Dear Carolyn!

We are a short time away now from the great event. Time is shrinking, events are moving faster. I can imagine that you are extremely busy, caught up in a whirl of thoughts, materials, information, and large and small decisions which have to be made in a hurry. I can see the heavy workload and responsibility weighing on you, but on the other hand it is clear that you are currently experiencing a unique opportunity to instigate a process of exchange and to achieve visibility on a global scale, to make your mark on history. The task of writing about such an important exhibition – which I haven’t even seen, because it hasn’t been opened – is in truth a complex challenge, as, since there isn’t a final outcome yet, I am forced to restrict myself to speaking only of concepts, thoughts, attitudes, desires and methods. We could compare this situation to a scientific experiment which has not yet taken place: all we can do is to write about the hypothesis, methodology and the ideas which are at the basis of the experiment, but we don’t have concrete data about the results, and therefore we can’t test the hypothesis.

Taking into account the particular character of this kind of text, I therefore decided to react in the form which you chose for the first expression of the dOCUMENTA (13) concept: I decided to write you a letter as well.

In your letter to an unknown friend, a type of phantasmagorical ‘other’ (Gegenüber), you explain not a concept, which tends towards an already preordained result, but rather to the methodology, which can be used to trigger a process from which knowledge, aesthetics, expressions, events, connections and networks will develop. Which – if I understand correctly – will become visible (and in addition still modifiable) the moment the exhibition is opened. The show, which you maintain isn’t a show, as the term Ausstellung or exhibition, in your opinion, leaves a narcissistic aftertaste, and you’d rather call it an Erscheinung – an apparition. Maybe we could think of it like an instant photograph, which could be followed by many other shots of many other moments. Instead of exhibiting something fixed and definite, there is the appearance of thoughts, objects, events and actions which could diasappear at any moment.

In your letter dated 25 October 2010, which started with “My dear friend”, you mentioned at a certain point a story about the beginning of the world which you’d come across on the internet and which for you became the source of inspiration for dOCUMENTA (13). This is a story about a hawk that one day, after a terrible storm, descends to the ground and transforms into a human. Those people who are able to imagine a previous existence as a bird know that wings have two sides. One side supports the spirit (reason), the body (movement) and the soul (feelings): if these three aspects are mutally balanced, the individual is also in balance. The other side carries three other elements: society (politics and justice), process (curriculum vitae) and ceremony (collective dance). If these are in counterbalance, a person is in harmony with other people.

We could think, therefore, that from the very beginning of the world, people have found themselves in a perpetual search for internal and external balance, in a neverending, merciless battle against manifold unbalancing factors, a battle against emergency situations, hazards and crises. You define our time as a period of extreme instability, and at one of the first conferences – the one that took place in 2009 in Turin, I believe, at the Castello di Rivoli Contemporary Art Museum, with the curators of all of the previous documentas present – you said that we are far from the end of the current crisis and whoever thinks otherwise risks being deluded. It is specifically in this dangerous phase of precariousness that the feverish activity of exchange networks prove to be essential and the formation of archives containing knowledge from the most diverse disciplines that can supplement each other.
In the Museumsnacht video recording of the conference where you presented the dOCUMENTA (13) project to the Kassel public, instead of describing the strict and unchanging points of the concept, as if carved in stone, you simply explain what interests you: culture in general, history, ideas, the destruction of materiality, archiving and – last but not least – energy and sustainability. A diverse list, which on the one hand strongly focuses on the great universal relationship between disciplines and historic times, but, on the other hand, also doesn’t lose sight of the substance that our culture has actually been made of: sensible and intelligible wisdom, to be archived in a continuing process, systematically and with great care. An archive in perpetual movement and change, which guarantees access to materials in unceasing flow.

In your letter to your unknown friend you declare that you don’t have just one single concept; that you hope to design choreographies of the most diverse materials, methods and knowledge. In place of purposeful intent, you rely on indirect actions. You want your method – as you stated at the conference which took place at the Fondazione Ratti in Como – to be organic, open and uncontrolled. Its form is gaseous. With your refusal to establish an unequivocal and previously defined concept, you try to disrupt habitual expectations. But, if I understood correctly, yours is not a “non-concept”, which in reality would always remain a concept, regardless – but the idea is to give a kind of Initialzündung, an initial push, which would ideally set off a snowball effect. In gaseous form – returning to the image you offered – the molecules move in an uncontrolled fashion, and as a consequence we cannot accurately predict in which direction they will go, and with which other molecules they will collide.

Now I ask myself, however, how far is it really possible to let everything go free in a completely open manner, and to what degree is it still necessary to take things into one’s own hands every so often? Concretely, I imagine that in reality the discussion is about a kind of dialogue with the artists who are working on their projects, and presumably you are in regular contact with them, is that the case? I can imagine that it may be difficult to maintain a balance between carte blanche, absolute freedom, and the practical demands brought about by a gigantic “machine” such as the documenta.

If the concept is this – to work without a preliminary curator’s plan, then consequently the exhibition also is no longer an exhibition, or rather, it wants to become something more than an exhibition: a mental state. It wants to become – we read in the letter to the friend – a meaningful experience for a heterogeneous public, as a departure point, using research into perceptions, ideas, understanding and knowledge. This unites wisdom that has come from the theatre world, from the history of exhibitions and phenomenology, from the theory of perception and psychology. The attempts to dissolve the boundaries between disciplines and fields of knowledge is not with the goal of establishing an interdisciplinary connection, where everyone does everything and nobody knows how to do anything. The purpose is rather to link up specialized knowledge at the highest level. dOCUMENTA (13) aims, in a kind of powerful density, to “pose individual and collective questions of emancipation through art” and to be a “platform for collective and anonymous whispering”. The most important contemporary art event of the whole summer of 2012 thus sets up a place which makes possible real encounters, meetings in which to reflect together about our current world. Today’s works of art, which are tied to the art works of the past, jointly serve as an cue for reflection and dialogue, which go much further than this “here and now” exhibition which takes place every five years, and allow us to vaguely remember our past as birds. Capable of flying in mind and body, one can maintain a clear overview of things and continually create new connections.

The thirteenth documenta, which will open its doors on 6 June, 2012, is spreading its gaze far and wide not only on the geographical level (a hundred artists from fifty countries around the world), but, as we have already noted, also in relation to the disciplines and professions involved. Art is emerging from its tendential isolation, in order to hold a dialogue with the sciences, with anthropology, archaeology and ecology, and by confronting various fields, leaves itself open to the issues of this historic moment. In an interview which I found on, a Norwegian site, you affirm that “you like things that you can’t understand”. Could we therefore suppose that dOCUMENTA (13) can be regarded as a research mechanism, where art approaches the problematics of science and seeks to build up knowledge through the perception and production of aesthetic objects? Do the models, mechanisms and metaphors expressed in art Hence participate in the broadening of our knowledge? With respect to scientific knowledge, however, we come into contact with an epistemic form which is purposely ambivalent and open, and doesn’t fear being contradictory – on the contrary, even highlights it. The traditional way of generating knowledge (with its systematic verifying methods, using repeated experiments) is rejected, and instead, insoluble paradoxes are analyzed: to speak without language, to be active without activity, to be close and far, collapse and restoration, inclusion and exclusion, translation and untranslatability. These opposing principles reflect the contradictory nature of the image itself: it is alive and dead, powerful and weak, present and absent.

Now I’d like to focus more attention on the specific method of working. From various published documents it transpires that on the one hand you have travelled a great deal, and on the other that you have collaborated with “agents”, “advisers” and artists. In an organic and effective process of creation which is left open to continual change, a flexible curatorial team is being set up. The idea, if I understood correctly, is to proceed with a network of micro-systems in which, on the basis of authorization that you have issued, agents will take action. Not only agents, you have also developed an honorary committee of advisers, comprising intellectuals and artists, anthropologists, biologists, physicists, writers and archaeologists. A powerful council of support, putting to use its polychromatic competence and at the same time operating as a safety net for the acrobatics of trapeze artists, who fly from one place to another.

A panoply of various sciences was already reflected in a publishing project commenced some months ago: by the end of the event about one hundred books will have come out, covering diverse fields such as art, natural sciences, philosophy, psychology, anthropology, economics, political science etc. As we can read, ‘100 Notes, 100 Ideas’ publishes the unpublishable, and investigates how ideas develop. This will be a collection of the most diverse forms of written expression imaginable, from reproductions of already existing notebooks to specially commissioned essays and dialogues. Among the authors are Michael Taussig, Donna Haraway, Judith Butler, Michael Hardt, Etel Adnan, Alexander Kluge, Suely Rolnik, Bifo – Franco Berardi, Vandana Shiva and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro. In addition, the Hatje Cantz publishers will release a three volume catalogue in time for the inauguration of the exhibition: Catalog 1/3 – The Book of Books with images, new texts and republished material from ‘100 Notes, 100 Ideas’; Catalog 2/3 – The Logbook, which with the help of images, correspondence and interviews will tell of the dOCUMENTA (13) development process; Catalog 3/3 – The Guidebook, which will contain maps and journeys through art works and projects.

Another important additional activity is the so-called dTOURS: exhibition visits accompanied by a guide. In this case, the guides will be residents of Kassel, of different ages, and not necessarily from the art world. With this offensive of mediation an attempt will be made to communicate the most varied forms of experiences and viewpoints. For example, how would the park’s own gardener do his tour around the artworks located in the Auepark? In this way the guided tours will tackle various themes and enquiries such as: “The approach to reality and time” or else “Interrupted objects, what is left over from things?”, etc. All the guides who are taking part in the dTOURS project attended a “School for Worldly Companions” in 2012.

Just as in all the previous documentas, this time, too, the exhibition will spread beyond the usual venues of the Fridericianum, documenta-Halle and Neuen Galerie. Following the concept of combining various disciplines, the exhibition will extend also to the Otteneum and Orangerie – sites for the history of the natural sciences and technology, as well as various pavilions which will be located in Karlsaue Park. In addition, dOCUMENTA (13) will also spill over into “secular” spaces, for example, a cinema theatre and a Huguenot building which have been closed for some time, and in spaces outside the city, representing the four conditions with which artists and thinkers must comply in their work: “on stage”, “in a state of occupation”, “with hope” and “in retreat”.

These places – as can be read in the press release – help in maintaining the flow of ideas which usually come about in such circumstances, and emphasize their continual fluidity.

And now, I’ll no longer hide from you my curiosity about what dOCUMENTA (13) will be like. I can’t wait to discover all the treasures that you’ve gathered from all around the globe, to encounter points of take-off and linkages between the most diverse disciplines, between art and science, practice and theory.

But for now I’d like to farewell you with a poem by Robert Frost, which you cite in an interview published on kunstkritik. no: “The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promised to keep. And miles to go before I sleep.”

Sincerely yours,
Barbara Fässler, artist

Translator into English: Uldis Brūns

Answer to the “Letter to a Friend” written by Carolyn Christof Bakargiev

Published in
Studija 84 - 3 2012

PDF Studija 84

dOCUMENTA (13) - 2
Documenta Display
Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev
1 / 2

Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev

II. documenta, 1959, installation view with works of Julio González, photographer unkown. Bequest of Arnold Bode, courtesy of documenta Archiv, Kassel
2 / 2

II. documenta, 1959, installation view with works of Julio González, photographer unkown. Bequest of Arnold Bode, courtesy of documenta Archiv, Kassel