documenta 14 | Eastern Europe

Curator and artist Walter Seidl reports from documenta 14 and writes about Eastern European artists  presented at the quinquennial exhibition in Kassel.

Learning and unlearning are two of the mottos of documenta 14, which focuses on the process of “Learning from Athens” on the one hand—starting with the notion of Greece being the cradle of democracy—and with the exhibition’s approach to “unlearning” and not handing down only the grand narratives of knowledge production on the other. The latter automatically leads to current forms of crisis in terms of politics, migration or gender issues, which have been at stake not only in recent years, but over the last decades. A prominent example for all these issues is the video work “Thirty-Three Situations” by Slovak artist Anna Daučíková at the Stadtmuseum Kassel. In this work, the artist deals with her own experience as a lesbian woman at the beginning of the 1980s in Moscow, when she tried to obtain a passport by marrying a man in order to live with her female lover. Not only hiding her, at that time in Russia officially non-existent sexuality, she also worked as a glassblower without showing her inclination for abstract painting, photography and video—art forms which were also not acknowledged at the time.

The negligence of artistic practices from former Socialist countries, which have been rediscovered over the last decade and especially since documenta 12, is also mirrored in the work of Romanian artist Geta Brătescu. Among the many artists of an older generation whose works have been acclaimed in recent years, 91-year old Brătescu is one of the heroines of 2017, with a retrospective presentation at the Romanian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, and a variety of works presented at the Neue Galerie in Kassel. One of the outstanding pieces is the new video work “Automatism” based on a 1974 concept. Here, her basic parameters of the studio are treated in an action by performer Manuel Pelmuş, endorsing gestures reminiscent of Lucio Fontana while at the end replacing the canvas with a real body.

Among the younger generation of the represented artists, Romanian-born Daniel Knorr plays with the insecurity of our future and the expiration date of every individual. His performative installation of smoke coming out of one of the towers of the Fridericiaum hints at current ideologies of disaster. At the same time, the lettering on the front façade of the Fridericianum has been changed by Banu Cennetoğlu into “Being Safe is Scary”—a reference to current terrorist attacks or to his home country Turkey? Contrasting or pairing with these dystopian scenarios is the work by Moldavian artist Pavel Brăila. In his installation “The Ship,” he halfway filled the windows of a public transport bus with water. According to the route, the blue water edges level with the ground, democratizing not only the surface of the earth but also the social strata of the passengers with their diverse backgrounds. The latter has been testified through Kassel’s current demographic structures and a great number of inhabitants from the Middle-East, whose presence has reassuringly changed the cityscape in response to the German “Summer of Migration” of 2015.

Photo: Jane Štravs

Walter Seidl, lives in Vienna. Studied cultural studies (MA) and contemporary history (PhD) at universities in Graz, Seattle (photography), Paris and New York. Seidl works as artist curator and artist. His photographic and video-based work deals with the transformation of image politics and the identity constellations inherent therein.
Seidl curated numerous exhibitions throughout Europe, North America, Hong Kong, Japan, and South Africa. His writings include various catalog essays for artist monographs, exhibition reviews, and criticism. Seidl contributes to several international art magazines, most frequently to Camera Austria, springerin and Život umjetnosti.

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Save the Date
21 – 24 September 2017
Marx Halle Vienna

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