Last week I reluctantly returned from Germany and France.
Having attended documenta 13, I was interested in the interview in the recent Canadian Art Magazine (Issue: Summer 2012) between Daniel Baird and documenta 13 Curator, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev. The last thing that Christov-Bakargiev says in the conversation is: “documenta (13)’s higher aim is perhaps, to start that process of ‘unlearning,’ and to begin reimagining our relationship to the world.” (pg. 92) I am interested in and try to practice both ‘unlearning’ and ‘reimagining’. documenta 13’s role in starting this process I am not so sure of. I would agree more with its role in the continuation and promotion of these endeavors.
Opportunity for new meaning and thus unlearning of old meaning, is created when we are presented with something that is obscure. To not know or lack detailed knowledge of a thing leaves room for new (or dis-similar) knowledge and interpretation. The new thing arrives purposely independent of its former worldly associations and therefore has autonomy. The independence of the new thing is transferred to its receiver allowing him the same authority to analyze and interpret. Quite often this is the strategy of contemporary art; to present something to the viewer in a different context, material, etc…that allows for and initiates different and unregulated thinking. Personally, when I go into the studio I try to forget everything I think I know or I fall prey to assumptions and preconceived ideas of what is going to happen. If I don’t, then nothing begins because predicting outcomes prevents unguarded exploration. I read something, maybe written by Sartre: “To know something is to kill it.”
Having just spent sixteen days on my own, I’ve come to see that this is also how people make changes to their lives. Take yourself out of your original environment for even a short period of time, suddenly you are not made up of all the meanings invested in you by your social or familial affiliations, you no longer embody your occupation and you have relinquished responsibility. You are left with someone that you may not recognize and are free to (re) invent.
A great example of artistic relearning is currently at The Centre Pompidou in Paris. Albanian artist Anri Sala, in collaboration with Ari Benjamin Meyers, re-presents four previously made films resulting in a complex montage of imagery and sound. They are projected at varying intervals onto four massive walls installed in the Gallerie Sud which forces the audience to follow (feels more like chasing) the image from wall to wall. The films were set in four different locations: Sarajevo, (1395 Days without Red, 2011), Berlin, (Answer Me, 2008), (Le Clash, 2010) and finally, the famous Aztec site of Tlatelolco in Mexico City (Tlatelolco Clash, 2011). Within the films a symphony by Tchaikovsky and an organ-grinder’s version of the Clash’s ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go’ took turns infiltrating the space with rhythms from actual snare drums placed in the gallery.
The work manipulates the audience into adapting to its spatial and physical needs. They have to continually adjust their role as spectator in order to fully spectate and through a complex series of collaged (literally) moving images, relearn the content of the films in relationship to music, beat and fragmented presentation. In addition, the visual and bodily presence of the audience as they move throughout the space becomes a tangible component in experiencing the work forcing the viewer to evaluate themselves and others as a part of the installation.
So, if unlearning is temporarily forgetting in order to make something new or without previous affiliation it becomes a challenging venture on a public level as Christov-Bakargiev suggests of documenta 13. How do we collectively unlearn in order to overcome conventional thinking and create new ways of living and interacting? I guess this is the really hard part —‘reimagining our relationship with the world.’ In the studio, I experiment. It’s the only way to learn anything new once I’ve ‘unlearned’. When something happens I learn from it and then I use that information to reinvent. What could we do as a public experimentation? Or does private experimentation eventually sum up to grander social change?
documenta’s huge profile provides the grounds for artists to explore and (re)invent their world and allows the audience to try out new modes of thinking with a non-committal safety net. Some of the examples in documenta 13 are Gareth Moore’s semi-private, semi-romantic, technology-less, make- it- yourself look at living. (I have no images as cameras were checked at the entrance to his site-specific installation, in exchange for a stone) Or Sam Durant's wood structure also in the Karlsaue (park) which has no function other than to explore it physically. It has no visible coherent design and does not seem to reflect any art historical structures or even architectural norms. It is just a giant wood thing in which we can use in any way. Oh, and also the uber platform e-flux with their Time Bank office which is also in the park. It is a small hut, provided by documenta, covered in neon posters from people all over the world offering services/skills they could trade instead of using money. Examples include; sewing, organizing, cooking, dog walking, joke telling, babysitting, direction giving and companionship.
Within the Fridericianum building in Kassel is a general introduction to documenta that states its wide-ranging purpose, ‘theme’, direction. It briefly lists ‘what art doesn’t do’ as something that it attempts to address. Unlearning and not doing something are different actions but related. To actively not do something means you are opting for or at the very least leaving room for, an alternative. I see this as a gentle way of unlearning. By not doing something you leave yourself open to do something else. This is precisely what should be done when things (in general) are not working…it doesn’t have to be perfect; it doesn’t have to be immediately effective; it just has to be something else. It’s the starting that leads to something, to unlearning and then reimagining.