appropriation of resources

In the series of imperialist thinking, which manifest itself on several levels, the idea of Christov-Bakargiev to heal the Afghan society by exported European serious culture fits the picture very well. What politics doesn’t get on with structural, economic and even military violence, culture will fix. The Afghan people should get driven out of “darkness” after 30 years of war by pre-given aesthetic practices and methods. The message is: we are the cultural messiahs from the west.

Conclusion

In the end we can see that such a big show of western culture only reflects the culture that created it. Culture is an aesthetic representation of that what ethics and values represent in society. Singular critical artists positions which make an continuous analysis of the capitalist system were neutralized and the political art is abused by political purposes they are officially led. The “recovery” of the land is part of the responsibility and justifies this post-military intervention of maintenance of own hegemonic economic and cultural interests. The art as the carrot, the weapons are the stick, both are being produced in Documentastadt Kassel.

1 http://www.ippnw.de/print/frieden/friedenspolitik.html ,http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rheinmetall , http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wegmann_%26_Co. , http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Krauss-Maffei_Wegmann , http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eurocopter_Group

2 http://de.statista.com/statistik/daten/studie/2006/umfrage/gefallene-oder-verunglueckte-soldaten-der-westlichen-koalition-in-afghanistan/

3 Afghanistan; Stand: 17.08.2012; http://www. icasualties.org

4 http://www.ag-friedensforschung.de/themen/Terrorismus/tote.html

5 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trans-Afghanistan_Pipeline , http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afghanistan_Oil_Pipeline

6 http://www.kritische-kunst.org/en/bb7-2012-is-the/spektakularisierung-der

7 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Novecento_Italiano

8 http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strapaese

9 http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Il_Selvaggio_(rivista) , http://www.answers.com/topic/il-selvaggio

Lektüre / Recherche:

http://www.dradio.de/aktuell/1777953/

http://www.sueddeutsche.de/kultur/documenta-kabul-krieg-schafft-fakten-kunst-auch-1.1412210

http://www.taz.de/Chefin-der-Documenta-13/!94461/

http://www.taz.de/Eroeffnung-der-Documenta/!95027/

http://www.taz.de/Halbzeit-Documenta/!98344/

http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elitismus

http://www.presseportal.de/pm/62553/2267859/der-standard-kommentar-documenta-der-kuratorenkunst-von-andrea-schurian

http://politischekommunikation.wordpress.com/2012/06/09/documenta-13-kunst-und-politik-in-100-tagen/

http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giorgio_Morandi

http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/015/892mzhwv.asp

http://books.google.de/books/about/Giorgio_Morandi.html?id=ijce_vZN3FwC&redir_esc=y

http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pittura_metafisica

http://www.kettererkunst.de/lexikon/valori-plastici.shtml

http://www.badische-zeitung.de/ausstellungen/die-liebe-zu-den-dingen–61782132.html

http://www.answers.com/topic/il-selvaggio

http://books.google.de/books?id=MBFe5v2ZTy4C&pg=PA26&lpg=PA26&dq=strapaese+movement&source=bl&ots=eU-HnHAFm_&sig=H1zgb_SQi5wwcrLSlKxj4ny3dyQ&hl=de&sa=X&ei=b-4iUJ24I8-N4gTYy4H4Cw&ved=0CFsQ6AEwBQ#v=onepage&q=strapaese%20movement&f=false

http://books.google.de/books?id=XEt8q0oP-3wC&pg=PA408&lpg=PA408&dq=morandi+und+der+faschismus&source=bl&ots=k7r-fKYhBe&sig=4YiVnulMVNzywSZs3oBuCZYOYQ0&hl=de&sa=X&ei=79EiUNL8OIeRswagrID4Dw&ved=0CFsQ6AEwCA#v=onepage&q=morandi%20und%20der%20faschismus&f=false

http://books.google.de/books?id=SZ38wNdRBIUC&pg=PA188&lpg=PA188&dq=ruralist+Strapaese+movement&source=bl&ots=WJoIVxNSkD&sig=Sn8MkO5-yi-mFkOW6w8kzeQ7roQ&hl=de&sa=X&ei=6uIiULWUAc7Lswa4w4D4Dw&ved=0CEUQ6AEwBQ#v=onepage&q=ruralist%20Strapaese%20movement&f=false

http://www.bottegascriptamanent.it/?modulo=Articolo&id=904&idedizione=45

http://mostreemusei.sns.it/index.php?page=_layout_mostra&id=981&lang=it

(((p)))

“Beautiful confusion” about Retro Futuristic European Colonialism of dOCUMENTA (13)

“Beautiful confusion” about Retro Futuristic European Colonialism of documenta (13) – Chus Martinez XIII

Organ Kritischer Kunst (OKK, Berlin) Team has researched the new waves of the Art Establishment in the “probably most creative city in the world (at least in the continental part of Europe)” as manifested by the Berlin Biennale 7 (BB7; 27.04-01.07). OKK hosted the event entitled “2012 IS THE SEASON FOR TREASON” parallel to the BB7 (27.04-13.05) in order to expose the outcomes of their research into the biennale, but also to provide the space for discussion of the crypto-fascist ideology and tactics in the broader social context. On Friday 20th July, OKK presentation “Biennialization of political art” will draw on their “2012 IS THE SEASON FOR TREASON” and specify its relationship to the dOCUMENTA (13), which is currently occupying the city of Kassel.

from POT press release about the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung Hessen event “Biennialization of Political Art”

1) “Borderless” documenta

According to dOCUMENTA (13) curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, the Italians are coming back to this largest German contemporary art festival in 2012, after somewhat little presence of this nationality in the recent shows. Apparently they are coming back with a full blast in the style of 1930s! Sadly, both Berlin Biennale 7 and dOCUMENTA (13) rely on the nationalist and ethnic conceptions of identity. Simultaneously, Italian presence in documenta is the very element which allows this anti-concept concept re-conquest Afghanistan (2012 documenta takes place in Kassel, Germany; Cairo, Egypt; Banff, Canada and Kabul, Afghanistan). Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev is an Italian and American writer, art historian and curator, sporting philosophy suitable for German domestic and foreign cultural policies. According to Emily Nathan from artnet.com:

One might wonder why on earth Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, the curator of Documenta (13) in Kassel, Germany, June 9-Sept. 16, 2012, would choose to hold two years of art lectures and workshops in the war-torn country of Afghanistan. The Afghan Seminars, as they are called, took place between 2010 and 2012 in collaboration with the Goethe-Institut Afghanistan, the Afghanistan Center at Kabul University and a host of other cultural institutions — and considering the current conditions of the country’s social and political landscape, such a decision might seem naive, or even dangerous.1

Ironically, the very personality who was used in order to let documenta expand through German borders is probably the most globally famous contemporary art curator with a background in Africa. Nigeria-born Okwui Enwezor was the star of dOCUMENTA (11) in 2002. Enwezor is a son of a businessman, a probable reason for his class-determined understanding of post-colonial international relations which had made way for “non-occidental” cultures forming the core of the whole show.2 While this might sound positive or in some way progressive, “the ultimate cosmopolitan” seems to have internalized the concept of art with its typical colonialist bias. Formulaic “phenomenon” of similar basis is described in Roger Taylor’s 1978 book “Art, an Enemy of the People”, where author speaks about the historical founding of Jazz:

I have now said something about the social context in which a certain social project was lived out. A set of simplifying contrasts help to clarify my meaning. Being white, an encapsulated in New Orleans social experience, was bringing blackness into whiteness, and thereby obtaining some release from being white, but at the same time not being black and remaining white. The project was contradictory, it was to be white, but not be white and to be black, but not be black (all of this from the standpoint of those who were white), it was to bring blackness into whiteness as a whiteness but at the same time that which entered as a whiteness had to be a blackness.3

So, why is documenta in Afghanistan? Back to Christov-Bakargiev, the curator attempts to relate her own present privileged living conditions with the bright days of 1970s in Kabul, when her “native” Alighiero Boetti owned a hotel together with his Afghani business partner Gholam Dastaghir. It seems that the whole “empathy” of documenta starts and ends with the business interests in an occupied country, which infamously hosted numerous European and American junkie communities in the 1960s and 70s. Christov-Bakargiev creates no contradiction when, in the name of Afghani artists, she boasts of a necessity to “radically imagine” that occupation does not exist! It is the international bourgeois who live in a Derrida-like “post-structural”, “borderless” post-colonial space: it goes without saying that such art events justify the imprisonment and torture of innumerable people who struggle to practically live-out this globalism both Christov-Bakargiev and Enwezor claim to exist for everyone. For the curators, just like for Jacques Derrida, truth only exists in text. Somewhat symmetrical to this is racial profiling exercised by the German state, where “crime statistics” provide justification for daily harassment of the non-white residents. Again, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev: “In the 1990s, I liked to work with the concepts of ‘center’ and ‘periphery’ because then they were new and helped to structure the discussion. Today, I don’t use these terms any more—they became too fashionable and got a false tone.”4

Alighiero Boetti, the “Poor Art” star of the most recent documenta, was “fascinated with the other cultures”, he spent a long time living in Afghanistan. An outcome of this is present in Friedricianum, one of the main dOCUMENTA (13) venues in Kassel city, in the form of yet-another Boetti’s carpet-maps entitled “Mappa”. The artist employed numerous female weavers of Kabul in order to produce “his” world political maps over the years of 1971 to 1994. Alighiero Boetti’s “use of an element of chance” is widely spoken about. Interestingly, this “chance” is a calculated one: while it is difficult to track down the reason for employer failing to provide his employees with correct materials (for example blue string for the colouring of the oceans in Italian’s maps), yellow or pink parts of the world waters are treated as an explainable phenomenon: supposedly, Kabul locals have never seen water in their lives, neither do they have any idea of mapping: “Boetti loved this intrusion of chance into the design and from then on left it to the makers to choose which colour to use for the seas,” Tate said in its guide to the Boetti show, which ran from February 28 till May 27 2012 in Tate Modern.

Overall, is it not such “other culture” based treatment of Kabul weavers that makes “Boetti’s” work “outstanding”? The following quote allows us to leave this Bakargiev championed hopeless yet lucky bourgeois loser aside:

(…) final self portrait, and his [Boetti’s] first work using cast bronze, is an image of the artist holding a hose that sprays water onto his head. Because the head is heated, the water boils on contact creating a cloud of steam and portraying Boetti as a thinker with so many ideas that he needs to cool himself down.”5

2) The personal & the political

At this point I would like to mention something of a little importance to most of the dOCUMENTA (13) visitors. My friend Habibi left Afghanistan, a country where he was born, and Kabul, the city where his relatives still reside, a good few years ago. Having travelled through Turkey and the Balkans, Habibi met a network of activists and simply empathetic people who made his long way to Berlin easier. They also provided Habibi with practical support ever since, even to the extent of his Afghani friends expressing suspicion. To my surprise, in the recent months Habibi himself took an active part in the actions of networks who provide voluntary practical support for refugees in Germany.

Unfortunately, Habibi’s involvement with anti-racist activities is what got him back to the refugee camp, one of those prisons Habibi was sent to the prievious time my friend had been policed. Yet again, Habibi has been put behind bars for a very “personal” reason, which is his skin color: the police demanded for my friend’s identification papers in the train station of Thuringian city (150 km away from Kassel; Kassel is in the land of Hesse – former West Germany, Hesse is bordering the territory of Thuringia, former GDR). It is not spoken openly enough about the fact that German state still uses the historically infamous method of racial profiling in their hunt for “illegal” immigrants. On March 27, 2012, the administrative court of Koblenz, in Western Germany, dismissed a complaint by a black German man who was asked to show his papers while travelling by train. The judges ruled that skin color was reasonable grounds on which to carry out ID checks – this ruling made way for further police aggression on urban and regional transportation in Germany.6 Simultaneously, it has been about 7 years since Oury Jalloh, a political refugee from Sierra Leone, died in a fire in a police cell in Dessau – another case not yet resolved by the justice apparatus of Germany.

On the other hand, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev and dOCUMENTA (13) relate uneasily to the 20th century feminist slogan that “Personal is Political”. While it doesn’t make much sense to add up the numbers of personally or politically motivated works in the whole of 2012 documenta, it is worth mentioning the fact that Kabul students who took part in German art program in relationship with the same art fair were advised to draw on their personal experiences, and not to go into the sphere of politics, most of whom reportedly accepted a full package of Eurocentric subject/object division:

Unfortunately, [Chus] Martinez [the “agent” of dOCUMENTA (13)] launched the three-hour event in Kassel with a disclaimer of sorts, a declaration that each participant would share his or her “personal experiences” of the Afghan program, and would not, presumably, address the complex political, moral and ethical questions it involves. Most speakers followed suit, describing how grateful they were for the resources Documenta had provided and what they had learned.7

Somewhat of the clearest statement as to the justification of documenta’s recent expansionism into Afghanistan is spelled out in the article entitled “dOCUMENTA (13)” published in the “Afghan Scene”8:

Especially in times of war, or in post-conflict conditions, art can be a form of healing. Arte Povera artist Alighiero Boetti from Turin, Italy, visited Kabul in early 1971, and decided to open a hotel called One Hotel on Shar-e-Naw near Chicken Street, together with an Afghan called Gholam Dastahir. He spent half the year there, commissioning his embroidered Mappe from 1971 to 1977. The initial impulse for organizing a part of dOCUMENTA in Afghanistan came from imagining not the scenario of war, but rather a form of continuity between the vibrant and international life of the 1970s in Kabul, during the time Boetti spent there, and our own times, rejecting the state of exception that is determined by the war, and choosing to act hosmē—that is, as if the situation were not what it is, as if the checkpoints, cement walls, and barriers, the conflict, occupation, and militarization in Kabul, did not exist—through acts of radical imagination, all the while continuing the daily life required by and inevitable while living in a militarized zone.

This quoted article already in its form blatantly demystifies its “unquestionably” empathetic or egalitarian stance. Furthermore, while the authors of the feature are supposedly both “Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev and Golare Kiazand”, the last few paragraphs expose something of a different nature:

  1. (…) and I also felt that the international art world and artists could learn and profit from this cultural exchange [dOCUMENTA program in Afghanistan] (…)
  2. My experience was that there [in Afghanistan] is an interest in contemporary art and culture (…)
  3. I hope that the alliances and connections created between artists in Afghanistan and artists in other parts of the world through dOCUMENTA have a positive impact in the long term.

Here I would like to pose a question: is that a form of magic on Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev’s behalf? (quoted statements have clearly come from her camp; nevertheless, the curator uses subject ”I”, but the authorship is attributed to two persons)

3) The “retreat”

Marketing of dOCUMENTA (13) relies on a reserved colour scheme, dominated by the bright yellow and accompanied by pastel tones of blue and green – the decision somewhat reflecting Giorgio Morandi’s output. Morandi style fits dOCUMENTA brand perfectly: while Venice Biennial is denounced for its never-ending parties and Art Basel constitutes a “commercial” art fair, documenta is shrouded in a smoke of seriousness and modesty. Ever since its foundation, this art fair was meant to “heal” a broken society of post-war Germany. Started out as an annexe to the bourgeois horticultural show in the city of Kassel in 1955, the art festival was meant to show art formerly deemed “degenerate” by the Nazi party. Nevertheless, the fact that documenta was initiated at the same year as the German military was officially recreated and accepted into NATO (1955; with Kassel as one of the most important arms industry hubs in Germany), is rather striking.9

Most of the show is produced with the same colour scheme like its marketing. Having spent a good part of the day in documenta, this could be also said about its contents. Humour entirely absent, eroticism was positioned in a suspiciously close proximity to both: Italian fascist star of the show Giorgio Morandi and the portrait of Adolf Hitler, therefore rendering one of the very few erotic impulses of the art fair – images featuring the Vogue correspondent Lee Miller herself – entirely unattractive. Furthermore, Anna Teixeira Pinto, in her review for Art Agenda points to the lack of seriously analytical contributions to documenta10, those which would have been capable of consciously deconstructing language and the “rationalism” which led to the creation of nuclear warfare, the problem continuously scrutinized in the works of Gustav Metzger. Instead, the nature and man inflicted disasters are put side by side by the Bakargiev curatorial “everything goes as long as it fits German cultural policy” concept, where on the one hand war is justified by the supposedly universal human death instinct, and on the other art is granted “uebermench” qualities by its un-historical appearance in the form of “energy”11, which on its own behalf leads towards the “ecology of spirit” in the form of German Nazi founded Volkswagen “motto’s”12.

Poor curatorial decisions fit well with the glorification of “Poor Art”. Alighiero Boetti has been historicized into the poor Italian art circle, but another hero of 2012 documenta, Giorgio Morandi, is also another artist related to the Arte Povera (in 2009 his paintings decorated the US White House, while Alighiero Boetti was featured in the world’s largest art museums in 2012: MOMA NYC and London Tate Modern, Giorgio Morandi’s legacy was exhibited in MOMA in 2001, in New York Metropolitan Museum in 2008, and others). Reviews of 2005 Yale University Press published Janet Abramowicz’s “Giorgio Morandi: the Art of Silence”13 state the artist’s relationship with Arte Povera movement:

“An epic account covering five decades of Morandi’s life that breaks new ground. . . . Abramowicz should receive the highest praise for daring to do what other art historians have repeatedly denied: she unabashedly links Morandi as both artist and person to his predecessors, contemporaries, and descendants, arguing that ‘it was in [Morandi’s] room that the real arte povera began.'”—Jennie Hirsh, CAA Reviews

While it seems that this very book inspired the inclusion of Morandi into the concept of dOCUMENTA (13) and its “subsequent” justification for the show’s presence in Kabul through Morandi’s association with Arte Povera, it is striking that Carolyn Christoph-Bakargiev states the following:

With her Documenta, Bakargiev seems to be positioning artists as suffering something akin to the trials of Job, acknowledging the contradictions of making art in the face of war, and choosing to pursue symbols of creativity when surrounded by destruction. “For me,” she concluded, “the image of Morandi sitting in his studio painting vases, one after the other, with Fascism all around him — that is what art can do14

Christov-Bakargiev, herself “one of the world’s leading authorities on post-war Italian art and culture” associates Morandi with Povera but nevertheless whitewashes his fascist past. To my understanding, it is exactly this Abramowicz’s 2005 book that did both: named Morandi a precursor of the “poor” art movement but remained open about his political positions. Therefore, selected to curate a “world class” art circus dOCUMENTA (13), Christoh-Bakargiev should have either done “her” research herself, or been willing to confront Morandi’s participation in the fascist project of Italy. Provided Janet Abramowicz is a long-time assistant of Giorgio Morandi and his close friend, it is hard not to treat the book seriously. Another review from Yale University Press Website:

Abramowicz shows how Morandi worked in close proximity to mainstream contemporary European art and tells the story of his relationship to the Fascist politics and patrons of his time, illustrating how his connections to this period were muted after the fall of the regime in post–World War II Italy in an effort to establish the artist as apolitical. Morandi was the only Italian modernist to emerge from Fascism unscathed. (Yale University Press promotional information)

And the last one:

[Janet Abramowicz] “Bravely exposes the artist as a speak-no-evil Fascist tagalong.”—Peter Plagens, Art in America

Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev has written an extensive book on Arte Povera, which is itself first and foremost a critic-coined umbrella term to describe and market a certain style shared by an “Italian” group of artists in the 60s and 70s. We have to forgive Bakargiev for her “blind in the right eye” approach to Povera and its forerunner Morandi in her 1999 book on the subject, but is it not the career perspectives that holds Carolyn back from re-evaluation of her research? As Janet Abramowicz shows, Morandi related himself to the Italian fascist elite for precisely the same careerist reasons…

Providing the references to both the mentioned book and German nationalist expansionist policies seems to be the best way to answer innumerable establishment reviewers of the dOCUMENTA (13) who fully submitted themselves to Bakargiev’s “beautiful confusion”, Frieze magazine’s assistant editor Christy Lange among them, who stated the following:

In this darkened space [Fridericianum’s Rotunda] crammed with spot-lit vitrines, I had trouble making the connections between Giorgio Morandi’s paintings, displayed along with actual objects from his studio, and the neighbouring vitrines containing ‘Bactrian Princesses’ – a series of small sculptures of seated women created in the late 3rd and early 2nd century BC in what is now modern day Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Afghanistan. While these art works and artefacts are no doubt fascinating, there is no apparent justification for their inclusion together, other than their need to be housed in vitrines, and the fact they probably couldn’t have been procured for any contemporary art exhibition other than this one.15

4) The moral safety valve

Thuringia, a German land where my friend was arrested on 08.07.2012, has been frequently featured in the news recently, mainly due to its security services’ intimate involvement with the “National Socialist Underground” (NSU) and subsequent “loss” of evidence about the serial killing executed by these neo-nazi fanatics and the security services in collaboration over the years. Therefore it is my suggestion that Habibi’s situation is related to both: the state protection of NSU and simultaneously to the “no-concept” ideology of dOCUMENTA (13) curated by Carolyn Chistoph-Bakargiev.

To conclude, I would like to repeat myself in saying that Heideggerian dwelling in order to restore “authentic” social and psychological “peace” must be severely attacked by the deconstruction of the monumentally serious (or “alternatively modern”) culture, which is not antagonistic towards fascist versions of capitalism as presented at dOCUMENTA (13), but instead tightly, but obscurely woven together: art is a historical construct which has a historical and very material function – that of social glue.

Instead of absorbing everything into universally “acceptable” sphere of “participatory” contemporary art, I propose the critical distancing from such art fairs and autonomizing of negative in art, in order to counter the possibility and vanguardism of such chauvinistic (like Berlin Biennale 7) or subliminally speculative (like dOCUMENTA 13) propaganda weapons. These simply provide a moral safety valve for the continuing North-Western psycho-colonial expansionism (i.e. whitewash) in general and gentrification (in case of Berlin) or arms trade (in case of Kassel) in particular. Knowing these processes documenta’s motto of “collapse and recovery” makes much more “sense”…

Chus Martinez XIII

1Emily Nathan Documenta 13: KABUL IN KASSEL, KASSEL IN KABUL; artnet.com http://www.artnet.com/magazineus/news/nathan/kabul-in-kassel-at-documenta-13-2012.asp

2Thomas McEvilley Documenta 11: [The associate curator of documenta 11] Maharaj identified the point of art today as ‘knowledge production’ and the point of this exhibition as ‘thinking the other’ – frieze.com, Issue 69, September 2002: http://www.frieze.com/issue/article/documenta_112/

*

More on the issue: Gatekeeping Africa by Chus Martinez, destroydocumenta.blogspot.com, http://destroydocumenta.blogspot.de/2012/08/gatekeeping-africa-sharlene-khan.html

3Roger Taylor (1978) Art, an Enemy of the People. Sussex: Harvester Press. p105

4Jennifer Allen International News Digest; ART FORUM, 2012.17.08: http://artforum.com/news/week=200851

5Mike Collett-White Boetti – Italian artist who put Afghanistan on map, Reuters, Feb 27 2012: http://in.reuters.com/article/2012/02/27/alighieroboetti-art-tate-idINDEE81Q0LF20120227

6Rheinland-Pfalz Ministerium der Justiz und fur Verbraucherschutz Pressemitteilung Nr. 11/2012; Herausgeber: Verwaltungsgericht Koblenz, 27.03.2012:
http://www.mjv.rlp.de/icc/justiz/nav/613/broker.jsp?uMen=613ee68a-b59c-11d4-a73a-0050045687ab&uCon=8f40ae69-1515-6317-84b1-f84077fe9e30&uTem=aaaaaaaa-aaaa-aaaa-aaaa-000000000042

7Emily Nathan Documenta 13: KABUL IN KASSEL, KASSEL IN KABUL, artnet.com http://www.artnet.com/magazineus/news/nathan/kabul-in-kassel-at-documenta-13-2012.asp

8Carolyn Christov-Bakargievand and Golare Kiazand dOCUMENTA (13), Afghan Scene Issue 95 | June 2012: http://afghanscene.com/june-issue-june-issue/10157-documenta-13

9More on the subject here (in German): http://panzerknacken.blogsport.de/

10Anna Teixeira Pinto Documenta 13, art-agenda.com, June 10, 2012 http://www.art-agenda.com/reviews/documenta-13-3/

11Energy unequal Art? Interview with Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, youtube.com, June 11, 2012 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wlibruPjV5E

12n0name newsletter Spezial #8 So., 03.06.2012 22:14 CET, A number (13) The dOCUMENTA, the hEGEMON: http://www.n0name.de/news/newspz/newspz8.txt

13Abramowicz “Giorgio Morandi: The Art of Silence” on GoogleBooks.com: http://books.google.de/books/about/Giorgio_Morandi.html?id=ijce_vZN3FwC&redir_esc=y

and on Yale University Press website: http://yalepress.yale.edu/book.asp?isbn=9780300100365

14Emily Nathan Documenta 13: KABUL IN KASSEL, KASSEL IN KABUL, artnet.com http://www.artnet.com/magazineus/news/nathan/kabul-in-kassel-at-documenta-13-2012.asp

15Christy Lange in Frieze Blog (JUNE 06, 2012): dOCUMENTA (13). Day One. And so it begins. http://blog.frieze.com/documenta-13.-day-one.-and-so-it-begins/