Archive: Issue No. 61, September 2002

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Chantal Akerman

Chantal Akerman
From the Inside, 2002
Video still

Kutlug Ataman

Kutlug Ataman
The Four Seasons of Veronica Read, 2002
Video Still

Cildo Mereiles

Cildo Mereiles
Disappearing element/disappeared element
Frozen mineral water, packaging

Cerith Wyn Evans

Cerith Wyn Evans
Cleave 00
Mirror ball. lamp, shutter, text by William Blake
Installation shot

Pascal Marthine Tayou

Pascal Marthine Tayou
Game Station
Mixed media
Installation shot

Carlos Garaicoa

Carlos Garaicoa
Continuity of a Detached Architecture, 2002



Free Basin
Plywood,mixed media

Monday, September 2

"Passenger Fellini, travelling to Rome. Passenger Fellini, travelling to Rome. Immediate boarding please at Gate B19." Only the imminent departure of my own flight to Frankfurt from Amsterdam's Schiphol airport prevents me from a quick spurt to B19 to see if the ghost of the great man is not wafting over the heads of the other passengers, planewards � Five hours and a plane, train, taxi and bus later, I am in the press office at Kassel, all too aware that the end of one afternoon and one full day will hardly be sufficient to digest the dense viewing experience required by Documenta 11.

Plunging into the Fridericianum, my first impression, which will persist, is how flawlessly staged, mounted or projected all the work is. If clothes maketh the man, presentation maketh the exhibition. Projection is the medium of choice, and never can there have been so many variations presented in one event. Irish artist James Coleman: I.N.I.T.I.A.L.S., a series of slides presenting one tableau after another, a group of extraordinarily handsome players acting out an unknown scenario set in what appears to be an old hospital. Speaking very close to the mike, a young Irish boy reads a text which seems to be interrogating the meaning of language.

Chantal Akerman described in the short guide as a major contributor to a "new woman's cinema": From the other side is a film investigating the stories of the migrant workers of Mexico, who desperate for work, cross the US border only to face almost certain exploitation or capture and deportation. Akerman's presentation employs one video monitor in the first room, and eighteen set in three narrow rows on shoulder-high pedestals in the second, each showing the same film at different points. This set up allows one to stride up and down as if examining the faces in a line up. In the final room, a single screen shows a white fabric screen strung on scaffolding in the New Mexico desert. This is supposed to be a real time shot directly from the scene, but since it is now 6 p.m. here and Mexico is eight hours behind in time, which would make it 10 a.m. there, and this is a sunrise shot, this claim seems unlikely. No matter, the image is poetic.

The Turkish artist Kutlug Ataman: The Four Seasons of Veronica Read. Who would have thought that a film about the obsession of one woman over the culture of amaryllis bulbs would be part of a Documenta criticised by many for its overly politicised content? Projected simultaneously on four screens hung in a square, Ataman's film, which lays bare the extent to which this single interest has taken over the life of his subject, shows that intensity of focus lies in areas of life far removed from the political. Note to self: buy some amaryllis bulbs on return.

Tuesday, September 3

Don't draw breath. Time is short and art is long, or something like that. The socially conscious veteran American artist Leon Golub is one of the few painters on the show. (others: the popular Belgian artist Luc Tuymans, the boring Raymond Pettibon, Glenn Ligon with his elegant black on black text works, and the Ivoirean Ouattara Watts whose bold paintings form a backdrop for Yinka Shonibare's sexual fandango tableaux). Golub is in a section of the show where oppression and persecution are a general theme. The large paintings are strong enough, with their expressionistic figures of policeman, dogs, guns, etc, the small ones somewhat trite. Beyond, the Colombian Doris Salcedo has made a switch from her evocative installations of old furniture, piles of shirts dipped in plaster, abandoned shoes, all of which speak of the painful history of her country. Here, she has presented an austere sculptural installation. In front of a doorsized opening in a wall, steel beams which seem to come right through the wall block the entrance. Close examination shows these are chairs with extended legs and backs. Beyond the entrance, more beams. Salcedo has based this work on the bombing of the Bogota Palace of Justice by the government when it was occupied by a guerilla group, which led to the death of the occupants.

On to the nearby Documenta Halle, with work by a number of collectives, some more honourable in the intention than exciting in the execution. Glad to note in the documentation section that Art in South Africa: the future present is prominently displayed. In the basement, an installation by Pascale Marthine Tayou of Cameroon draws me for a while. Visitors to the 2nd Johannesburg Biennale might remember Tayou's warren of rooms filled with found objects lying on the floors, stuck on the walls, and so on. The title of one such installation, Crazy Nomad, gives a clue to his themes. Here in Kassel his presentation is entitled Game Station. The found objects have become found television sets, stacked randomly, screening images of street life in Yaounde. Tangled overhead wires hung with headsets speak of backyard and illegitimate electrical connections.

Time to move on - but first, let me suck on an artwork. Disappearing element/disappeared element is a project by Brazilian artist Cildo Mereiles, popsticks of frozen mineral water being sold from icecream carts by T-shirted students. On one level, this focuses on the element of water and the global problem of its shortage. On another, Mereiles has set up a small scale production business to sell the popsicles, (1 Euro, about R10) with the sellers taking part of the price, thus commenting on the possibilities of production which exist outside globalisation.

Outside the Binding Brauerei in a separate building is a project by 'simple architecture' US duo Steve Badgett and Matthew Lynch, otherwise known as Simparch. Entering the building at ground level, one seems to be walking round the lower half of a wooden boat, or vessel of some kind. Taking the staircase to the next level, one finds oneself gazing down into a perfectly manufactured wooden skateboard bowl, hiphop music playing. Black skidmarks of use give notice of its popularity.

Highlights in the BB: 1. Havana artist Tania Bruguera's performance piece in which an audience enters a darkened space to have strobe lights suddenly flash on and a heavily marching figure stomping down the top of a raised wall on one's left, with the sounds of a rifle being cocked. The lights go off just as suddenly, leaving the viewers in silence with purple after images in the blackness. The piece refers to Kassel's history as the centre of an arms manufacturing industry. 2. Steve McQueen's Western Deep, a film which takes the viewer downward in the mine of the same name, often in total darkness, with only the squeaks and crashes of the machinery of the lift as accompaniment. Typically, McQueen does not offer a voiceover or a script, and relies entirely on available light to portray the horrific conditions in which miners work.

There is much, much more from Cerith Wyn Evans beautiful revolving mirror ball to Carlos Garaicoa's fanciful solution to the housing problems of Havana - pack mini skyscrapers into the lower spaces of old buildings. My best advice: check the website, - though disappointingly, many of the images on the site are still old works by the artists, rather than the ones on exhibition. When everything else is so well organised, why should this be?

Dinner with old friends Rose and Claire, expat South Africans living and teaching art in Italy, spotted across a crowded gallery earlier in the day. They are there with a large crowd of the international students with whom they are working.

Wednesday, September 4

With two hours left for all I haven't yet seen what choice do I make? Rose and Claire have recommended a film by Indian Amar Kanwar, A Season Outside about the border between India and Pakistan, which opens with a bombastic and colourful ceremony every morning, and goes on to investigate the construction of an Indian masculinity. A fine choice. I wonder what the good citizens of Kassel make of all the misery and oppression, the black deeds and the tragedies of the developing nations as imaged by the artists of Documenta 11.

Back in Frankfurt airport, I relax in the Airport Forum, which with its lightbox floor and suspended perspex hanging seats, could be an extension of Documenta. Next stop: Stockholm, where I will be a participant on a show entitled 'History Now'.


Sue Williamson is out-and-about in Cape Town

Sue Williamson catches the opening of Big Brother II

'Grime' at Bell-Roberts, Jo'burg Art City & the CT Convention Centre

Gallery-hopping in Cape Town

The Dak/Art Biennnial in Senegal

Sue Williamson in Jo'burg

'Who defines the contemporary? Biennials and the global art world'

Smithsonian's National Museum for African Art, Washington

Homeport at the V&A Waterfront

Jo'burg & the Joubert Park Project

Artist Matthew Hindley at the World Wide Video Festival

Exhibitions in Chicago and Washington

A visit to South Africa House in London

Joubert Park Project; Art Spaces in Gender Perspective, Germany

'Homeport' collaboration; Joubert Park Project; Omar Badsha