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Recap of DOCUMENTA (13) and Indian participation
One of the world’s most prestigious and keenly awaited art events, the just concluded DOCUMENTA (13) was dedicated to holistic artistic research and different forms of imagination, which sought to explore commitment, embodiment, matter, things, and active living largely in connection with, yet not totally subordinated to, theory. ‘These are terrains’, an accompanying note elaborated, ‘where politics are inseparable from a sensual, energetic as well as worldly alliance between current research in various artistic and scientific fields and various other knowledge areas, both ancient and contemporary. The art gathering this year was driven by a holistic and non-logocentric vision skeptical of the persisting belief in economic growth. This vision was shared with, and recognized, the shapes and practices of knowing of all the animate and inanimate makers of the world, including people.

Besides the traditional prime venues of documenta in Kassel, namely the documenta-Halle, the Neue Galerie, and the Fridericianum, - museum spaces plus white cubes – it also took place in many of other spaces, representing an array of physical, psychological, cultural, historical realms and realities. Located in an apparent simultaneity of both places and times, it was articulated through four distinct positions, corresponding to conditions within which artists and thinkers, in particular find themselves acting often in the present. Far from considered exhaustive of all the positions a subject can take, they tend to acquire their very significance in their interrelation. These pre-conditions invariably related to the locations in which the event was sited physically and conceptually - Kassel, Alexandria/Cairo, Banff, and Kabul.

They were seen as phenomenal spatialities, which embodied the four stated conditions, blurring the associations typically made with those specific places and conditions, and which instead shift as well as overlap constantly. A curatorial note explained: “Each of the positions is a state of mind, relating to time in a very specific way: while the retreat suspends time, being on stage creates a lively and vivid time of the here and now, the continuous present; while hope tends to release time through the sense of a promise, of time opening up and being unending, the sense of being under siege compresses time, to the degree that there’s no space beyond the elements of life tightly bound around us. Artists, artworks, and events occupy these four positions simultaneously.”

Curatorial model of Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, the DOCUMENTA (13) artistic director, assembled critical voices from diverse fields like philosophy, eco-architecture, cultural anthropology etc, as well as extends the core life of the ‘exhibition’. As far as India is concerned, Delhi-based Amar Kanwar participated in his third straight Documenta. According to him, even though the personality of the latest exhibit and its artistic vision were different from previous ones, there were certain commonalities as well. Closely tracking this ‘ongoing war against the (local) people and their land’, he has often filmed in contentious zones, assiduously mapping the destruction of Niyamgiri Hills and unsustainable mining in many ecologically sensitive, tribal pockets.

His project ‘The Sovereign Forest’, presented time around, had started with his filming the staunch resistance of many communities in Orissa to rampant industrial interventions. It had varied avatars, continuously reincarnating itself as a work of art – an exhibit, an open call for collecting more ‘evidence’, a public trial, a classroom, a visual archive and a memorial. It was exhibited at DOCUMENTA (13) as a multi-part installation and was also displayed at a grassroots activist media organization based in the capital city of Orissa, Bhubaneswar with which he has collaborated.

Nalini Malani was another noteworthy participant from India. She showcased her latest ‘video/shadow play, ‘In Search of Vanished Blood’, a huge site-responsive installation that employed reverse-painted mylar sheets on many rotating cylinders, creating a narrative video frieze. Its aim was to ‘stage’ a provocative commentary on religious fundamentalism, communal bloodletting and other form of gender violence. In addition, she was invited as one of three creators to produce an artist book that included insightful essays and interviews and was accompanied by a film, ‘Cassandra’s Gift’ directed by Payal Kapadia that explored the making of this whole project.

Another name to feature at dOCUMENTA (13) was that of the Karachi-born and Delhi-based practitioner, Bani Abidi, who presented a film installation, titled ‘Death At a 30 Degree Angle’. It was about the commission of a ubiquitous statue by a minor politician. Set within veteran sculptor Ram Sutar’s atelier, the narrative mulled over self-portraiture to go with megalomania and monumentality. A sculptor’s studio turned into a peculiar site of semi-fictional articulations, contemplating a current political class. A significant addition to her oeuvre, it was unlike the artist’s earlier works, which tend to look into public scenarios of border-crossings, security, and identity conflicts within which she prefers to remain inscribed.

On the other hand, Tejal Shah is known to activate a relational matrix between machine-animal-human-divine by constantly drawing upon Buddhist philosophy, biological exuberance, post-pornography, interspecies and also post-humanism. The artist deeply analyzes noted physicist Fritjof Capra’s description of the ‘Crisis of Perception’ and goes to investigate how diverse bodies, gender and sexuality are configured within such a crisis. She produced a new work for the prestigious art event. ‘Between the Waves’, a multi-part installation by her, was based on elements like film, text, performative choreography and sound. It emerged through her recent fascination for evolution models, presenting non-normative complexities as well as excesses of species and nature, animal and human societies.

Last but not the least, a trans-disciplinary studio from Mumbai, CAMP, was also there at dOCUMENTA (13). Trio of Sanjay Bhangar, Ashok Sukumaran and Shaina Anand presented a film and photo installation, ‘The Boat Modes (2009-12)’ that stemmed from their research on mystical marine communities, piracy, trade relations in the Indian Ocean and sea routes – both ancient as well as present-day. All in all, India enjoyed a strong presence at the world’s leading art showcase this year, underlining its growing stature as an art superpower.