By George M. Beylerian
Art, design and materials have always been (among other things), my core passion. The one that has pushed me all this time in search of the ultimate artist, designer and material that could make a difference. Since the inception of Material ConneXion over 15 years ago, I had always thought it would be a good idea to visit the renowned art fair in Kassel, Germany, Documenta 13; as well as the Art Biennal and Architecture Biennal in Venice. The idea was to examine what artists are using in their work in terms of materials, how they are experimenting with them and what they are creating. When art critics like Roberta Smith of The New York Times cover the Documenta show in Kassel, they are obviously and meticulously looking for emerging art trends across the globe as countless countries are represented through the curators selection process.
Kassel is located in central Germany, a town that was ravaged during World War II, but still beautiful thanks to its rolling hills and scenery. The first art show took place in 1955 and has been re-occurring every five years; this edition saw the art pieces exhibited for 100 days at the Fridericianum building, along with a series of entertaining cultural activities throughout the city. Since the output covers a big range of artistic displays, from the artistic, to scientific, political or otherwise, one has to keep an open mind when viewing these challenging exhibits. This year, Documenta 13 added to its program representations in other cities across the world, such as Kabul (Afghanistan), Alexandria (Egypt), and Banff (Canada), expanding and strengthening the importance of the global outreach that this show holds.
My interest was to observe materials that went into the artists’ works, how they expressed themselves in terms of the “medium” used to convey their thoughts and feelings. I wanted to analyze how a specific material was selected and transformed to become something completely different from its original state and ultimately a piece of art.
In earlier years, such as the seventies, the hot artists from the USA like Pollock, Rauschenberg, Stella, Johns, Christo, Oldenburg, Koons, (and many more) were the rising stars who were busy expressing their ideas and thoughts on canvas, paper and also metals and neon. My feelings about artists and materials have always been in favor of artists that are always experimenting with new materials or applying innovative techniques and processes to standard materials. Connecting artists with materials was one of the key reasons we established Material ConneXion, knowing well in advance that they would be important visitors to the library. One of my idols, when it comes to surfaces and finishes, is Craig Kauffman and his “Bubble” collection of sculptures. These shapes, made with exquisite pearlescent finishes, have been a mystery in terms of “process” and “technique” for a very long time. 30 years later, a German company was able to mimic the finishes in "Bubble" in their paint collection, a sample of which is present in the Material ConneXion archives.
This year, Documenta’s creative director and curator was Crolyn Christov Bakargiev who cleverly gathered some 200 artists, scientists, psychoanalysts, philosophers, anthropologists, poets and archeologists from roughly 50 countries. What was exhibited was not necessarily art in the traditional sense, but philosophical and political statements expressed and depicted through the application of a myriad of materials and objects. A very brainy method of bringing these various artists, processes, and techniques under one big umbrella, it made for quite a comprehensive social commentary. Processes, execution, and craftsmanship were all part of the panoply of work throughout Documenta 13. One of the major attractions was “The Refusal of Time” of William Kentridge, created in collaboration with Peter Galtzon (image page 480). The installation featured a series of five films projected on three walls in an industrial space near Kassel’s train station. A wooden structure with moving parts called the “breathing machine” and silver megaphones, are elements used by Kentridge to depict the control of world time, relativity, black hole and string theory. To add drama to the finale of the installation, Kentridge created one of his signature shadow processions of silhouetted figurines dancing and marching across the three walls before disappearing into a black hole. Part of the visually artistic presence at Documneta was Thomas Bayrle’s (Berliner) installation that occupied one of the largest rooms of the show. Combining art and technology, Bayrle framed eight kinetic sculptures which are cut open engines that entrance visitors with their sounds and movements. To accompany this installation, Bayrle also presented a 13meter wide depiction of an airplane (page 182).
Chicago based Theaster Gates, expert ceramist and urban planner, collaborated with Tino Sehgal to remodel an antique dwelling in the heart of the city: Huguenot House. The dwelling, built by Huguenot, who fled to Kassel centuries earlier, has been cleaned up, partly restored, and filled with furniture and scraps that can only be admired, not used. Since the house is purely an art project, it follows the “do not touch” rule. Apparently, it would have taken too much time and money to fully restore but nobody wished to demolish it, allowing it to become a valuable piece of the art show.
An incredible way of repurposing old magazines was featured by genius artist Geoffrey Farmer with his “Leaves of Grass,” a sixty foot long sculpture created by collating thousands of LIFE magazine clippings printed between 1935 and 1985. Each cut-out represents objects, politicians, advertisements, celebrities, to create a visual recreation of American history. The two sided installation, which can take hours to accurately analyze, showcases a creative repurposing of a traditional object and materials: magazines and paper.
Times seem to have changed as art itself has progressed to let artists be freer to express themselves in their own conceptual and material way. The creative process is incredible and the offerings unlimited. Thank you to all the creative minds and artists who continue to make our world interesting.