David Cross – 18 September, 2012
Writing his own entry in the catalogue Huyghe is both direct and vague about the meaning of the work. He outlines that there are “antagonisms, associations, hospitality and hostility, corruption, separation and degeneration or collapse with no encounters. There is repetition, chemical reaction, reproduction, formation and vitality but the existence of a system is uncertain”. Only after properly reading the catalogue is it apparent just how mischievous this comment is.
International group show
Curated by Caroline Christov-Bakargiev
9 June - 16 September 2012
In an assortment of ways Pierre Huyghe’s Untilled 2012 is the stand out work in dOCUMENTA (13). Not only is the work, positioned in the composting section of Karlsau Park, beautifully layered and complex, it is one of very few works in the exhibition to negotiate the specificity of its location. As you leave the manicured park and enter the unkempt working area, the art appears to consist of a concrete classical statue with a beehive covering the head of a reclining female figure. The statue is positioned in a cleared area with a circular mound of soil surrounding it acting as a barrier to keep us at a distance from the bees. There is also a strange but not unpleasant smell that seems to emanate from the hive, which presumably is honeycomb but somehow does not smell like it.
While observing the mound, another person motioned for me to turn around and there standing next to me was a painfully skinny pure white dog with one leg painted pink. The dog was unleashed and with no guardian present was free to move through the site. Another dog appeared from behind the mound, this one seemingly less surreal except that its foot, rather than the whole leg, was also painted a shocking pink. The second dog disappeared through the trees and deciding to follow, I discovered a strange garden of plants including marijuana and other peculiar saplings.
Each of the components in this indeterminate site operated as hallucinogenic ciphers of a slightly unhinged world and the more you explored, the stranger it seemed to get. Most people stuck to the well-worn path revealing the statue and possibly a dog, but for the adventurous the site was infinitely more complex and layered. Beyond the artists obviously choreographed components the line between function and fantasy blurred with each step off the path. With more than a nod to Lewis Carroll, the site could best be described as an evocation of an LSD paradise without the side effects. As with the wonderland ethos, the audience was rewarded for sticking their nose into places that seemed off limits even if you expected to get told off at any minute by a stern German invigilator.
Huyghe’s modification of the site from menial organic work yard to something certainly marvelous in the surrealist lexicon, was compelling both for the living components you encountered but for the sheer elusiveness of the work itself. There was a nagging sense throughout that it was nigh impossible to figure out the parameters of the work, its spatial and ideational limits, but the recoverable components offered pieces of a puzzle you strongly wanted to connect together. Drugs, strangely pimped up animals, classical sculpture modified as a functional honey production facility, and even a Joseph Beuys tree from Documenta 8 ripped out of the ground and left to die, this was some trippy and elastic matrix.
Writing his own entry in the catalogue Huyghe is both direct and vague about the meaning of the work. While outlining that there is no script as such he outlines that in the work there are “antagonisms, associations, hospitality and hostility, corruption, separation and degeneration or collapse with no encounters. There is repetition, chemical reaction, reproduction, formation and vitality but the existence of a system is uncertain”.(1.) Only after properly reading the catalogue is it apparent just how mischievous this comment is, for there is clearly a system of sorts with psychotropic plants - including Afghan poppies being pollinated by the bee colony - being just one strand in a web of interrelated parts.
Nothing else quite comes close to the visceral and cognitive pleasures in Huyghe’s work. With the noted exception of Cardiff and Miller and possibly Massimo Bartolini’s whimsical wave pond, the Karlsaue is something of a disappointment. There are too many discrete pavilions that house mediocre works that are not in any way well served by being placed in what amount to shacks throughout a very large park. These temporary structures seem to do little more than create a tenuous frame from which to examine art that has no connection at all with the site. After a while the viewing conditions of entering hut after hut becomes bland in the extreme as a succession of site neutral works flail in the inhospitable climate. Somewhere between a cheap garden pavilion and a cubby house art gallery these provisional spaces sit in a veritable art ghetto between the conducive space of the gallery and Huyghe’s profoundly considered response to place specificity.
While deserving of a more considered response than a casual mention dOCUMENTA (13) featured a number of excellent video works that were beautifully presented by Gerard Byrne, Jerome Bel and Willie Doherty. As is the case when you are pushed for time video often gets the short shrift, especially when so many of the films were well over thirty minutes in duration. For this reason, works that I wanted to see by William Kentridge and Javier Tellez were left, hopefully for another day.
A gnawing aspect of the 2012 edition is that in such an extensive showcase of international art it is more than disappointing to see the complete absence of New Zealand practitioners. This is not simply an issue of being present on the world stage, though this is obviously important, but for the fact that a number of New Zealand artists are making work that so clearly resonates with the spectrum of curatorial concerns. As Justin Paton mentioned in conversation waiting in one of the many lines, why is the important Australian modernist painter Margaret Preston positioned within an international context instead of, or in addition to an artist like Rita Angus? Likewise Michael Stevenson’s extensive engagement with Iranian and more recently Latin American history would have been an ideal juxtaposition with a work like Torres’ One Hotel. When there are so many works by Australian artists in this Documenta and knowing the curator spent time in New Zealand researching her Sydney Biennale it feels like another one of those missed opportunities.
The other disappointment was that dOCUMENTA (13), while being a better showing overall, let me down in the merchandise store. Hoping to replace my only vestige of the train wreck that was Documenta 12 with an updated teacup, I was most put out to find that my options consisted of an umbrella, raincoat, artist jigsaw or a jungle coloured t-shirt. My portent cup from 2007, chipped and still redolent with ghosts gets a stay of execution for at least another five years.
(1.) Huyghe, P, ibid, p262