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The four main positions around which dOCUMENTA (13) is articulated—Siege, Hope, Retreat, and Stage—correspond to four possible conditions in which artists and thinkers find themselves acting in the present. These positions are not comprehensive and acquire their significance through their mutual interrelation and resonance. Kabul and Bamiyan together constitute a crossroad of these conditions. Here, simultaneously with the state of hope, artists frequently experience the condition of being under siege, as well as that of withdrawal and exposure. The Seminars ran throughout spring and summer 2012, with a first meeting in June 2010, and conclude with a related exhibition in Kabul at the Queen’s Palace, the surrounding Bagh-e Babur, and the National Gallery, organized curatorially by dOCUMENTA (13) member of Core Agent Group Andrea Viliani and artist Aman Mojadidi. As part of a constellation of events, the seminars were held with a group of more than twenty-five Afghan art students to foster discussions of key questions and subjects; they were led by international and Afghan participants. The aim of both the seminars and the exhibition is to share artistic practices with the local community and to present artistic practice through a participatory process of creation, confrontation, and learning.
Involving artists, art writers, and thinkers, the seminars are organized in partnership with several Afghan public cultural institutions active in different fields, such as visual arts, music, theater, and film. In the seminar Art Histories in the Form of Notes, held in February 2012, notions such as art, history, tradition, the contemporary, experiment, life, and imagination were examined from different points of view, taking the device of the written note to represent a condition in which concepts, ideas, and memoranda are jotted down in a provisional way, which underlines their potentiality and hypothetical value. Subsequent seminars focused on different, entangled areas of artistic reflection and intervention:
- how to deal with language, translation, and mediation as hypothetical switches between understanding and misunderstanding, and as critical actions where truth is constantly negotiated (seeing studies/translation as artistic practice, a new project by the institute for incongruous translation, conceived by artist Natascha Sadr Haghighian and writer Ashkan Sepahvand in close collaboration with the National Gallery of Kabul; Creating an Art Magazine: Testing the Grounds/Finding the Language, a seminar centering on a collaboration between Mousse Publishing, Milan, and the Pakistan-based magazine Sepida, published in the 1980s and recently republished by The Killid Group, Kabul).
- how to transcend geopolitical categories of inclusion and exclusion; how to connect, in an age of frequent counter-diaspora and advanced digital practices, to a broader discourse, keeping in balance the criteria of belonging and change (Perspectives on the Art of Today, hosted at the CCAA — Center for Contemporary Arts Afghanistan).
- how to explore archives as a public site; how to connect archival material to shared public memory; how to increase the circulation of lesser-known histories, taking the archive as an operative base (Archive Practicum, a seminar led by Mariam Ghani and Pad.ma at Afghan Film); how photographs are archived, organized, and their conservation; how to look at the relationship between language and images, both in still and moving images; how digital images are captured, manipulated, stored, and mediated (Photographic Information, a seminar led by Masood Kamandy at the Faculty of Fine Arts, Kabul University).
- how simple material taken from the everyday environment, or the body, can enlighten an approach that provides an unexpected space of radical freedom, increasing states of emancipation and empowerment and exploring notions of transformation and embodiment; how to reconnect the contemporary with the traditional in ways that challenge old dichotomies, notions of durability and the "handmade" and that emphasize topical meanings found in traditional materials and objects; how theatrical or choreographic practices reveal the personal as well as the political; how theatrical aesthetics are intertwined with historical moments; how the actor’s biography is linked to theater history but also to history more generally; how to create an artwork that is based on revealing the hidden but shared history of a community; how to deal with limits; how to create a monumental, visionary experience from almost nothing (Acts, Gestures, Things and Processes: Material and Performance, a multiple seminar led by artist and filmmaker Barmak Akram, artist and choreographer Jérôme Bel, and artists Lara Favaretto and Adrián Villar Rojas, held at the Bagh-e Babur, Institut Français d’Afghanistan, in Istalif, at the National Theatre, and the Faculty of Fine Arts, Kabul University).
In parallel, two seminars are held in Bamiyan. What Dust Will Rise? led by Michael Rakowitz in a cave on the mountainside where the Bamiyan Buddhas once stood, works in an imaginative way to recuperate fading stone-carving skills and restore a possible heritage for the future. Re-reading Shahnameh by Khadim Ali re-enacts the traditional practices of storytelling and miniature painting to connect different generations, and to understand how our past was told for centuries and became our present.
Stemming from these seminars, the exhibition comprises works mainly produced in Afghanistan, engaging the audience in a dialogue full of correspondences—between siege and diaspora, collapse and recovery, memory and fantasy, past and future—as well mutual evocations of the history of two cities, Kabul and Kassel, both of which have witnessed destruction through war and the need for physical reconstruction and mental retrieval, becoming stages where our present is represented (as in the works by Tacita Dean and Goshka Macuga) or transcended (as in the two tree sculptures of Giuseppe Penone installed in Kassel’s Karlsaue park and in Kabul’s Bagh-e Babur). Evoking a condition where war and peace co-exist (as in Zalmaï’s photographs and Francis Alÿs’ paintings) and forms of worldly imagination explore commitment, matter, things, embodiment, and active life, dOCUMENTA (13) locates artistic research at a precarious and at the same time engaging point—one of poetic exploration and adventurous concentration, insightful motivation, and meditative ambition.
As Mariam and Ashraf Ghani remind us in their dOCUMENTA (13) notebook, Afghanistan: A Lexicon, myths, speculation, rumors, and facts can overlap. Prototypes for the future and symbols of the past, plans and failures, can coexist, in a "selective, associative way," as in Ghani’s own video, which turns Dar ul-Aman, the royal palace destroyed in Kabul during the recent thirty years of civil war in Afghanistan, to the Fridericianum in Kassel, bombed in 1941 and 1943. Other projects, such as that developed by Mexican artist Mario Garcia Torres, for example, should be viewed in this light. Garcia Torres has reactivated the One Hotel, an initiative developed in Kabul from 1971 to 1977 by Italian artist Alighiero Boetti, who moved to Afghanistan to reinvent his own identity as artist and his own notion of art by running a hotel called One Hotel on Shar-e Naw with Gholam Dastaghir, but probably never conceived of opening a hotel as an artwork. Nor does Garcia Torres—restoring and reactivating these abandoned and forgotten premises, planting roses and offering tea to guests in the garden—create what we would usually call an artwork; it is more an imaginary space-time continuum—partly real, partly fictional—to be experienced and shared; an occasion to reposition our agency through a perception of art. This blurred, narrative approach to what art is allows conventional distinctions between guest and host, or now and then, to soften, echoing the welcoming multiverse of artistic gestures that is at the heart of dOCUMENTA (13) in Afghanistan.
The dOCUMENTA (13) / Goethe-Institut programs in Afghanistan are realized under the auspices of the Ministry of Information and Culture of Afghanistan (MoIC), with the support of the Federal Foreign Office of Germany.
Kabul - Bamiyan
7/6/2010 – 19/7/2012
Seminars and Exhibition:
A Position of dOCUMENTA (13)
Abul Qasem Foushanji
Mario Garcia Torres
Natascha Sadr Haghighian and Ashkan Sepahvand (for the institute for incongruous translation)
Ashok Sukumaran and Shaina Anand
(CAMP and Pad.ma)
Adrián Villar Rojas
Clemens von Wedemeyer
Students from the dOCUMENTA (13) Kabul seminars