By Katja Schroeder
After 100 days dOCUMENTA (13) just closed its doors in Kassel, Germany. Held every five years, the dOCUMENTA is one of the world’s largest contemporary art exhibitions. This year’s festival drew a record number of 860,000 visitors. Art works were showcased at a variety of venues across the entire city.
Having grown up in Germany, a 1 ½ hour car ride away from Kassel, I started going to the exhibition in high school. This summer I was back to see the dOCUMENTA (13) which showed the work of 200 artists from all over the world. 100 of the works were created specifically created for the 13th dOCUMENTA.
On display were the usual suspects – paintings, sculptures, video installations, computer art, photos and graphics – but also “organic” creations. Exploring sustainability as one of this year’s themes, a number of artists discussed the relationship between nature, science and culture in their works. Some of these installations were playful.
An army of cypress trees was marching towards The Orangerie, a beautiful barock castle and garden in the center of Kassel. This constantly changing installation entitled “This work is dedicated to an emperor” was created by Maria Loboda. She secretly altered the military formation of the trees at night throughout the exhibition. As a result, the trees moved closer and closer to their target: The Orangerie.
On the lawn in front of The Orangerie the Chinese artist Song Dong had built a hill planted with flowers and vegetables. It was topped with sentences in Chinese that express the act of Doing Nothing in different ways.
There was also a floating vegetable garden featuring different types of collard greens. The veggies were planted on three adjunct boats that allowed crossing the park’s canal by hopping from one boat to the other.
It was not the only garden at the dOCUMENTA (13). There was also a blooming herb garden in front of The Ottoneum. Usually the Museum of Natural History, The Ottoneum displayed the works of eight artists during the dOCUMENTA (13) that protested against the continued exploitation of resources, such as land and water, and the destructions of the earth’s biodiversity.
“Soil-erg“, a work by the U.S. artist Claire Pentecost, suggested the introduction of a new currency, fertile soil. She recreated a mini-version of Fort Knox. Her gold barrens were made out of pressed soil. The exhibition wall is decorated with newly designed bills.
The installation of the Brazilian artist Maria Thereza displayed the struggle of Mexican Indios to keep the water clean in their reservoirs. It also contained an aquarium with an axolotl (pronounced ACK-suh-LAH-tuhl) a critically endangered salamander species that lives in the Xochimilco lake near Mexico City. Its population is in decline as Mexico City’s water demands have led to the draining and contamination of their habitat.
As our society is facing air pollution, especially in mega cities, Amy Balkin’s work public smog attempts to submit Earth’s atmosphere for inscription on UNESCO’s World Heritage. She exhibited petition letters sent to the UNESCO countries and the obtained responses. Visitors were invited to sign ready-made postcards petitioning for the site. By August 2012 Balkin had collected 50,000 petitions from dOCUMENTA visitors which she sent to Germany’s Federal Environment Minister.
Art is a powerful medium to create and communicate meaningful messages. It can stimulate a discussion about water, climate and energy use that goes beyond the facts and figures. Art works often surprise and intrigue the visitor; or sometimes shock and appall them. They, thereby, create a more personal and emotional connection. Large exhibitions like the dOCUMENTA make an important contribution to connect and engage a large audience on societal and environmental issues that shape our future. Now, it is up to private companies to learn from the art of making art to communicate sustainability.