Christiane_Paul on Mon, 19 Aug 2002 02:28:50 +0200 (CEST)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

Re: <nettime> Josephine Bosma, review of Documenta XI [3x]

With regard to the ongoing Documenta discussion, I don't think that the
opinions voiced so far are mutually exclusive and I would take the middle
ground. I agree with Paul and Diana that Documenta offered an exemplary
broad view, including voices and (political) issues surrounding the 'human
condition' (immigration, displacement, human rights, poverty etc.)  that
are usually left out and not addressed. I very much appreciated the
breadth of this view and felt that it was more than needed in today's
cultural climate. However, I had problems with the formality of the
approach, which seemed a bit unilateral (and this may be part of
Josephine's discontent). A large percentage of the film/video works (and
photography) were from 'developing countries' and used a very similar
aesthetic language (documentary). I'm deliberately exaggerating but after
a while, I lost track of cultural specifics and it didn't matter that much
anymore if I was in India, Africa, or Greece - I began missing a unique
individual voice and cultural point of view and started feeling a sense of
"National Geographic" with a more political, activist twist. At best,
globalization can offer strength to communities and traditions by offering
more understanding and awareness through shared experiences. At worst, it
can lead to homogenization, and I couldn't help feeling that I was
experiencing too much of homogenized aesthetics and approach. The
film/video works that broke with the documentary language, be it through
different installation or formal characteristics, suddenly stood out (and
in all, likelihood, that wasn't all due to the quality of the work).

In general, works were often grouped together according to formal
categories (photography, three rooms of architecture, one after another)
and for my taste, there wasn't enough room for works to breathe and
establish connections across categories. (The work was beautifully
installed, though.) Apart from half a dozen exceptions, the whole
Fridricianum basically showed b&w work as if color had been sucked out of
it (perhaps that depressed Josephine).

What struck me most was that Documenta XI seems to be a deeply digital
show, and I admit that part of this may be due to the specific lens I'm
applying to it. The exhibition to a large extent is about archive,
wunderkammer, database. Numerous archives of photographs/videos/films
documenting a journey, place, condition, memories (cultural, personal); an
archive of Insomnia Drawings by Louise Bourgeois; Feyzdjou's boutiques, a
wunderkammer of personal history and identity; numerous room size
installations that were transplants of artists' studios, archives of
notes, drawings, scrapbooks; On Kawara's One Million Years, a database;
Sanja Ivekovic's archive Searching for my Mother; a lexical/semantic
inventory of the dictionaries of the Brother's Grimm; and and and...

No doubt that archive and database are important cultural narratives of
our time, brought about largely by digital technologies. Considering that,
the small number of new media works was surprising. Apart from Ivekovic's
work (a physical archive cum website), there were hardly any other
projects that made the connection explicit. The show's focus on global,
political issues also emphasized the absence of work that uses networked
technology for an exploration of these themes (and there are numerous
ones). RAQ and were representing this perspective but I
didn't find the installation very successful - it mostly pointed to the
difficulties of connecting physical/virtual space.

I found Documenta interesting and I enjoyed the experience but I didn't
walk away remembering highlights ('my favorite works'). The experience
blurred into one major statement (and I'm not saying it isn't an important
one) rather than providing me with a multiplicity of views I had to sort
out. A curatorial voice and unity that holds a show together is a good
thing, but I couldn't help feeling that, on this level, Documenta was way
too successful.

#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
#  archive: contact: