I love Babel Towers like the once-in-five-years contemporary art exhibition currently on in the German town of Kassel. A Polish aphorist, Stanislaw Jerzy Lec, asked once: \"The words are superfluous? ... Where are we to print, then, what is between the words?\" I think one of possible answers could include visual arts.
I once asked in the Events Forum about this, and now I know for myself and would like to reply to Marisa: It is impossible to visit the whole exhibition in one day. And I am not even talking about such extremes as a 36-hour long documentary they show there or a single artist showing 200 drawings, another one displaying its installation on 31 monitors and yet another one showing 105 photographs + 26 text panels + 2 slide projections all together. So your impressions have to be cursory because there are limits to the human perception. What I enjoyed, though, was wandering from, say, an artist born in Belgium, living in France and talking about Mexico, to someone born in the US, living in Germany and talking about Palestine, to someone born in Uganda to a family of Indian immigrants, now living in London, etc. Kassel is full of migrations like that, although most of those represented there have ended up either in Europe or in the US.
Kassel Documenta XI \"is as weighty and thoughtful as ever: most exhibitions of contemporary art are cheerful and festive but this one deals with globalisation, with all its discrimination and differences. It denounces disaster, war and poverty. Painting has almost been abandoned; video, documentaries and photographs abound.\" (http://www.theartnewspaper.com/news/article.asp?idart=9677)
A few artists talk about India, Roomy (one of \"Platforms\" which lead to the final Kassel Platform 5 was held in New Delhi, by the way): photojournalist Ravi Agarwal speaks of South Gujarat, Amar Kanwar\'s film \"Of Poetry and Prophecies\" is is an elegy for exploitation, oppression and bondage in India. People filmed in different parts of the country sing or recite verses describing unfulfilled wishes, poverty, the fight for freedom, identity and a homeland. “These problems must be dealt with openly,” Kanwar says (www.germany-info.org/relaunch/culture/new/cul_documenta2.htm). Johan van der Keuken, on the other hand, whose most successful film had had the significant title \"Amsterdam Global Village,\" portrays India\'s Kerala region while Raqs Media Collective\'s \"Co-ordinates Delhi\" is available on the Internet and invites an active participation on the part of the viewer.
From the notes on various artists in the \"Short Guide\": \"Some of the most radical questioning of the category \'art\' over the past three decades has taken place on geographical, political, and socioeconomic margins.... The territory of art is a fundamentally ethical space where the social memory of violence and the most perverse forms of alienation are played out.... Objects are not static things. They represent social and institutional processes and are subject to permanent changes also in terms of their definition.... That new ground can initiate dialogue and social change....\"
Indeed, if you come from South Africa, Moldova, Cuba, Uruguay, Congo, Senegal, Croatia, Cameroon, Vietnam or Nigeria, it is hard not to subscribe to the above comments. No wonder that out of 115+ Kassel artists maybe a couple call themselves \"painters\" and very few seem not to be heavily involved in social or political discourse. (Mind you, even representing various hairstyles in Kassel is called \"social construction of identity\" or \"politics of identity.\") What one risks to best remember of Kassel are Golub\'s representations of bodily aggression and annihilation (a contemporary Goya, said my wife) or the powerful documentary about massacres in Rwanda.
If Aristotle were to define the human being today, I think, it looks like it would not be enough to say that the \"polis\" being the highest good, man is by nature a \"political\" animal. If you go to Kassel, you will feel that to experience the global village\'s politics is utterly overwhelming.
Dislocation, dysfunction, disillusionment...
To go back to words, some visual artists still need them in their representations: a German artist\'s installation investigates German vocabulary, a central theme of a Frenchman\'s work is translation, Igloolik Isuma Productions from Canada aims to preserve the oral narratives of the Inuit past of 4,000 years without a written language, another German artist uses readable narratives to make his political statements understandable, so does the American in his huge \"Fish Story,\" while an artist from the Ivory Coast works on his idea of the world as a large text connecting everything, so his countless small, simple drawings are surrounded by explanatory lines of text. Here, if you are a linguist, you feel a little bit more comfortable amongst the multitude of idioms. But otherwise, you should leave Kassle torn inside out.
P.S. The literary world also has its scandals. Today\'s \"Die Welt\" publishes new details of the Marcel Reich-Ranicki\'s controversy. Ranicki, one of the most influential literary critics and a German TV personality, after WWII used to be a member of Poland\'s communist party and used to work for Poland\'s Ministry of Public Security.
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