Back in Germany the Oberste Gasse, formerly the Elisabeth Hospital, hosts a number of works by Afghani artists. A photography series by Zalmaiï, ‘Ghost War. Playing With Empires’ (2012) echoes the repurposing of the exhibition space, with its depiction of alternative uses of the detritus of the successive armies that have fought on, over or above, the country’s soil. Weeks after my visit I mentally return to the image of a militia man submerged to his waist in the sea featured in Lida Abdul’s ‘What have we overlooked’ (2011). If these projects deal with the abundance of corporation style news footage as the normative visual representation of military conflict through appropriation, then Abdul Qasem Foushanji’s installation of black marker jottings and graffitti across the space’s white tiles, coupled with a polyphonic soundscape, performs a more overtly personal response: humorous, angry and confused.
Not far away is the Fridericianum, the space described by documenta 13 curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev as the exhibition’s ‘brain room’. A gentle breeze pervaded the ground floor space. Here there was none of the emphasis on national identity placed on the largely Afghani artists in the Oberste Gasse. Recurrent through the ‘brain room’ was a jumbling of time. The first noticeable work I encountered was a group of figurative sculptures, presented with a photograph of a much earlier documenta in which the work first appeared. As two young women turned a corner their hair blew upwards - this must be the Ryan Gander work, I’d heard about. Literally circulating through documenta. I was intrigued that a gesture so determinedly low key, subtle and immaterial, drawing on a wealth of phenomenological positions was pleasantly functional too. Negotiating the bustling crowd becomes an inevitable aspect of the experience of these large-scale art events; the ventilating service of the work was very appreciated. The unexpected comic potential of Gander’s oft-repeated strategy of camouflage in the everyday, came to the fore at another exhibition site, the Orangerie, where according to the map there was a Gander work in the cafe, perhaps near one of Susan Hiller’s jukeboxes of protest songs’ A friend insisted his work was a bowl of oranges. Catching my eye another bewildered visitor, simply giggled ‘No Ryan Gander’‘. The official guidebook later clarified things. . .
Emily Jacir presented ‘ex libris’ a ghost of a library. The installation consisted of photographs of books printed on translucent plates. The original books were looted by the Israeli army from Palestine communities in 1948. Evoking the absence of the thing itself, leaving us to reconcile with the substitute, the trace of lost ideas has been materialised. The form of books as sculptural entity recurred repeatedly in the work of a number of artists. Mark Dion created a hexagonal oak wood display case for the Schildbach Xylotheque (or Wood Library) in the Ottoneum. The disjuncture of time was further heightened while coursing through this natural history museum. Replica skeletons of pre-historic aquatic animals followed the curvature of the stairs. An awkwardly made mammoth peered out from its own display, for an untranslatable reason a naturalistic model of a unicorn was accompanied by panel explaining the history of fictional animals. The wooden structure encasing yet more wood was charmingly self-reflexive, perhaps an exercise exploring materiality itself.
The presence of trees was manifest in work by Pierre Huyghe and Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller’s 28 minute audio installation, ‘FOREST (for a thousand years…)’ sited in a park’s cops. In the later, a score from speakers placed at various heights and locations in the trees themselves, brought to mind helicopters, axes, saws, plants wrenched from their roots. Huyge’s work located in the compost area of the park left its intentions ambiguous, leaving us to gauge where if anywhere the work began and the park ended. This compelling resistance to borders or clarification generated the poetry of a white dog, right leg dipped in pink dye breathing heavily on a mound of earth, while mounds of concrete paving stones lay nearby, piles of upturned trees (are they always there like that’) were drawn in to any reading, their roots in open air, felt explicit, a reclining statue of a woman, her head obscured encased by a bees’ nest. The sweet sickly smelling pollen. . . Later I see the white dog trotting by another installation in the Karlsaue. A brown dog white paws, one paw also dipped in pink momentarily appears. WTF’!!