dOCUMENTA (13) With A Small Letter

II. documenta, 1959, installation view with works by Julio González. Bequest of Arnold Bode. Courtesy: documenta Archiv, Kassel

First published in ICE magazine, Issue 7, June 2012

Didem Yazıcı

Kassel looked different during my first visit two years ago, for the occasion of the graduate exhibition of the city’s fine arts school, and an open-studio visit. Arriving to Kassel by a train from Frankfurt on a sunny day, my mind was flooded by the exhibitions I wanted to see, and friends I wanted to meet. Having initially planned to limit my visit to a few days; Kassel, with its thousand colors, ended up pulling me in. The graduation exhibition was curated by Özlem Günyol & Mustafa Kunt that year (2010). The exhibition was installed in documenta halle, one of the primary locations of dOCUMENTA (13). The exhibition opening saw a performance by Mehtap Baydu, for which she had the visitors sample bits of her self-sewn dress, made of pestil (layers of dried fruit pulp, a traditional delicacy in Turkey).The next day, we had a long conversation with Mehtap by the river; by the time we’d gone through art, life, love, gender and the birds, I had long decided to dispense with my return ticket to Frankfurt. By then, Kassel was a source of inspiration for me, what with the riverside conversations, concerts, and exhibition openings of the art school situated in a park divided by a river, not to mention the road leading to a concluding swim in the river.

Being used to think of Kassel first and foremost as the documenta-city, I saw Joseph Beuys’ basaltic stones and trees while roaming through the roads and the Auepark. It felt like the city was commemorating documenta each and every year; and not once every five years as expected. With such observations in mind, I visited documenta’s library and archives, to trace the evolution of documenta. I was able, with great relish, to access the plethora of documents related to documenta, among them hundreds of artist booklets, exhibition catalogues and sets of letters discussing the planning and organization of previous documentas. Leaving the archives building, I bought catalogues of previous documentas in used bookstores, and started building scenarios for them, exhibitions I hadn’t had the opportunity to see. The institution I was used to encountering during studies on the history of exhibitions, curatorial studies and contemporary art history seemed to function like a factory, as it were, complete with its library, archives, depots and employees. That’s where I happened to see something related to dOCUMENTA (13) for the first time, two years before its opening:  a white sticker of the d13 logo. dOCUMENTA (13)’s title is not logo-centered, is written with a different typeset every time, and is written in small letters. Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev had earlier commented on the phenomenon of the programs automatically capitalizing the first letters, and the discomfort it causes the user to to go back and decapitalize it each time , noting this experience’s importance for d13. dOCUMENTA (13) differs from typical contemporary art exhibitions in not being centered on a preset concept, and employing various open-ended disciplines together.

dOCUMENTA(13)’s art director, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, the head of the department, Chus Martinez, co-curators called ‘agents’, participants and employees work collectively to realize a comprehensive and unusual exhibition, one that concerns itself not merely with the contemporary art sphere, but the multitude of disciplines that inform contemporary culture.



Exhibition As Notebook Series

100 Notes – 100 Thoughts


Informed by the concept of the notebook, dOCUMENTA (13) publishes booklets that come in various sizes, colors and content and intend to evoke the feeling of reading someone’s personal notebook when inspected. Written in varying styles, one compiling the essays written for this series, another taking the form of a conversation, these notebooks give the reader an idea about the thoughts and artists behind the exhibition. These notebooks also publicize what subjects were discussed and how, the artists’ researches, and the curatorial approach of the exhibition before its opening. Unaware to hordes of people waiting for the opening date of the exhibition, dOCUMENTA (13) has in fact already started with these notebooks. While art enthusiasts are inclined to focus on the opening week of grand exhibitions at the expense of the rest, dOCUMENTA (13) offers a process that does not revolve around the opening week and the official dates, and extends instead to a longer stretch of time through the collective work of ANDANDAND, Giuseppe Penone’s Ideas of Stone (sculpture), apple trees in the Auepark planted by Jimmie Durham, speeches, presentations, multimedia in the website and the notebooks series.  Notebooks work both as part and parcel of dOCUMENTA (13) and as a pre-catalogue. This binary position can be considered, in itself, a research concerning the exhibition discourse. Can printed medium function as an exhibition, or can it be the exhibition itself? While exhibition, in its traditional sense, means the presentation of an object in a physical space, publicizing an artistic position itself itself functions as an exhibition method. For the  dOCUMENTA (13), participants have been called upon to share their thoughts and their notebooks, similar to the way a curator invites artists for an exhibition. Each participant chose her own theme, in her own artistic language. By the time dOCUMENTA (13) is officially over in mid September, the notebooks are still going to be circulated and read. In this respect, the historical and physical limitations of the exhibition (excluding a number of exceptionally long-lived artworks) is offset by the longevity of the notebooks. This is not to say that each notebooks is similar to artist books, each one of which latter function as an exhibition by itself. The notebooks as a whole, however, do exhibit the properties of an exhibition, in the same way that the book collections, compilations and the mobile library do. The notebooks series’ synchronicity and interaction with the exhibitions in the physical dOCUMENTA (13) spaces, not to mention the similarity with the latter in methods and content, make notebooks series one of the fundamental elements of dOCUMENTA (13). dOCUMENTA (13) 9 June – 16 September 2012

Historical Notes

When the first documenta was realized in 1955, the founders themselves did not know whether it would keep going. The title of the exhibition was chosen to be documenta: Twentieth Century Art. It had earlier been decided upon to realize a large-scale art contemporary art exhibition in the small city of Kassel, to create a renewed image of Germany, and to restore Germany’s reputation following the Second World War.  The aim was to be the object of the world’s interest once more, with cultural and artistic production replacing war calamities as the cause of interest. In that respect, Documenta is also, in a sense, another way for the country to deal with the still-recent trauma of the Third Reich heritage.

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