Setting: Fredericianum, Documenta 11, Kassel, Germany
The voice of a woman reading from within a freestanding glass booth echos through the gallery: Nine hundred eighty eight thousand four hundred and twelve. B.C.
You watch, slightly amused. A set of black binders in a vitrine bear the title, One Million Years (Past and Future). One binder is open, showing columns of numbers, years. A couple enters the gallery and stops right in front of the booth. If it were the window to someone's home, they'd be standing invasively close. They stare into
The voice of a man reading from within the booth: Nine hundred eighty eight thousand four hundred and eleven. B.C.
the booth. The woman acknowledges them, but doesn't speak. They keep staring for a moment, then move on. The gallery is basically square, typically classical, on the central axis of the building, with an extremely high, domed ceiling. The doorways are placed enfilade, creating a path for traffic right in front of the booth. That booth is kind of nice, though. Seamless, slightly grey glass. At least ten feet high, including the suspended ceiling and diffused lighting. Grey carpet, a black table with two places. One chrome mike stand, one binder,
Woman: Nine hundred eighty eight thousand four hundred and ten. B.C.
and one glass of water for each place. A pile of CD jewel cases on the floor? Ah, they're recording this, too. (Wouldn't you? I mean, how much would it be to get interns to record this for you?) How long will it be before the guy reads his next year? If they cough, does that get edited out of the CD, or do they leave it in? More people walk in, pause, smirk at each
Man: Nine hundred eighty eight thousand four hundred and nine. B.C.
other, look at the label, and move on. OK, now time the interval. Well, maybe later. I mean, they'll be there a while, right? You move on to the next gallery. Hmm. Not very interesting. The next one is dark, though. A row of thirty or so film projectors lined up on a shelf that spans the entire gallery, but they're not on. Ein Tagebuch (A Diary) by Deiter Roth. It starts at 11:00, in just about
Woman's voice, still audible: Nine hundred eighty eight thousand four hundred and eight. B.C.
five minutes. Push ahead and come back. You know, there are all those little photos culled from Der Spiegel. That should take about five minutes.You head back through the central gallery, past the booth again. Do those people in there think you're lost? or at least aimless? En route, you try to look purposeful, make eye contact, acknowledge their humanity, their contribution to art and culture. You get it, after all. You know On Kawara's paintings, too, so,
Man: Nine hundred eighty eight thousand four hundred and four. B.C.
The photos are small, pinned under glass, and extend all the way around the gallery. There's a crowd. a riot, a group of soldiers. Another crowd. Demonstraters in handcuffs. Billy clubs. Another crowd, another riot, another, another. Isa Genzken has found an unsettling aesthetic similarity between these photos spanning decades of unrest and violence on every continent. Now the game is to identify the country and the
Man: Nine hundred eighty eight thousand three hundred and seventy nine. B.C.
era from the clothing the subjects wear and the cars and advertisements in the backgrounds. You check your watch. Almost five minutes. You hustle back through the galleries just as two attendants are signalling each other. They start the projectors from the outside moving in. Little home movie-like images slowly populate a grid on the wall, which the attendants focus and fine tune. Roth's explanation is in the catalog: "I wanted to show my daily life in the films here...so I didn't have to do anything courageous...For instance, it would be courageous to make a point
Woman: Nine hundred eighty eight thousand three hundred and seventy four. B.C.
of showing badly made films individually; but because I'm afraid of this kind of exposure, I will show 30 films of this kind at once--a flickering, which dazles and distracts from the poverty of each individual film." Hmm. Sound like weblogging to me. Looks like it, too. You head back to watch the rest of that documentary on the India-Pakistan border which revitalizes the philosophy of non-violence, considered "quaint" (when it's considered at all), passing once again through the
Man: Nine hundred eighty eight thousand three hundred and sixty one. B.C.
gallery with the booth. But this time something hits you and you stop. The cycles of life, violence, death, the attempts of people to make sense of it, to be remembered, to gain dignity and avoid embarassment, the lessons unlearned over centuries of conflict, the conceptual memento mori offering no illusions of progress or respite, the same inexorable flow of time giving unexpected comfort that things will pass. You choke back tears as you take up place against the door jamb, yielding to the years that pass over you. The woman looks up briefly, acknowledging my humanity, my contribution to art and culture, and then turns her eyes back to her page.
Woman: Nine hundred eighty eight thousand three hundred and sixty. B.C.