— By Charlie Young, third-year Sculpture/Installation student and class assistant in the Florence Off-Campus Studies Program, writing from Florence, Italy
On September 13th, 16 OCAD University students studying in the Florence Off-Campus program travelled to Kassel, Germany to attend dOCUMENTA (13). After just two days they made the return trip, a just-as-gruelling journey back to Florence. This life-changing experience was made possible by the Curriculum Innovation Fund through the Faculty of Art and the generous personal contribution of Professor Laura Millard.
It wasn't until half way through the second day, standing over the bunker in the Weinbergterrassen that I had an inkling of how to articulate everything d(13) was:
Adrián Villar Rojas has filled the park with sculptures of unfired clay; columns and terraced beams lean and crumble over a path like the façade of an ancient temple. Bones, dead animals, figures of birth and life fill the next tiers of the garden. Culminating in a graveyard of bells that have never tolled and already sat in ruin. I'm staring out over Kassel, a city bombed in 1941 and now a model of post-war revitalization. The invisible city of 1940 shouts at you from Villar Rojas' sculptures - a graveyard of dead architecture above a brand new city.
On the top floor of the Fridericianum I'm confronted with a two-channel video that begins with the façade of the building I'm in, and an almost identical one. The second building is in fact the Dar ul-Aman Palace, also pictured as a 17- by 56-foot tapestry by Goshka Macuga entitled Of what is, that is; of what is not, that is not in the Rotunda on the same floor. Returning to A Brief History of Collapses, Mariam Ghani takes the viewer on a tour through both buildings, following nearly identical paths. The first video travels through the crisp white halls of the Fridericianum, rebuilt after World War II when it suffered heavy bombing. The second travels the Dar ul-Aman ruins, seeing through the holes in the walls, stepping over bits of rubble, altering our perception of here and there and creating a sense of displacement in the viewer that is both temporal and continental.
Speaking further to the history of the Fridericianum, Michael Rakowitz's What Dust Will Rise? reconstructs some of the volumes lost in the bombing of the building. Working with stone carvers from Afghanistan and Italy, Rakowitz created fifty Bamiyan stone tombs, which now act as both substitute for the lost books and marker of their destruction. These are displayed in traditional cases with other objects related to the destruction of cultural heritage in acts of war. Rakowitz sketches and adds facts relating to the work by writing on the glass of the display case; you only have to reach out and touch the words to see how easily this knowledge can be wiped away.
Susan Philipsz's Study for Strings is perhaps the most potent piece at d(13), and more than one person walks away in tears after experiencing it. From an arc of speakers over platform 13 of Hauptbahnhof the slow distant remnants of a score written by Pavel Haas murmur. The piece was composed during his internment at Theresienstadt, after his deportation from Hauptbahnhof. It faces north toward the distant hills, the grey sky, the landscape dotted by the industrial buildings that once provided armaments during World War II.
Kassel is brimming with memories just beneath the layer of new paint. From the Bunker to Hauptbahnhof, d(13) draws on these memories and the pain and hope borne of them, making visible the parallels between political strife across the globe. This experience leads the viewer into both the desolation of the present (for Kabul) and past (for Germany) and into the ideas of rebirth, the what comes after andthe rebuilding (as Kassel has been rebuilt).