Documenta 14 opens at Athens with the works Regina José Galindo and Maestro Joaquín Orellana

Posted on April - 13 - 2017

Documenta 14. Photo courtesy: Universes in Universe

One of the most anticipated events of the year has opened its first set of doors to the audience this past Saturday, April 8th. In the historical capital of Greece, Documenta, the most important event in the art world, is presenting its 14th editions set in a second venue at Athens, where 160 artists from all over the world, present their work to an eager audience. Since 1955 the event has been held in the German city of Kassel, but on this occasion, due to the decisions of the Creative Director, the Polish-born curator, Adam Szymczyk, the fair was parted in two at its time of its conception, when German-Greek political relations were strained by economic debt and unresolved treaties. His intention was to remark the role played by Greece in the refugee displacement crisis, where thousands of people have disembarked in Greek shores in the hope of a new life, away from war and poverty. The titled “Learning from Athens” suggests a double take on the city, both for its historical significance in contrast with its current situation that echoes throughout Europe and the world.

As Szymczyk has been very mysterious and silent about the whole structure of the event, he has stated that his intention is to make this Documenta more of an “experience” more than just an exhibition. He only posted the list of artists before the opening of the Athens event, and the assemblage lacks any big names. Instead, it showcases many emerging or obscure artists that spectators may not be familiar with. Szymczyk and his team’s unlearn-what-you-know approach aims at challenging the canon of great exhibitions and creating new dialogues through unconventional presentations. Athens, as Kassel manages in a larger scale, has been invaded by artworks, performances, sound installations, concerts and meeting points tracing an intricated path through the city. At the moment, the event has received mixed reviews, and as critics say, Documenta 14 feels a bit confusing at first, and it demands time and skillful maneuvering to grasp it, through its chaotic, traffic-filled streets.

Regina José Galindo. Photo courtesy: Documenta 14

It is safe to say that this Documenta is charged with political critique and has not fallen short of engaging with the present situation of immigration and its social and human effects. With the participation of Latin-American artists, clear parallels between the struggles of Latin America, Europe, and the Middle East are drawn.

This installment sets itself apart refreshingly through its particular attention to music. Sounds and instruments are put in the spotlight and used as a media which fits perfectly while presenting the work of Guatemalan Master composer, innovator Joaquín Orellana. Since the sixties, Maestro Orellana has been experimenting and rethinking traditional instruments, such as the Marimba and constructing and new musical instruments of his ingenuity. His sound utensils (útiles sonoros) are regarded both as sculptures and instruments, built in a skillful and yet playful manner, presenting conceptual ponderings but managing to retain a ludic demeanor. In Athens, his creations will fulfill their role in the premier of Sinfonía desde el Tercer Mundo (Symphony from the Third World), performed by the Athens State Orchestra and conducted by Julio Cesar Santos Campos, at the Athens Concert Hall. The concert and the exhibition of his assemblages is a fitting recognition of the work of one of Latin America’s most innovative musicians, whose work, although sometimes unsung, is crucial to the understanding of Latin America’s avant-garde.

Joaquín Orellana. Photo courtesy: Documenta 14

Another Guatemalan artist also invited to Documenta 14 is an important protagonist in the development of performance art in Latin America, whose work has been groundbreaking and thought-provoking since its beginnings. Regina José Galindo’s name is synonymous in Guatemala with dramatic and outspoken performances, where the artist tests the limits of her own body as a social protest of the injustices and acts of violence that taint her country’s history. During September she acted Ojo de Gusano as a prelude to the exhibitions opening and this past Tuesday, April 11th, she presented Presencia at Epidos Street in Athens. There the artist wore the dress of a woman who was murdered in Guatemala with the intention of honoring the lives of many victims and breaking the enforced silence of many women who have suffered the same fate. Set in an area which lures women in with promises of a better future, she intends that the choice of the street, which means “Hope” in Greek, work as an aspiration for a more positive future.

Regina José Galindo, Ojo de Gustano. Photo courtesy: Documenta 14

Although the Documenta 14 presents a challenging reading for its audiences and moves away from the traditional model of the exhibition’s past editions, in both form and display, the works don’t disappoint. In the case of these two Guatemalan artists, they manage to grasp poetically controversial topics and uncover silenced voices that deserve to be heard, with the intention of awakening social conciseness with the sounds of forgotten lives. Documenta’s first installment in Athens proves to be one that will have people talking for a while, either baffled and amazed or just plainly disappointed. But in a world clad with political uncertainties and social inequalities, moving in directions that are not clear and encouraging at times, isn’t art a method of collectively dealing and coping with problems through actions and statements? It may not please everyone, but then again, nothing truly does and Szymczyk may be on to something. A true judgment can’t be passed until the second part has been unraveled, so let’s wait and see what June brings.

By: Gabriela Martínez de la Hoz