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Documenta 14: You have 100 days to discover Athens

Every five years, the art world turns upside down. Then it is time for the fourteenth Documenta. At that time, the German city of Kassel turns into a veritable Mecca for art connoisseurs and art lovers, snobs and connoisseurs. And, of course, tourists looking for that other Efteling. This year, the Documenta has a sizeable Dutch contribution. But there is more: for the first time since 1955, the Documenta does not start in Kassel, but in Athens.

I went there on the opening weekend to see what is already indispensable. I also went to find out why you shouldn't miss this uniquely Greek edition. Or, to stay in the style of the art event: to see what there is to learn from Athens, other than Dijsselbloem's 'drink and women'.

'Dutch' leadership

The appointment of Pole Adam Szymczyk (b. 1970), in 2013, as artistic director for Documenta 14 ushered in a new adventure for the current edition. For the first time, an Eastern European was appointed to this post. With also a small success for the Netherlands, as Szymczyk was educated in Amsterdam. He participated in the Curatorial Program of the Amsterdam presentation venue De Appel. Szymczyk emerged as a sorcerer's apprentice and was director of the 'Kunsthalle Basel' until his appointment as Artistic Director of Documenta 14

Artistic director for documenta 14, Adam Szymczyk

Dreaming away in croaking

Benjamin "Ben" Patterson's 24-channel sound installation, "When Elephants fight, It Is the Frogs that Suffer (2016) was built around an artificial stream in the gardens of the Byzantine Christian Museum. Ben Patterson was one of the 'founding fathers' of Fluxus and sadly passed away recently, in the summer of 2016. His latest work was made for Documenta 14 is a breath of fresh air in light-hearted criticism.

The main building of the Byzantine Christian Museum is the former Villa Ilissia, winter palace of Sophie de Marbois-Lebrun, Duchess of Plaisance (1785- 1854). Born in Philadalphia, USA, Sophie was a 'Hellenophile' and decided to live in Athens in 1837. The gardens adjacent to the house ran down to the banks of the river Ilisos. The marshy area was called 'Frog Island' in the fifth century BC.

"When Elephants Fight, It Is the Frogs that Suffer (2016), Benjamin "Ben" Patterson, 24-channel sound system

The river Ilisos can only still be seen on old etchings. The installation placed on this spot, with newly planted vegetation and an artificial stream channelled in concrete, acts as a 'time machine'. By alternately letting you hear croaking frogs and parts of political speeches and whispered tales blowing in the wind, your imagination is engaged. The vegetation has yet to take some shape, but even so, it is entirely Fluxus and carries your mind along with the course of the water.

Coloured etching with original view of the river Ilisos

Find the Eva Braun in yourself

In the Benaki Museum's annex on Pireos Street, Roee Rosen shows "Live and Die as Eva Braun", 1995-97. In a tight arrangement, a plot is shown for an immersive (not performed) Virtual Reality experience. You see 10 scenes, printed on 10 black banners and accompanied by black-framed, black-and-white illustrations on paper. Together, it forms a guided fantasy in which you may identify with the simple and wistful character of Eva Braun. How do you finish your life in such a situation?

"Live and Die as Eva Braun" 1995-97, Roee Rosen hall review.

Psychotechnical parameters of an illegal house

Andreas Angelidakis is showing his work on the first floor at Polytechneiou 8. It is a multimedia installation in which he explores "psychotechnical parameters" of architecture and developments in and of the local building style. Numerous videos play in twilight. Together with found objects, it forms an untidy but appealing image. An atmosphere showing a cheerful vision of life in the 1970s after the fall of the Colonels' regime. In another room, we see the analysis of the model of 'the illegal dwelling house', which defined the appearance of the suburbs with its distinctive architecture.

"Athinaiki Techniki" 2017, Andreas Angelidakis

Georgia Sagri bursts into two dimensions

Georgia Sagri best known for her performances, shows her work in a location near the Politechnion, Tositsa 5. She displays work developed in an interplay between performances and sculptural work. The available space is filled to bursting point with two-dimensional colourful silhouettes of metal.

Street view Tositsa 5
"Dynamis", 28 sculptures and ten breathing scores for Athens and Kassel 2017, Georgia Sagri

Embroidered peeping

At the Museum of Islamic Art, we see work by Mounira Al Solh: Sperveri, 2017. Mounira Al Solh recorded testimonies of Arab migrants. In a tent-shaped shelter, she also embroidered images from their lives. The embroideries go back to traditional motifs. Motifs used by different ethnic groups in Lebanon and Syria as well as in Greece. On the covered table in the little tent lie the canvas sheets with the texts embroidered in script. A situation where a certain voyeurism creeps up on you, reading the stories.

Mounira Al Solh, Sperveri 2017

Sneaky tiles

In a two-channel video set-up, Dauciková shows you a seemingly trivial, glancing glance along the tile-covered facades of residential buildings in Kiev, Cologne and Bratislava. As the voice-over explains, the facades were tiled to make them more presentable and upscale: 'making a face'. It shows a historical perspective on facade designs in post-Stalinist, Western and post-Soviet contexts. It is also about the unnoticed artist employed as a tiler. In the evenings, he reads Schopenhauer. Secretly, he works those insights into the tile panels during the day.

"Along the Axis of Affinity" (video still) 2015, 2-channel video, Anna Dauciková

Music from ordinary furniture

Nevin Aladağ was originally trained as a three-dimensional visual artist. She brings sound, music and form together in her work. In the 'sous sole' of the Odeion, she has set up a music room with furniture that are 'simultaneously' musical instruments. She calls these Resonating Bodies, the form that carries us, the sound that shapes us.

With improvised jam sessions, the musical furniture is brought to life several times a day. This brings the location to life in a different way. The musical addition to seemingly average household furniture is a surprising experience. Something you only become aware of at a second glance.

Music Room musical sideboard 2017, Nevin Aladağ

Against change

Edi Hill (born 1944) paints spherical paintings. He is a leader in the Balkan art scene. His work testifies to the profound changes he experiences in the society of post-communist Europe. Refusing to emigrate to an economically prosperous country, he has continued to live in Tirana. There, he works and reflects on Albanian history and political-geographical developments between east and west. His work reflects on traditional Albanian painting within Mediterranean art history.

"End of the day" 2015, Edi Hila -EMST-
"End of the day" 2015, Edi Hila -EMST-
"Comers" 2016, Edi Hila
"Comers" 2016, Edi Hila -Odeion-

Glossary against dictatorship

García Andújar's work features a variety of instrumental structures. He examines the ideology of political utopias. He sees this as a methodical exercise, as a way to access the hardware of the system. To then question it.

For his project in Documenta 14, he ploughed through information about the Greek military dictatorship (1967-1974). He and created an image-text glossary of the fascist grammar LTI - Lingua Tertii Imperii (2016). His aim - as in previous projects - was to expose the dominant operating system and reveal its vulnerability. He wants to make it hack to mobilise critical resistance, to decode the normalising effects of language and mobilise democratic forces.

"The Disasters of War, Metics Akademia" 2017, Daniel Garcia Andújar
"The Disasters of War, Metics Akademia" 2017, Daniel Garcia Andújar

Disturbing images from Berlin and Calais

Glimpse (2016-17), by Artur Żmijewski, is a black-and-white 16mm film without sound. It was filmed in Berlin's Tempelhof airport and the Jungle in Calais and Paris, France. It is a powerful, gritty, disturbing film, including some uncomfortable, risky moments. For instance, one scene shows the face of a black refugee being painted white. In another clip, the artist hands a broom to another refugee. With this, he seems to encourage him to sweep his temporary home, the Parisian street, clean.

The film attempts to expose the brutality of refugees' experiences, switching between dire situations. On the one hand, an understanding encouragement to help. On the other, it manipulates the newcomers with potentially racist motives for action.

"View of the remains of the migrant camp Calais" 2016 photo Artur-Żmijewski
"View of the remains of the migrant camp Calais" 2016 photo Artur-Żmijewski

Practical information

The work of 163 artists will be presented in Athens at 46 venues. The first part of documenta 14 takes place from 8 April to 16 July 2017 in Athens. From 10 June to 17 September 2017, the second part will be in Kassel.

0overview of the distribution of sites in Athens
0overview of the distribution of sites in Athens

A map with all locations can be found here
Find more information on documenta 14 here

A little history

The very first edition of Documenta was organised by Arnold Bode and took place in Kassel in 1955. Ten years after the Second World War - as far to the iron curtain as was possible - an artistic salute was given to the new era. With a focus on the reconstruction of Kassel. The statement of "freedom and celebration of the autonomy of art" transformed Kassel, bombed flat a decade earlier, into a metropolitan total museum for 100 days. A museum that documented the state of contemporary art. Following that, a new edition emerged every five years. To this day, even though the calendar is now full of art events, there is no art event that matches the importance of the Documenta.

Documenta has made a name for itself for the great freedom given to the curator of this 'super show' of contemporary art. As well as for the respect with which selected artists are treated. It can safely be said of some editions that they have totally changed the way contemporary art is viewed.

Jan-Willem van Rijnberk

Visual Artist with an interest in leisure, heritage, and sustainabilityView Author posts

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