dOCUMENTA (13) is platform for women artists | Arts | DW | 13.06.2012
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dOCUMENTA (13) is platform for women artists

Almost a third of the participants in Kassel are women. Many of them are relatively unknown. dOCUMENTA (13) provides an international platform - in particular for young female artists.

A blond woman has been standing before a microphone for exactly five minutes now. She hasn't said a word. Instead she chews at her fingernails, allowing the unpleasant sound to click and crack over the microphone. dOCUMENTA (13) began with this performance by artist Ceal Floyer. It's a banal, yet very personal work of concept art, produced using basic means, right in the middle of the world's biggest contemporary art exhibition.

Floyer first premiered her "Nail Biting" performance at the Birmingham Symphony Hall in 2001. Now it's being restaged at the State Theater in Kassel as part of dOCUMENTA (13), which opened last weekend.

There have never been as many female participants in the history of the international art event in Kassel as there are this year. Its director, Carolyn Cristov-Bakargiev, is only the second female in history to curate the show. But the American with Bulgarian roots and residency in Italy doesn't appear to be making any kind of gender statements. There's no inkling of a quota for female artists.

"There is no concept," Christov-Bakargiev emphasized.

Abstract clay sculptures in Anna Maria Maiolino's Here and There

Abstract clay sculptures in Anna Maria Maiolino's "Here and There"

State of uncertainty

The Italian artist Anna Maria Maiolino's abstract clay sculptures are reminiscent in form of sausages, eggs, gouda or protozoa. They are strewn about on the former gardener's house in the Karlsaue park in Kassel. Whether on chairs, a bed or shelves, the abstract forms create a fragile, anxious atmosphere.

In a greenhouse not more than a stones throw away, Georgian artist Thea Djordjadze has produced architecture that doesn't really want to be architecture. Visitors feel vulnerable in the glass room where a range of elements give the impression of an apartment: a room divider with curtain, the seat of a plastic chair. A range of small, empty greenhouses are also arranged on floor. "Collapse and Recovery" is the motto of dOCUMENTA (13) and Thea Djordjadze has produced a state of uncertainty between both of those terms.

Thea Djordjadze's untitled work sits between the states of collapse and recovery

Thea Djordjadze's untitled work sits between the states of "collapse" and "recovery"


Honoring women artists

dOCUMENTA (13) is posthumously promoting the work of a number of women artists. Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev calls this program "Modernist Women," in which she honors previously neglected female artists. In the place where Joseph Beuys one presented his famous "Honeypump," visitors are offered an insight into the mind behind dOCUMENTA (13), namely curator Christov-Bakargiev.

Hannah Ryggen occupies a special place in the section called "The Brain" in the Museum Fridericianum. Hannah Ryggen, who lives in Norway, deals in her work with the wrongs of humanity. She interwove horrors of history into her gray carpet, such as Mussolini's invasion of Ethiopia in 1935/36. Ancient artworks can be found shoulder-to-shoulder with contemporary works fresh from her atelier, creating an interested dialogue across historical epochs.

Charlotte Solomon's gouache series "Life? Or Theater?" also gets under the skin. In 1943, the Jewish artist was murdered in Auschwitz at the age of 26. She was five months pregnant at the time. Images with text from a musical comedy mirroring the story of her life are displayed in glass cabinets. They tell the story of traumatic events such as sexual abuse, her aunt's suicide and the rise of fascism in Germany. Her despairing works attempt to understand life through art.

The Bactrian Princesses date back to the third and second centuries BC in Central Asia

The Bactrian Princesses date back to the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC in Central Asia


The "Bactrian Princesses" recalls a much more distant past. The eight figurines date from the third and second centuries BC in central Asia, in what is today Afghanistan. The Bactrian Princesses are sumptuously and meticulously crafted. They represent a timeless beauty and radiate a sacrosanct air of supremacy. In seated poses they appear to be forever connected to one another as one complete and harmonious entity.

Looking back to the future

All of the participating artists were sent to Breitenau in preparation for the show. The former Benedictine monastery was used as prison-like workhouse from 1874. From 1933 to 1945 it was used as a concentration camp. Berliner Judith Hopf is the only artist to display works there. Her mask-like sculptures relate to her inability to understand the atrocities which occurred on the site.

The breadth of content at dOCUMENTA (13) opens up global perspectives. Many works are political, without being preachy or dogmatic. The show looks back to the future. What more can an exhibition offer? This exciting international exhibition in Kassel is not to be missed.

Author: Sabine Oelze / hw
Editor: Kate Bowen

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