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A statement by the artists of documenta 14


#1

On the emancipatory possibility of decentered exhibitions

We the undersigned artists, writers, musicians, and researchers who participated in various chapters of the current documenta 14—Exhibition, Parliament of Bodies, South as a State of Mind, Listening Space, Keimena, Studio 14, An Education, EMST collection, and Every Time A Ear di Soun—wish to share some thoughts about the possibilities and potential of documenta. Firstly, we acknowledge those participants in documenta 14 whom we have not been able to reach at the time of writing, those with whom we could not get to consensus, those participants no longer living, and especially those who passed away while participating in documenta 14. We write this in the context of the invitation of “Learning from Athens,” and the idea of first unlearning the familiar. We also take note of documenta’s specific history as a response to the evil of the Second World War and the Holocaust. We see that initial, painful legacy evolving toward an imaginative and discursive space that can contribute toward challenging war capitalism, unjust borders, and ecological suicide.

The initial iterations of documenta rose in the shadow of rebuilding, after a World War that caused Adorno to disavow a future for poetry. From the 1990s, the exhibition joined a global turn toward decentering the Western art-historical canon, by beginning to emancipate institutions, venues, and universities. There was a welcome, and overdue, acceleration of the presence of artists, theorists, and thinkers from the Global South, starting from documenta 10 (Catherine David), continuing through documenta 11 (Okwui Enwezor), documenta 12 (Roger Buergel / Ruth Noack), and documenta 13 (Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev). documenta also began a spatial decentering, initiated by documenta 11 with platforms in Berlin, Vienna, New Delhi, St. Lucia, and Lagos. This was followed by documenta 12 magazine, a network of 100 magazines world-wide, and documenta 13, with satellite projects in Kabul, Alexandria, and Banff. It is in line with documenta’s long heritage of decentering, and decolonizing, that we welcomed the decision to launch documenta 14 as a dialogue between Athens and Kassel.

documenta 14’s Athens chapter began a full two years before the official opening, with the launch of the South as a State of Mind journal in 2015, the weekly public program Parliament of Bodies in 2016, and finally, the opening of documenta 14 | Athens in April 2017, two months before Kassel. documenta 14’s curatorial team worked to encourage autonomous spaces, free of authoritative statements or frameworks. However, criticism appeared immediately, focusing on budget and infrastructure, with far less attention paid to the artworks, journal, radio, public TV, live music, education, and public programs. A few critics did raise some points that were also being debated among the artists and curators. One of those centered on the challenges of working with local communities in an environment of equality and partnership, while working within large exhibition infrastructures. Another question was whether large exhibitions are the best venue for breaking down discursive hegemonies. documenta 14 had a shared commitment to preserving the autonomy of local spaces and communities, and conducting conversations around culture within a dynamic of mutual exchange, respect, and curiosity.

Recently, criticisms of documenta 14 have been expanded to suggest that a deficit in the operating budget is primarily due to the Athenian chapter of documenta. We are concerned about this urge to put ticket sales above art, and we believe that Arnold Bode would have rejected this as distorting the purpose for which he gifted documenta to Kassel. We applaud the decision by documenta 14 to not charge ticket prices in Athens. We should also consider the responsibility to address the economic war fought by European institutions against the Greek population, during the recent debt crisis. We feel that casting a false shadow of criticism and scandal over documenta 14 does a disservice to the work that the artistic director and his team have put into this exhibition. Shaming through debt is an ancient financial warfare technique; these terms of assessment have nothing to do with what the curators have made possible, and what the artists have actually done within this exhibition.

What should be highlighted are the positive impacts of exchanges within documenta, including the decentering that occurred through the exhibition. This has caused a creative friction that is an active dialogue between citizens, communities, and institutions of Athens, Kassel, and the rest of the world. This is only a first step, and conversation must continue in coming years. In fact, more such moves of dislocation from comfort zones, and inclusion of multiplicity of voices, many standing outside of western hegemony, should be the future. What we do not need is a neoliberal logic, as well as its institutional critique, that does not allow the possibility of alternative methods, stories, and experiences.

One aspect that makes documenta remarkable is its support of large numbers of artists who are not represented by commercial galleries, and in fact work in non-material, ephemeral, and social practices. Many come from regions and countries still underrepresented in major art events. Naturally, many of the works produced here very consciously suggested proposals for equality and solidarity. We understood this exhibition to be a listening documenta. The curatorial team took care to listen closely and carefully to artists, rather than imposing a top-down curatorial will. The exhibition tried to be inclusive, as well as specific, emphasizing people and stories from the so-called periphery, and voices belonging to those who have faced, and overcome, hardship. Whether in crisis or inflection point, enquiry was encouraged, challenging the more frequent move of wanting to own other peoples’ understanding. The curatorial innovation was to create the space for such an encounter, in Athens and Kassel.

There are many interventions, by the artistic director and curatorial team, which brought together new configurations and dialogue between generations of artists, much of which is invisible to the critics. Also crucial has been the displaying of rare historic material, some of it centuries old and from all parts of the world, some of which has never been displayed in a museum. By commissioning new work in dialogue with centuries-old heritage, new alliances were created across territories and times. The juxtaposition of stories from all over the globe can be disorienting, but that is precisely the point of the structure of this exhibition. Large gestures have to be measured alongside hundreds of small ones to make a complex whole, all going towards globalizing the art historical canon. The challenge for all of us—artists, critics, and audiences—has been to experience that complexity, while subjected to practical economic constraints. We need to think of more economically egalitarian ways of viewing a large exhibition, while resisting the dominant narrative that is singularity (“the Athens model”) over complexity (what actually happened in Athens and Kassel).

documenta was founded as a brave response to a dark history. The 1933 Nazi regime received support from Nuremberg and Kassel, because of the presence of the arms industries. On February 11, 1933, eleven days after taking power, Hitler spoke at the Friedrichsplatz in Kassel. On November 7, 1938, two days before Kristallnacht in other German cities began, Kassel and surrounding villages saw anti-Jewish pogroms. In archival footage of trains carrying people to concentration camps, the insignia “Deutsche Reichsbahn Kassel” is visible on some carriages. After 1945, in order to erase this Nazi legacy, Nuremberg hosted war crimes trials, and, ten years later, Kassel hosted the first documenta. Kassel’s central Friedrichsplatz was bifurcated, so that no spatial trace of the 1933 rally remains. In light of this unique founding history, documenta’s unique mission has always been, and must continue to be, encouraging conversations in the contemporary arts that can oppose the spectres of nationalism, neo-nazism, and fascism that are still haunting the planet.

The world has transformed many times over since 1955. Western Europe is no longer the center of contemporary exhibition making. It is being challenged to take its place as one among equals, as Asia, Latin America, Africa, Middle East, Southern and Eastern Europe come forward to claim their presence. The current documenta continues the arc of the previous four documentas, by highlighting the edges of Europe, the voices of Global South realities, and the presences that press against heteronormativity. Receiving the world, as equals, contrary to anxieties, also contributes to radiance. The contemporary arts no longer looks toward a European exhibition to lead the way in ideas about what art can do, and what it should do. However, Kassel does exercise influence in contemporary art discussions that are emerging from many locations (Bamako, Beirut, Bucharest, Cairo, Dakar, Gwangju, Havana, Istanbul, Jakarta, Johannesburg, Kochi, Ljubljana, Mexico City, Moscow, New Orleans, Sao Paulo, Shanghai, Sharjah, Warsaw, Zagreb, and numerous others). We ask the documenta supervisory board to vigorously defend the curatorial team’s vision of documenta 14, and future curatorial teams to continue to make exhibitions that are accessible to all, and that decenter art history, challenge war and nationalism, and fight against the poisoning of the planet.

Contact: documenta14.artists@gmail.com

Signed,

  1. Aboubakar Fofana
  2. Achim Lengerer
  3. Agnes Denes
  4. Ahlam Shibli
  5. Aki Onda
  6. Akio Suzuki
  7. Akinbode Akinbiyi
  8. Alessandra Pomarico
  9. Alexandra Bachzetsis
  10. Alvin Lucier
  11. Amar Kanwar
  12. Amelia Jones
  13. Anca Daučíková
  14. Andreas Angelidakis
  15. Andreas Kasapis
  16. Andrew Feinstein
  17. Andrius Arutiunian
  18. Angela Dimitrakaki
  19. Angela Melitopoulos
  20. Angelo Plessas
  21. Angela Ricci Lucchi
  22. Anna Papaeti
  23. Anna Sorokovaya
  24. Annie Vigier
  25. Annie Sprinkle
  26. Anthony Burr
  27. Anton Lars
  28. Antonio Negri
  29. Antonio Vega Macotela
  30. Apostolos Georgiou
  31. Arin Rungjang
  32. Artur Zmijewski
  33. Ashley Hans Scheirl
  34. Athena Katsanevaki
  35. Banu Cennetoglu
  36. Ben Russell
  37. Beth Stephens
  38. Bonita Ely
  39. Boris Baltschun
  40. Boris Buden
  41. Bouchra Khalili
  42. Brett Neilson
  43. Cana Bilir-Meier
  44. Cecilia Vicuna
  45. Christina Kubisch
  46. Christos Chondropoulos
  47. Click Ngwere
  48. Colin Dayan
  49. Conrad Steinmann
  50. Constantinos Hadzinikolaou
  51. Dan Peterman
  52. Daniel Garcia Andújar
  53. Daniel Knorr
  54. David Harding
  55. David Lamelas
  56. David Schutter
  57. David Scott
  58. Debbie Valencia
  59. Denise Ferreira da Silva
  60. Dimitris Papanikolaou
  61. Dimitris Parsanoglou
  62. Dmitry Vilensky (Chto Delat)
  63. Edi Hila
  64. EJ McKeon
  65. Elisabeth Lebovici
  66. Elle Marja Eira
  67. Emanuele Braga
  68. Emeka Ogboh
  69. Emily Jacir
  70. Eric Alliez
  71. Eva Stefani
  72. Evelyn Wangui Gichuhi
  73. Feben Amara
  74. Franck Apertet
  75. Franco “Bifo” Berardi
  76. Ganesh Haloi
  77. Gauri Gill
  78. Geeta Kapur
  79. Gert Platner
  80. Geta Bratescu
  81. Gordon Hookey
  82. Guillermo Galindo
  83. Guillermo Gomez-Pena
  84. Hans D) Christ
  85. Hans Eijkelboom
  86. Hans Haacke
  87. Hiwa K
  88. Ibrahim Mahama
  89. Ibrahim Quraishi
  90. Irena Haiduk
  91. Iris Dressler
  92. Itziar González Virós
  93. Jack Halberstam
  94. Jan St) Werner
  95. Jakob Ullmann
  96. Jess Ballinger-Gómez
  97. Joana Hadjithomas
  98. Joar Nango
  99. Johan Grimonprez
  100. Jonas Broberg
  101. Jonas Mekas
  102. Josef Schreiner
  103. Joulia Strauss
  104. Katalin Ladik
  105. Kettly Noël
  106. Lala Meredith-Vula
  107. Lassana Igo Diarra
  108. Lenio Kaklea
  109. Lois Weinberger
  110. Lucien Castaing-Taylor
  111. Lukas Rickli (Kukuruz Quartet)
  112. Macarena Gomez-Barris
  113. Magali Arriola
  114. Manthia Diawara
  115. Maret Anne
  116. Maria Eichhorn
  117. Maria Hassabi
  118. Maria Iorio
  119. Marianna Maruyama
  120. Marie Cool and Fabio Balducci
  121. Marina Gioti
  122. Marta Minujin
  123. Mary Zygouri
  124. Mata Aho Collective
  125. Mattin
  126. Michel Auder
  127. Mike Crane
  128. Miriam Cahn
  129. Molly McDolan
  130. Mounira Al Solh
  131. Moyra Davey
  132. Naeem Mohaiemen
  133. Nairy Baghramian
  134. Narimane Mari
  135. Nathan Pohio
  136. Neil Leonard
  137. Nelli Kambouri
  138. Neni Panourgiá
  139. Nevin Aladag
  140. Niels Coppens
  141. Nikhil Chopra
  142. Niklas Goldbach
  143. Nikolay Oleynikov (Chto Delat)
  144. Nilima Sheikh
  145. Nomin bold
  146. Olaf Holzapfel
  147. Olga Tsaplya Egorova (Chto Delat)
  148. Otobong Nkanga
  149. Oxana Timofeeva (Chto Delat)
  150. Panos Alexiadis
  151. Peaches Nisker
  152. Piotr Uklanski
  153. Panos Charalambous
  154. Pavel Braila
  155. Pélagie Gbaguidi
  156. Peter Friedl
  157. Philip Bartels
  158. Philipp Gropper
  159. Prinz Gholam
  160. Prodromos Tsinikoris
  161. Ralf Homann
  162. Raphaël Cuomo
  163. Rasha Salti
  164. Rasheed Araeen
  165. Raven Chacon
  166. Rebecca Belmore
  167. Regina José Galindo
  168. R) H) Quaytman
  169. Rick Lowe
  170. Roee Rosen
  171. Roger Bernat
  172. Rosalind Nashashibi
  173. Ross Birrell
  174. Samia Zennadi
  175. Samnang Khvay
  176. Sanchayan Ghosh
  177. Sandro Mezzadra
  178. Sanja Ivekovic
  179. Sarah Washington
  180. Serdar Kazak
  181. Serge Baghdassarians
  182. Sergio Zevallos
  183. Shu Lea Cheang
  184. Simon(e) Jaikriuma Paetau
  185. Simone Keller
  186. Sokol Beqiri
  187. Stanley Whitney
  188. Stathis Gourgouris
  189. Stratos Bichakis
  190. Suely Rolnik
  191. Susan Hiller
  192. Synnøve Persen
  193. Taras Kovach
  194. Thais Guisasola
  195. Tracey Rose
  196. Theo Eshetu
  197. Ulrich Schneider
  198. Ulrich Wüst
  199. Valentin Roma
  200. Vasyl Cherepanyn
  201. Verena Paravel
  202. Vijay Prashad
  203. Virginie Despentes
  204. Vivian Suter
  205. Wang Bing
  206. What How and for Whom (WHW)
  207. William pope)l
  208. Yael Davids
  209. Yervant Gianikian
  210. Zafos Xagoraris
  211. Zoe Mavroudi
  212. Zonayed Saki

Image: documenta 14 artists preparing to perform Jani Christou’s “Epicycle” (1968) at opening of documenta 14 press conference in Athens, Megaron, 6 April, 2017. Image: Mathias Völzke.


#2

I am not sure about the connections and the affiliations that this letter makes. Why this is suddenly the right moment for artists to come together?

Two days ago, I received an invitation to a group that it is called artists of d14, which included less than a quarter of the participant artists. I was asked to edit and sign a letter when it was made very clear by those few who already had decided to write this letter its due date and its moment of urgency. Perhaps these are details for some of you reading my statement but for me those details, the creation of urgency to an issue, and its content is what I understand as the political;

For those who think that processes of relations and exchange happen just when something interesting is written or someone is proposing something and can only be signed or followed perhaps she/he is not aware of the complexity of the subject which is that of politics.

Unfortunately I must say that these forgotten details, discussions, calls for exchange and dialogue were the beginning of the creation of the mistrust in regard to this particular ambitious exhibition d14. An exhibition that claimed continuously its horizontal, non-hierarchical character without any ambition to actually organize as such. On top of that this was actively wanted to take shape in Athens, a city that self-organized places and forms of solidarity are in every neighborhood, already realized, analyzed, criticized. The struggles for simple basic things happen in the every day, on the streets, in the houses, in actual relationships and in the ongoing friendships.

Why we (the artists) had the need to repeat what the curators have already said previously on their statement? I really don’t understand what exactly this letter brings from the side of the artists regarding d14 and why now artists need to sign a letter of this nature. Do we write the letter to save documenta as an institution, to restore the reputation of its current curators and why do we need now to do that? Isn’t it that our position as artists needed to be presented in this letter and at the same time to imply and reflect on another level regarding this whole absurdity of the markets and its implications to politics at large instead of being pressed to take sides?

My participation to d14 cost me a lot in regard to how I place myself and my work in connection to the left radical political milieu locally and internationally and in the artistic local scene here in Athens, the city I was born, I invest emotionally, intellectually and materially. I lost friends and I didn’t make any new ones through this exhibition and that will take time to be restored. I didn’t make any money out of this exhibition and my life wasn’t improved. Still I don’t regret that my work was presented in d14 and my respect to the curators and participants hasn’t changed. On the other hand I cannot play politics on a terrain that I wasn’t included. I was invited to present my work. My decision for my work to be part of this d14 in Athens and in Kassel, my thoughts and positions cannot be generalized in a letter and in a signature. The open public dialogue of the artists and the “team” of documenta never happened and I was never part on the making of the exhibition so my signature can’t be on a letter that brings misunderstandings in regard to my role in this show and implies an assumed dialogue when such thing never occurred. Calling for decentralized institutions, is to actively aim to create them. Their political independency is accomplished through the variety of the peoples’ positions who solidify it.

I was hoping for an invitation of reflection, conversation and exchange to happen but not as a reaction, or in the occasion of the closing of the exhibition but because we actually cared to learn from each other and to learn something from Athens.

It is very unfortunate that I cannot sign this letter that could resolve in a solidarity gesture to fellow artists but I cannot sign a text that I cannot support its petition-like format even if I fully respect those who sign it and the curators and everyone who made d14 exist.

Yours,
Georgia Sagri
(participant artist of d14)


#4

Thanks for this Georgia!

In a moment where the Contemporary Art World feels so asphyxiating, so untrue (unknown artist in the program!!!) there are quite a series of very known topic typic artists like Plesas and his friend who are always in all the Biennales Andreas Angelikiadis… the same with other guest’s all a bit of la creme de la creme of the cool side of the cities they belong… Also tiring the use and abuse of ideology of the “good sides” we the club are in… to justify something that has been rightly criticised and that conveniently has been dismissed as populists, rightwing bullshit. Yes of course! the people is welcome but if they do not like what we do… then they are just a bunch of plebs ranting! Our feeling deep feeling is that as with the rest of the Contemporary Art World, the whole thing is a circus is an exhausting enslaving hyper activity for those who want to keep Art as the usual detached Hegelian eurocentric, ethnocentric, colonial yes under de-colonial false claims. Its all a joke ! The fact that we are having all this post-manifesto says it all! Of course you ( artists and curators of D14) need excuses and discourses that today are empty memes. Its obvious why… here we leave you a few reminders!


“You have come to Greece to make art visible, graciously offering to purchase the participation of invisible exoticized ‘Others,’” the group wrote. “Your stone is supposed to give us a voice, to speak to our stories. But rocks can’t talk! We can! So we have stolen your stone and we will not give it back. And like the millions of others who are seeking better lives in Europe, your stone has disappeared.” The statement then offers tongue-in-cheek possibilities of where the artwork could be, each one highlighting the challenges asylum seekers face, from the bureaucratic to the humanitarian: the rock might be in a distant prison, languishing without papers; at the bottom of the Mediterranean; on a flight to Sweden, equipped with a fake passport; in a detention center, contemplating suicide.https://hyperallergic.com/382407/lgbtq-refugee-rights-group-steals-artwork-from-documenta-in-athens/

That one’s is Horizontal relation indeed between public and the art world ! even The Guardian had to talk about the scandal !



The picture says it all !

and the rest here… with the same pictures but a better questioning even if in the end its all by insiders.

What we are saying here is that no one no one has even been able to accept that Marxist and the very active left of today have indeed criticised D14. The fact that few philosophers and theorist with their usual candor for ART, have fallen in to the honey trap does not modify the objective reality of what really is going on in the art world this days. This includes all powers that be all and no one spared! Conscience anyone?


#5

Our open letter begins with the sentence:

“Firstly, we acknowledge those participants in documenta 14 whom we have not been able to reach at the time of writing, those with whom we could not get to consensus, those participants no longer living, and especially those who passed away while participating in documenta 14.”

By writing “whom we have not been able to reach at the time of writing,” we acknowledge that the letter was not be able to reach everyone due to practical limits. We gathered emails of our fellow documenta 14 participants via networks of friendship. Within those limits, 130 signed the letter by September 16 when we released the letter on e-flux, and another 82 signed by September 18 after reading the letter. This hints at the possibility of a kinship that was built up over the last two years such that, in spite of challenges, errors, and mismatches that are inevitable in a project this size, there is a basic solidarity between artists and the documenta 14 team—such that we support each other, and also learn from mistakes, together.

However, we acknowledge that not everyone’s experiences and sentiments are the same, and we signal that divergence of opinion when we also write, in that same opening sentence, “those with whom we could not get to consensus.” We speak on behalf of those who signed the letter.