Wednesday, April 25, 2007

"Controversy is normal with us"

Documenta 12 artistic director Roger M. Buergel offers members of the press a guided tour of exhibition venues earlier today in Kassel.

Buergel made clear he has won the argument with architect Jean Philippe Vassal that I've been reporting on in recent days and the Plastic Palace will be fully air conditioned. Roger pointedly told the press, "The architecture has to subordinate itself to the art." As to such high-brow concerns as his leitmotif, Is modernity our antiquity? we'll get back to that after the gossip dies downs.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Documenta 12: better pack your Hawaiian Tropic

Last week I gave you a first look at the new Plastic Pavilion rising before Kassel’s Orangerie for Documenta 12 this summer. This week I can confirm rumours circulating around the city that artistic director Roger Buergel isn’t altogether happy with the pavilion's architects, Jean-Philippe Vassal and Anne Lacaton.

Die Süddeutsche Zeitung is running an interview with the French team today in which they take the position that the structures should live and breathe Kassel's natural climate. Roger's not so sure.

"The problem is not the form of the pavilion," explains Vassal. "It's the system. One should feel the atmosphere of fresh air in the [Karlsaue] park, close to the river. In the summer, the Karlsaue should become a resting place that is as natural as possible and understood as part of the exterior. The climate should be felt inside, too, in a way that's different from the traditional museum. . . A greenhouse should not be sealed off."

Buergel, on the other hand is panicking that hanging art works -- many on loan from institutional collections -- in a hot and sweaty greenhouse all summer may not make him the most popular director among conservation staff. Word has it there are already threats of works being pulled from the show.

The architects argue the system meets Buergel's concept of an India-inspired "palm grove" where guests can congregate and discuss art and society, while Buergel is insisting his metaphor is being taken a little too far.

"The most important factor for the museum climate is the sweat of each individual visitor," Vassal says. "There, a purely artificial atmosphere becomes a problem. If Buergel has an image in mind of people sitting under trees in India, then he should think about what kind of architecture comes closest to this image."

Is modernity our antiquity, Roger asks? It will be soon enough if he starts shipping home Ruschas and Richters left faded, blistered and cracking from a summer in the sun.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Was tun? A way forward.

Over the past two months I've been deliberating Documenta 12's leitmotif, Is modernity our antiquity? I've argued that both modernity and antiquity are little more than linear, if substantial, events in the West's ongoing Terror of History. This terror has now engulfed all the world's reaches, but there are those still defiant in their determination not to sink into the cultural morass that is the West's making. I offered the example of Aboriginal Australia, one culture whose preoccupation with place has allowed them to maintain a certain remove from this Terror of History and from the all-consuming linearity of time.

A performance staged last month at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, offers perhaps the most compelling way forward, one involving neither modernity, nor antiquity, but an acceptance of the Aboriginal world-view transcendent of time, fixated rather on the universality of space. Here several of Australia's leading jazz musicians perform traditional manikay (song) with songmen from the Ngukurr community, along the Roper River in south-east Arnhem Land. In singing the songs of their ancestors, songs whose origins anthropologists date back some 40,000 years, these songmen and their jazz cohorts join together to renew the very birth of our human existence, a humbling and thought-provoking thing to experience, even if only on YouTube.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Documenta 12 wonders, is modernity our antiquity? Yes, and we have Andy and GoogleNation to thank.

Regular readers will notice several changes in our blog over the past week, with the inclusion in our right-hand column of a live news diary covering breaking events in the art world, and rotating videos relating to both Leipzig and the art scene at large. These are brought to you courtesy of Google and YouTube. The news pre-set is for stories on documenta 12, but you can click on any of the other listed keywords, including biennale, louvre and museumzeitraum to find out what's happening in these worlds.

In the lead-up to Documenta this summer, we've been discussing Roger and Ruth's leitmotifs, is modernity our antiquity?, what is bare life? and was tun?

One of my contentions has been that the breakdown of modernity has come about through the collapse of its power structures, mostly recently and most significantly through the rise of the internet. Constantly evolving technologies such as these services all contribute to an increase in the reach and voice of the individual at the expense the traditional gatekeepers of the canon, creating a certain paradox: in a mass global society, the power and importance of the individual grows, rather than diminishes. For individuals in what were formerly the planets outer reaches, the web has democratised access to the structures and machinations of power to an extent previously unimagined. Little more than 20 years after the art world 'discovered' there was an 'outside' and 'periphery', they've suddenly found it's gone. With the playing field flattened in our postcolonial/internet age, there is only the centre to be fought over and for the artist, the ensuing chaos to decipher. Where once the internet merely informed the political process, it now has the immense capability of wholly transforming it.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Documenta 12 rises before the Orangerie

With all our talk of Documenta 12's leitmotifs in recent weeks - Is modernity our antiquity? What is bare life? Was tun? - it's easy to forget there's real work being done to ready Kassel for the grand opening, just two months away. Here's a first look at the temporary galleries, or Plastic Palace as it's being called, on the beautiful grounds of the Orangerie.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Documenta 12 asks, “Is modernity our antiquity?” MZL wonders, maybe it’s rocket science after all.

Three years after the publication of Albert Einstein’s seminal Special Theory of Relativity (1905), his mentor and one-time teacher, Hermann Minkowski, gave a lecture in Cologne elaborating on his former student’s findings, beginning with the proclamation that,

Henceforth space by itself, and time by itself, are doomed to fade away into mere shadows, and only a kind of union of the two will preserve an independent reality.

What Minkowski couldn’t predict was how painfully long it would take for our Newtonian belief in fixed time to actually fade into mere shadows. As the twentieth century unfolded, fixed time only became more entrenched, largely because it proved so useful a tool in promoting our singular march toward Progress.

As I’ve discussed in previous posts, there are cultures for whom space and time never suffered the humiliation of separation, Aboriginal Australia chief among them. Here the Dreaming maintains a union of the two, where there is only place to consider.

Einstein would seem to concur, once stating, “The distinction between past, present and future is only an illusion, even if a stubborn one.” To remove Einstein’s theory from the theoretical and prove it, of course, meant doing things like sending a twenty-year-old identical twin off in a rocket at very nearly the speed of light for two years (in his time), and have him return to find his brother a very old man living comfortably in Tucson, Arizona with the rest of the feeble old scientists who had shot him off into the ether seventy years earlier (in their time) in the first place.

The truth that rested in his theory of relativity also provided the unwanted proof of what an oily calm modern man had been sailing headlong into, somewhere en route ordaining the rest of the world should run adrift with him.

Despite the lingering influence of those such as Heidegger — with his modified Newtonian view of the present — it should have been apparent that in a world of space-time, the past, the present and the future all do exist quite simultaneously.

What modern man failed to realise Einstein was saying, was that time and space aren’t fixed or readily determinable; they are, in fact, infinitely variable. And while they do exist in a relative sense, there is nothing absolute in their nature. They are instead interwoven, making one quite inseparable from the other. So time exists for me in the space I occupy, and time exists for you in the space you occupy, but there are no grounds for the worn-out belief that time exists commonly and universally for the both of us.

That which modern man has known and thought of as time for so long is certainly no less real than the printing press or the motor car, but nor is it any less a product of his own invention.

Returning to Roger and Ruth’s question, “Is modernity our antiquity?” then, in terms of the world-view they perpetuate they could just as well be one in same. The failed linearity of time is inherent and intrinsic to both.

Friday, April 06, 2007

An Easter greetings.

Johann Dieter Wassmann, Catedral Metropolitana, Mexico City, 1897. Albumen silver print, 23 x 18 cm, WF901020.

Is modernity our antiquity? What is bare life? Was tun? Worthy questions for this Easter season. More on these leitmotifs posed by the Documenta 12 team next week.

In the meantime, what a nutty world we live in when British soldiers leave their Iranian captors on BA business class, in new suits, with handsome show-bags in hand? Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in rabbit ears and a bushy tail. A pr coup or not, it was worth the chuckle heard round the world.

A warm Easter greetings to all.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Was Tun? A video reply from Yusuf Islam.

In recent weeks I've been deliberating the Documenta 12 team's first leitmotif "Is modernity our antiquity?" As regular readers will know, I've taken the position that the Terror of History, as the late University of Chicago Professor Mircea Eliade coined it, leaves the question somewhat in tatters. While the team has also raised the more insightful question, "Which modernity and whose antiquity?", this line of questioning still marginalises those cultures wholly and voluntarily outside the Western paradigm.

On this rather beautiful spring morning here in Leipzig, I have decided to address the question today by simply shutting down my Powerbook and going for a walk. I leave you with something you'll likely enjoy much more than my usual pontification: a prayer for peace. Here Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens) performs Heaven / Where True Love Goes at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslo, Norway, 11 December 2006.