Κυριακή 23 Απριλίου 2017

Documenta 14 : Beware of Germans bearing gifts?


                                                                                                                                                     By Vassilika Sarilaki

At a difficult juncture for Greece, with no light at the end of the tunnel and caught between clashing Schäuble/IMF, the art lovers, the National Museum of Contemporary Art ΕΜST and 40 spaces of Athens greeted the German exhibition Documenta 14 of Kassel, one of the most important contemporary art events. The exhibition is entitled: ‘Learning from Athens’. 160 artists, including 15 Greeks, many performances and events a new artistic occupation of the city that will last months. There’s no doubt that this is a great opportunity to see interesting works of art.

στανDuring his meeting with Alexis Tsipras, the German chairman Frank-Walter Steinmeier said: ‘My presence here is a message that Greek and German relations are broader than what is discussed in public. Documenta 14 will enable us to see things from a different angle, a fresh and new perspective’.              

But you see. . Other people don't see the German’s gesture of friendship so favourably and they causion: “Beware the Germans even when they bring gifts”. They are talking about cultural colonialism, about treating us like a protectorate, about an effort draw attention away from the economic suffocation that Germany has imposed on us. Meanwhile, the state of Greek cultural dynamics will be influenced dramatically as the € 70 million Documenta claims that is here to stay.. Even Spiegel admits that “this year's event continues to stand on top of a cliché, which actually wants to benefit the German Documenta, and not only on the artistic level. The cliché is the stereotypical view of a devastated Greece of the crisis.”[1]

Let's see then: What kind of messages does Documenta convey?  What is its main focus? By what procedure were the Greek artists chosen? Does it have any political views and what are they? Which statements have caused an uproar? What did it answer? Does it really want to learn from Athens? And what it is that Athens would like to tell to Documenta but doesn't dare? What are the reactions and the potential benefits? What signs has given it us so far, after a five-month presentation of events, performances, etc.? What is the response from the public, the artists, the galleries, the curators, the youth?


Let's start from the beginning. Athens was initially very positive towards the fact that such a large organization, determining trends and the international avant-garde had chosen this city to co-host Documenta. It would be at least a fruitful summer tourist attraction and would incorporate Athens to the notorious cultural "map of Europe" ..

 adam2Documenta’s artistic director, Adam Szymczyk, decided to drive the art world’s attention to Athens, the capital of a country which was threatened at the time by Grexit and a possible total destruction. The theme of “Athens under collapse" seemed to be the most successful exhibition choice. Besides, the thematic analysis was pioneered by Harald Szeemann’s Documenta 5 (1972), referring to the "investigation of reality".

Rather than focusing on the most important artists of his time, Szeemann decided to investigate to the chosen theme.. Now it was Athens’ turn, as a city having acquired the "exoticism of crisis" in the words of Varoufakis. . I wonder, what did Szymczyk really try to achieve? Make a corresponding “investigation of reality”, imitating Szeemann's Documenta ? I believe that somehow this is the case. He has incorporated many performances and lectures to the show, reiterating the old sociological experiment of the seventies. . However, can a lecture by Toni Negri be compared nowadays to that given by Joseph Beuys in '72? No  way.                                                                                                        

                                                                        The "improprieties" of Preciado  

Adam Szymczyk conducted  Berlin’s Biennale in 2008 and was the curator of Kunsthalle Basel .Up to now "he has created good but conventional exhibitions," as suggests Dorothea von Hantelmann, a German professor and art historian dealing with Documenta topics, who urged him to experiment. [2]. It seems that Szymczyk listened to her advice. The public program of the first five months of events was undertaken by a theoretical researcher of the queer movement, Paul B. Preciado– more specifically, Beatriz Preciado who gradually transformed herself into man. paul preciado

On September 15, 2016 Preciado announced that the bulk of the events would take place at the EAT-ESA showroom in Freedom Park, and that it would consist the so-called "House of Bodies", including 34 Freedom exercises. At the same time the distributed press releases indicated that the ‘queer and the porn industry workers are the new proletariat’. References were also made on the neoliberal theories abolition, the civil self-motivation, the abolition of representative democracy, an ideological return to Foucault’s theories, the deconstruction theories of the ’80s etc. Some literary and social actions, as well as collaborations with various artists then took place.

O δήμαρχος Αθηναίων Καμίνης, ο Preciado κι ο Szymczyk                                                                      Mayor of Athens G. Kaminis, P. Preciado and A.Szymczyk

The ‘initiated public’ participates in discussions on numerous issues at the EAT- ESA (a place that Preciado considered to be trendy, as it hosted tortures during the military Junta!). However, some relatives of tortured men and women began to reach their limits when they saw performances by lesbians who were famous ex-porn stars (Beth Stephens & Annie Sprinkle), proposing ecosexualism and flirting with plants in pots. The same pair will repeat its performance in the EMST. The title is: Cuddling Athens. Here, they are depicted in one of their numerous weddings conducted in the past. In the middle one can see Beatriz Preciado.


                        What was Documenta’s response on the curators’ provocative statements against Greece?

Preciado begins to provoke. Annoyed by some Greek newspapers that criticized Documenta, he stated to reporter Luna Svarrer  that Greece had a deficit of Democracy (!): "They moved us directly to the political pages or even to the frontpage, in order to criticise us, because we were speaking about dictatorship or criticising democracy. I mean, hello, we are in Greece, democracy is not exactly blooming “[3].

Meanwhile, Marina Fokidis, responsible of the Athens Documenta 14 office, directly discredits the Greek government policy for its lack of support towards contemporary art in the online magazine Sleek: . “In the absence of State support and strategy for the contemporary culture, and in the absence of a strong public institution for contemporary art, like a museum, Greek artists were struggling to communicate their ideas. Greek artists have been somewhat unknown in the international scene, but not rightly so” [4]. At the press conference we asked Szymczyk if he shares these views and how does he document the "deficit of democracy in Greece."


He tried to make amends, apologizing mainly to Lydia Koniordou , (the minister of culture) who was present and to the director of the EMST (National Museum of Contemporary Art) Catherine Koskina. He replied that they do not wish to offend the Greek government which tries, despite its limited financial means, to do the best and that they did not imply that there is a literal lack of democracy, but were talking in terms of a boost to urge civic participation. Another man replying to my question stated that Documenta has no unified views, leaving the impression that Szymczyk has no control over his team.φωκιδαινα

elections change nothing[2]This is unfortunately verified once again in South magazine, -created by Fokidis and now used by Documenta- in which one can notice views against the elections and denouncement of the ‘misery of representative democracy’, without offering any alternative.

Fortunately, there were some collaboration with more or less noteworthy Greek artists, with good curators from the EMST, but the ‘impropriety’ had already taken place.

optiki piisi tina pandi

Documenta’s theoretical allusions to the South, to "native" artists, as well as the general ambiance provoked by artists coming and taking photos with the refugees on the islands in order to show them off abroad, Documenta’s failure to understand and respect the vulnerable Greek situation, and the exhibition’s policy made Greeks even more suspicious.

Furthermore, Preciado’s choices made them feel that Documenta came to teach them about the Junta, meaning their own history, which certainly they already knew much better themselves. Many had relatives who were tortured in EAT-ESA. A question aroused: Why does Documenta reintroduce the issue of the Junta?

Moreover, some people don’t understand why Documenta is so interested in the Junta of 1967, but does not go back 20 years behind, when the German Nazis massacred thousands of Greek civilians who resisted heroically. At the press conference they attended an anniversary of killings by neo-Nazis in Europe, but they were not aware at all that the same day was the anniversary of Nazi invasion in Greece in 1941 – a point which I had to remind, before my question on the curators’ statements..


                                                                                        Reactions to Documenta

In fact, these peculiar lacks were rightly identified by artist Costas Varotsos in an interview: "They talk about the dictatorship! As if it was their affair! They will bring here all Jobbis (attention, not zombies) of the past! However, they did not mention Gunar Hiring, the German university professor who, during the dictatorship began a hunger strike to turn the German government against that situation. They probably forgot about him! " [5]

Of course, the Greeks understand very well the reason why while Documenta condemns neoliberalism, it does not breathe a word on the contemporary neoliberal stranglehold that Germany is exerting on Greece, threatened openly by Schäuble with Grexit, nor do they mention the economic war that Greece is experiencing, the sellout of our airports to German companies or Siemens’ scandal ..

Yannis Varoufakis boldly declares that Varoufakisit is about ‘tourism in countries under crisis which is reminiscent of the time when several wealthy Americans went to African countries for safari and to demonstrate their humanitarian trends." [6].

Younger artists are beginning to speak of cultural capitalism and cultural colonialism, Kostis Stafylakis Athens biennale curator, clearly refers to chauvinism and others about attempts to exoticise the Greek art scene. A graffiti says: "I refuse to exoticize myself in order to increase your cultural capital".

exotisize[1]Hosting Documenta’s office in the ASFA (Fine Arts University) was also commented by students. At the same time, the emphasis given on blurred and endless intellectual discussions organized by Documenta scattered the feeling that it excludes a wide audience, meaning, that it refers to an elite and not to all, while also exuding a didacticism that does not indicate, however, that Documenta came ‘to learn from Athens’. .

I think that George Tzirtzilaki’s statements (who is a known art critic) are particularly interesting; he says that ‘Documenta is very interesting with respect to the issues it raises, but one could assume that they could be addressed within a Free University, having an educational and – emphasizing the word – a didactic character .. Documenta began with a confused concept and do not know, I cannot say if this is good for the relationship of society with it. Everybody confused the dialectic of its curators with the dialectic of the Left party in Greece, and this immediately sparked some very intense debates, inexplicably so, which often reached a level of Medieval scholasticism, like for instance, whether the words Dictatorship and Democracy are used correctly or not ... eventually, I believe that there is just one question that arises: to what extent does political theory identify itself to art and how is it connected to it? " [7]

Naturally, organizers and partners have different views. Deutsche Welle produced a documentary in which Andreas Aggelidakis, a significant artist and a key partner of Documenta 14 indicates that the attention brought on Greece is very positive point. However, at the same time, Nadia Argyropoulou, an experienced curator of the DESTE Foundation – whose important role in the formation of the art scene in Greece is well known to all – mentions in the same report that she is concerned that the Documenta will fail ... A bad omen..

                                                                                                Acropolis poniesαλογα

Shortly afterwards the Greek Archaeological Service announced that it declined a request by Documenta to conduct an event that include an Acropolis’ tour with dwarf pony horses in order to represent the horsemen on the Parthenon Frieze! The Service allowed it only with normal horses explaining that the horses on the Frieze were not ponies, as Documenta claims! Moreover, these were not horseback rides, but ceremonial events. . If we assume that Documenta’s curators were not aware of this, then how did they claim something like this for one of the most famous monuments of world culture? [8].                                                                               

Unfortunately, this was not the only provocative move linked to the Acropolis, for which Germany might have a soft spot, ever since the cover of Focus magazine was proposing to Greece to sell it!


75-year old Argentinian Marta Minujin decided to create in Kassel an Acropolis replica with the same dimensions, made of forbidden books. . Then she presented the following "model" of her Acropolis(?), with irrelevant number of columns and a Frieze  equal to the height of the columns!! Want to know what banned books she is referring to? She referred for example to the book of a Russian journalist, indirectly accusing President Putin for her murder, although the trial has been finalized and the murder was attributed to Chechens who had been arrested and confessed! putin

Meanwhile, persiflage has already began in the social media, especially by young artists who felt excluded therefore began commenting ironically several Documenta’s incidents on a special Facebook page and site. Title: DOKOUMENA. They talk about cultural colonialism and cultural imperialism .. Their videos are largely circulating on their Facebook page. [9].

                                                Winners and losers

The truth is that after Documenta’s events held in Cairo and Kabul in 2013, annexes were created in those areas. The Greek office with Mrs. Fokidis as its director will obviously become a permanent annex, therefore the correlations will change, the "losers" being the poor or impoverished Greek institutions ..

Meanwhile in March, arrangements are made with the National Museum of Modern Art, EMST and its director Catherine Koskina managed to present the EMST collection in Kassel, at Fridericianum.  This is a great success since it will allow the whole world to see Modern Greek Art. . We are talking about around 800,000 people! ..                                                                                       ιλεανα τοθντα

Finally, Documenta’s opening took place at the EMST in glamour, but it was not open to the public, and was priced with an 8-euro ticket. . Art lovers and all the Greek artists have great expectations from Documenta (even if some important artists were ignored). According to Ileana Tounta (owner for 30 years of a famous gallery and head of the Hellenic Art galleries Association for many years) "no one from the curatorial team of Documenta addressed me, nor did they addressed any other galleries." [10]

The truth is that nobody knows the way the artists were chosen by Documenta, the secrecy prevailed until the last minute. But we noticed that it is not only in Greece that ‘groups of friends write history’..

Alongside the opening of Documenta begins the 6th Athens Biennale entitled Waiting for the Barbarians curated by the Division of Heart and Sword ( Nagia Yakoumaki, Poka -Yio, Kostis Stafylakis and FYTA ).

In its curatorial text we notice a wide photographic reference to the choices made by Documenta 14: [11]

BARB"Will there ever be a ‘Lesson learned from Athens’? What is the meaning of words like "education," "freedom," "queer," "north," "south," "indigenous" in the modern cultural dialogue? Are we witnessing the arrival of the Barbarians or their domestication?

These Barbarians are coming again and again ... Since the beginning of the new century, the Barbarians are at the gates. In the circles of the intellectual elite, as well as on the art field, they are often depicted in positive and messianic terms: as a new nomadic / stateless / hybrid subject. This perception seems to determine the way in which the (im)possibility to resist and revolt is understood today and, simultaneously, it constitutes a key reason for our collective failure to predict the current escalating of regression. ... We are not hosts but we invite the Barbarians to come inside. On April 5th, 2017, we declare the beginning of a year of Active Standing by".

Among the participating artists are the artists / actors from DOKOUMENA. A new fight begins! To be continued. .


                                                                                Manifestation: Accept the Barbarian within you


1. http://www.dw.com/el/e

2. http://www.dw.com/en/documenta-14-you-need-the-courage-to-experiment/a-17253286

3. https://medium.com/athenslivegr/documenta-14-what-happens-when-the-international-art-elite-goes-greek-b7be9c0352bb

4. http://www.sleek-mag.com/2016/04/14/why-documenta-14-could-be-good-for-athens/


6. http://www.spikeartmagazine.com/en/articles/doing-documenta-athens-rich-americans-taking-tour-poor-african-country

7.. http://popaganda.gr/250384-2/

8. http://greece.greekreporter.com/2017/02/08/documenta-horseback-event-approved-to-recreate-parthenon-frieze-scenes/

9. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZLUHXuVJX3c&feature=youtu.be

10. http://www.dw.com/en/will-documenta-have-an-impact-on-athens-art-scene/a-3794198

11. http://athensbiennale.org/barbarians/

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