August 21, 2007

Documenting documenta 12

For the next few posts I will be covering the 12th installation of documenta, the art fair that is held every five years (cinquentennial?) in Kassel, Germany. This is the first time I visited documenta. As far as art fairs go, documenta has a different purpose than, say, the Venice biennale. Venice is mostly about blue-chip, established artists presenting work in pavillions set up for participating countries. The Basel fairs are purely commercial. documenta is more academic, political, and features more artists (may be more so this year) from the non-Western world. The Americans staying in our hotel were complaining that American artists were scarcely represented. Go figure!

The image that you see above was the image that accompanied the press stories all over the world. So I will start my documenta coverage with this work from German artist Peter Friedl. Called The Zoo Story, the installation is of a stuffed giraffe, named Brownie, that died in the only zoo in the West Bank. When the Israeli army started shooting in the city, Brownie started running in a panic, bumped his head to an iron bar and died. His heart could not pump enough blood upwards his long neck to keep him alive.

After his death Brownie was stuffed by a veterinarian, along with other animals that died in the same zoo and placed in a museum adjacent to it. Here in documenta Halle, Brownie stands among stuffed toy animals, by Cosima von Bonin, a Mombasa-born, Cologne-based artist.

Brownie looks almost like a stuffed plush toy himself, but his sad story offers a stark contrast to its surroundings, and a very different perspective to the conflict in the West Bank. Contrary to the usual media images from that occupation zone, we are faced with a de-politicized view of the conflict, realizing it's universal impact, not only on humans, but on the greater eco-system.

Within the next few posts I will cover the art that left a lasting impression at documenta. I will try to explain the works within the context of the main theme and the leitmotifs that the curators addressed.

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