dOCUMENTA 13: 23 Skidoo

Until dOCUMENTA 13 concludes, this website will present some working notes and interventions in the run-up to A Prior #23. Contributions so far: an introduction, fragments from Bitsy Knox's diary, an e-mail from Daniel Miller to Kai Althoff, a letter from Sven Augustijnen to Marta Kuzma, a text by Dora Garcia and 'The Plank'.
Door A Prior op 18 jun 2014
Tekst
Literatuur

The dance was very frenetic, lively, rattling, clanging, rollicking, contorted, and seemed to last for a long time. The band played mountain flutes, cocaine bebop, one-stringed zithers, gypsy xylophones, Mongol nose-flutes, jungle drums, and Arab pipes. The host served crackers, Sushi, sturgeon, gin, Bazooka gum and Cherry Cola. Voices whispered to each other in the corners. Partners lost and found new partners. The band kept playing.

For the 23rd and last edition of the current series, A Prior will present a number of synthetic fragments supplied by visitors, participants, reporters and professionals to build-up a profile of dOCUMENTA 13 through an investigation into storytelling, and ways that rumors spread.

In her introduction to the cyclonopaedic Book of Books, a brick-sized collection of positions initially published as slim pamphlets, the dOCUMENTA 13 artistic director Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev defines her vision as ‘to be committed’, ‘to be placed and emplaced’, ‘to doubt’, ‘to engage and to witness’, ‘to focus’ and finally ‘to see from the point of view of the meteorite.'

In what follows, A Prior attempts to develop this paradigm, rather than objectively assessing it, explaining it, or judging it. With this goal in mind, and until dOCUMENTA 13 concludes, this website will present some working notes and interventions in the run-up to A Prior #23.

Editorial Board
A Prior Magazine 23: Bitsy Knox, Daniel Miller and Els Roelandt

 

Chronological index

July 1
July 2

July 17
July 21 (1)
July 21 (2)
July 23
July 25 and 26
August 14
August 29

 

July 21, 2012 (1)

I decide to seek out Ryan Gander’s Orangerie work, which I understand to be a man sitting on the terrace, writing alone. I begin by cheating, asking the owner of the café where he is. I am denied: the café won’t – can’t - give away the identity of Gander’s subject. I loiter around the tables, watching for the subject. Nothing but families eating pizzas. Then I notice a young bespectacled man in the corner by the bar, a black notebook beside him. I approach.

‘Are you Ryan Gander’s work?’
‘Who is Ryan Gander?’
‘He’s - an English artist’ I say, ‘he’s asked someone to sit and write every day in this café and I figured it was you, because you are alone and – with a notebook’. I'm nervous, embarrassed maybe. He peers back at me, and I squint back at him, trying to gauge if what is going on is what is supposed to be going on is actually going on. I back away apologetically but linger in the vicinity.

The bartender gestures for me to come speak with him, wiggling his forefinger. He directs me to a lounge seat at the far end of the terrace, where a woman sits writing. She is ignoring two other women who are sitting at the table with her, consulting a map. When these two leave, I make my move.

‘Are you Ryan Gander’s work?’ (this time I gesture toward the numbered map of the Karlslaue)
‘No.’
She doesn't look confused by my question. She goes back to staring at her thick notebook.

I feel deceived and walk back to the bar, a failure. ‘Of course the writer will always deny that it is he or she you are searching for’, says the bartender, pouring a beer.

BK

 

July 2, 2012

Behind the Hessenland Hotel lies Huguenot House, which in recent years has fallen into disrepair. Then Theaster Gates came with an arsenal of people and material – men, women, children, architects, designers, artists, students, and a lot of salvage from an abandoned building in Chicago that Theaster is also restoring – and the house began to be transformed. As dOCUMENTA opened, stories emerged. One woman early on told Theaster that she had lived in the building during her childhood, and that she had to hide in the basement during the war. Another explained to the inhabitants of the house that he had made exhibitions there in the 1970’s. Alex, the New York-raised Kassel-based personal fitness trainer who mans the door here explains that almost daily, someone comes in with their own claim to the building. 'Oh yeah,' he says, 'people write down their stories in the guestbook over there and we compile them, we’ve got dozens of them.'

I join the tour of the house which has just begun with Norman, a Theaster Gates worker and inhabitant of Huguenot House. Explanations of the heavy presence of music are given, and Norman walks us past a woman and small child making a bean salad in the kitchen. Later we peer into bedrooms of the inhabitants – beds are hastily made, personal items are stored just out of view – and Norman evades a question from a tour-member asking which is his bedroom.

The tour ends in a room with two carpeted steps that resemble the front porch, a place to gather and to greet your neighbors. Norman sits us down for a question and answer period. 'What will happen to this installation after dOCUMENTA?' questions a beaming American dad. His daughter is perched under Norman, red sneakers and homemade necklaces with eyes jutting right and left. 'Theaster has proposed to buy the place, turn it into an artist’s residency and let others use the space the way they want.' Norman’s voice is even and mild. The American daughter pipes up, her eyes the size of light-bulbs, 'and we could raise sheep in one of the rooms!' Norman gives us a smile: 'yeah!' even and inviting as usual. The American daughter is reeling. She turns back to her father who looks back admiringly.

Downstairs I pass through the dark corridor to Tino Sehgal’s work. They are humming and whooping, I enter the dark and wait for my eyes to adjust. A scene in black and white gradually appears, and I count the performers as they break into an acapella version of Timbaland’s 'The Way I Are', all choreographed gyration.  I wonder what the performers’ life in colour must be like. I make a note to meet them and ask.

BK

 

July 17, 2012

Download an e-mail from Daniel Miller to Kai Althoff here (pdf).

 

July 23, 2012

Brussels, 23 July 2012

Dear Marta,

how are you doing?

We didn't really get the chance to talk in Kassel but Dirk took care that you were in my mind for some time. When I bumped into him at the Fridericianum asking if he saw and knew of those tapestries, he answered, ‘that's Marta's [choice], a Norwegian or Danish artist or something.’

I am not only writing to thank you for this great contribution, but also to say how struck I was by reading your essay on the works of Hannah Ryggen and learning that, beside the fact that she exhibited Etiopia, a response to Mussolini's invasion of Ethiopia at the 1937 Paris Expo next to Picasso's Guernica, she later  ‘hung her tapestries on a clothesline outside her house in Oslo in full sight of Nazi soldiers!’

It is not only by the act, but also by the coincidence that a certain Léon Degrelle, leader of the Belgian fascist party REX, could have been one of these Nazi soldiers, as he escaped to Oslo when he was sentenced to death in absentia in Brussels on the 29th of December 1944.

Moreover, on the night of 9th of May 1945, when Western Europe was celebrating its liberation, he had the genius idea to board the airplane of a certain Albert Speer and fly South at a low height over the North Sea, the Netherlands, Belgium and France. He finally reached the Spanish border, where he, having no fuel left over, made a final crossing over Mount Urgull and let his airplane slide into the Bay of La Concha, San Sebastián, Donostia.

With a broken arm and several fractured ribs he found refuge in Franco's Spain, where – despite the demand for extradition by the Belgium government and several attempts of abduction – he lived for the rest of his life and died at age of 87 in 1994.

Hitler himself hung the SS-Ritterskreuz around Degrelle’s neck for being one of the few who survived the battle of Tcherkassy. ‘If I would have had a son, I would have liked him to be like you,’ would have been the words of the Führer. Mystifying the rest of his life on these words, he became an inspiration and his house a haven to many fascists around the world.

I don't know if you remember the time we met with Dirk in a restaurant near Avenue Louise in Brussels. I realize now that the former Brussels headquarters of the SS (where in its caves Jews and resistance fighters where tortured) is just around the corner from there. I am not sure if the restaurant existed during the war, but the cobblestones of those streets were definitely walked by Rexists, if not by Degrelle himself, who, by the way, held his mass meetings of the Légion Wallonie at the Palais des Beaux-Arts de Bruxelles! I don't know why, but I'm suddenly imagining a show by you on the rise of Fascism in Europe. The airplane of Speer was a Heinkel He 111, in case you want this on the roof of the Beaux-Arts... Guernica was already exhibited at the Beaux-Arts in 1955; I know this because I recently found a photo of Patrice Lumumba in front of the painting when he made his first trip to Belgium.

By the way, yesterday was the anniversary of the Breivik massacre, were you in Oslo?

Looking forward,

Sven

 

July 21, 2012 (2)


Michael Portnoy’s 27 Gnosis

There are probably one hundred and fifty people milling about the mud mound that Michael Portnoy (in collaboration with architect Christian Wassmann) has built in this vast Hauptbanhof room. The lighting is dim, and a recording of a previous 27 Gnosis (maybe the first one, maybe yesterday’s) can be heard over the din. A woman asks where she should wait if she wants to participate; she looks at her watch expectantly. Others make their way up the wide steps single-file to catch a glimpse into the mound. The crowd rustles and look to each other for answers.

The pre-recording dies down, and an omniscient voice begins to tell us what we are about to behold. A suited young man appears with several painted mother-of-pearl spoons. He hands them to onlookers: ‘you have been chosen to participate in 27 Gnosis...’. He passes me by once, twice, and then I am handed a stick. I make my way to a semi-circle of other chosen onlookers holding sticks around the mound. Another young man arranges the position of my posture. A young woman to my left gives me a look; she is incredulous, I give her an empathetic shrug. The man who arranged my hand minutes ago then re-appears, takes my stick away, and places my hand on top of the older man to my right. I’m not sure if we’ve done something wrong – I blame the woman to my left.

‘Hurry now’, ‘quickly now’, we hear over the loudspeaker.

The selection process is complete, and we the chosen participants make our way into the mound, up one flight of stairs and down another into the sloping purple arena. We climb to our positions along the circumference of the circle. The space is steep – chosen participants are slipping and grasping at each other for their places, canvas bags are used as ballasts – and there’s a brandy glass waiting to be drunk (or maybe left behind) on the shelf along with twenty-seven knobby black objects which that like they’d be nice to hold.

Michael Portnoy and Ieva Misevičiūtė appear wearing black suits (tailored by threeASFOUR) with gapes and slashes up their legs and down their backs. They gyrate and extend their limbs nimbly, activating the space. They test the limits of their diaphragms as they breath deeply into their handless microphones. The game begins.

Two groups of three people are selected, I am chosen for one of them. Portnoy looks us each in the eye, already dripping sweat, and wafts his perfumed body past us as he explains the game and its rules. A gnosis is placed in front of us (‘do not touch the gnosis’): it is a tool for attaining experiential knowledge, a thing that forms knowledge and resides in knowledge. I really want to touch the gnosis. Portnoy’s hand hovers briefly over it as he speaks with precision, annunciating so violently that I notice a woman wince, blocking spit from her eye. As he speaks, Ieva repeats his words and choreographs her movements to them. My god she moves beautifully.

We are given the heuristic task of devising three irreducible categories that locate some sort of essence of some sort of situation, in two minutes. Things are moving impossibly fast for me. I look to my teammates who are, I’m relieved to see, equally panicked. We say nothing at first, but time is ticking and Ieva swoops in: ‘what do you have so far?’ she asks. We sheepishly mumble a response but it is turned down, ‘too much flesh!’, she says. We begin to understand that we must turn off our ‘psychic censors’*; we all have to forget what this impressive ambiance with its spectacular diversions is turning us into, and simply say something. So we do. We win the first round. I cannot remember past our first category (‘founding’) – the game show has drowned out any recollection of this proud moment. The second round commences; I go into a trance for about five minutes.

The third round approaches and my teammates and I are called back to the stage from our sardined spots along the wall. At this stage, we all seem to be immersed in a state of dazed and ecstatic readiness – there is nodding and there are hand signals. Another proposition is given (again, I cannot for the life of me recall what it was, almost as if this simple question, or maybe Portnoy himself, were D.B. Cooper), and we begin to deliberate. Portnoy approaches, he looks me in the eyes with trust and whispers (into his microphone) to us, ‘it’s very simple, just follow this and you’ll be fine …’ and shows me a page from his book. Is he letting us cheat? It wouldn’t matter anyway, none of us retain the information he drenches us with. An ‘expert’ then appears – who the hell is he? Alarmingly, he reaches for the pendant around my neck, ‘what is this, describe this space between this rock here on your necklace, and you will have the answer’… two minutes must be almost up. I implore my teammates to leave it to me, ‘I’ll deal with it’ – what a fool I am. Portnoy turns to me, ‘WHO WILL SPEAK FOR YOUR TEAM?’. I mumble something about a void, about energy flowing through something. He cross-examines me, I answer with an experience – something to do with growing my hair long, but I know we’re through. Portnoy’s disappointment is palpable. He moves on to the other team. The winner’s are declared – GROUP TWO (we are group one). Hands are shook; tight-lipped losers’ expressions are exchanged between us. We exit the mound, breathing deeply as we ascend the inner steps into the known world. I get the sense that nothing matters.

Shortly thereafter, while I am speaking to Michael and Ieva, a visitor places his foot on the mound, as if this will help him to gauge what it is made of. Portnoy stops short in mid-sentence – ‘what is he doing? Is he stepping on the mound? What the fuck…Sir! What are you doing?’ {Tense mumbling, foot stamping, and hand gestures, Portnoy points to the exit, and the visitor hurries away holding his hands over his head}.

I want to note that throughout all this, I can recall a woozy, slightly menacing music being played – something with the edge of a science fiction soundtrack and a repetitive new age glow. I can’t be sure, though.

BK

* The ‘psychic censor’ is a term used in Chaos Magick to describe the mental power averse to producing magic, typically the conscious mind. When Chaos Magick practitioners enter a ‘gnostic state’ (which for them is an altered state in which to produce knowledge or magic), any thought or experience must circumvent the ‘psychic censor’ in order for them to reach a subconscious state which encourages the magical manipulation of reality.

 

July 1, 2012


The Plank
, 2012, an economically/aesthetically performative bow tie composed of chance encounters, material recycled from the Hugenottenhaus in Kassel and fabric from a skirt originally belonging to a Tino Sehgal interpreter, commercial website (www.plank22b.com) modified photograph, descriptive caption. Held in TSCOO Collection, Fogo Island, Newfoundland.

 

July 25 and 26, 2012


An Occupier came to listen to Jasper Kettner read The Concerns of a Repentant Galtonian by Critical Art Ensemble on the steps of the Fridericianum. He shook his open right palm in praiseful affirmation, nodding. Then he got up and walked toward the iced cream stand to our left. He gave a high-five to a woman ordering a bowl of extra-dark chocolate (good choice), then feigned waiting in line again before ambling back to where he’d come from, hands permanently fixed in a thumbs-up position. A sign reading “FREE HUGS” was to his left as he entered the camp.

The next day I returned under the hot sun to speak with a member of the Occupy dOCUMENTA movement, hoping to encounter this guy again. I was greeted instead by man who identified himself as a Frankfurt-based social worker on his summer vacation - he would go back to work in September.  For the purposes of this article, we will call him Our Man. Our Man does not live at the camp but has rented an apartment in Kassel and arrives during the day to help organize the camp and to act as a liaison to passersby. He never stays there into the night; the inhabitants of the camp get too drunk or fucked up on drugs, he said.

“Is the dOCUMENTA 13 wooden sign something they gave you,” I began, “or did you make it yourselves?” Earlier that week, I had heard rumors that the Occupiers installed the sign as an intervention of sorts, perhaps as a dedicatory portrait to dOCUMENTA 13. No, Our Man answered, the sign was provided to them, and states that there camp is ‘non-commissioned’.

dOCCUPY (as they have come to be called) is encouraged by dOCUMENTA 13 to make art – painting, for example – which they do prolifically. Photocopied literature, signs that read “we are the people” and “Capitalism Kills” as well as announcements of events such as “Kinder Dag” are layered one over the other. There is also their accumulation of objects – plates, photographs, and ballpoint pens- on display, inviting potential exchange with visitors. Cumulatively the objects resemble a nesting ritual, as in placing trinkets on a windowsill for passersby to observe from the street, but they also begin to form a sort of shrine: visitors leave offerings of cigarettes and crackers and flowers, but do not take the plate, photograph, or flower.

Then again, dOCCUPY are discouraged from actually building anything. No infrastructure, nothing that might guarantee a permanent position on the lawn of the Fridericianum. While dOCUMENTA 13 provides electricity to the camp, they also (and apparently often do) propose changes, and express their satisfaction or disapproval with the camp’s evolution on a case-by-case basis.

Occupiers here are from all over Germany: they are itinerant punks and anarchists, one is a Central American artist (a crazy and great guy, I was told). Our Man touted himself as perhaps the sole politically active member of the group; everyone else, he told me, really don’t do much, “they don’t even know Marx”. He was sweating disappointment.

As Our Man spoke, I reminisced about friends who had been active participants during the early weeks and months of Occupy - voting in assemblies, discussing ideas, making placards and holding them, shouting songs and chants, making lunch – and what happened when they eventually went back to their jobs, apartments, and lives outside of this world. As the movement’s piercing public and media popularity wades into the haze of far bloodier revolutions, its remaining dedicated members find themselves in a position of having to ask how the movement can continue in a relevant sense, and whether this can be done through a continuous presence in public spaces (all the while avoiding the kinds of extremists and tag-along crazies which haunt them). In his entry for dOCUMENTA’s video glossary, W.J.T. Mitchell reminds us that Occupy, once a mere verb, has also become a proper noun, capitalized “as if it was a trade mark, or a brand name”. Its name becomes its body: while Occupy movements such as ‘dOCCUPY’ figure out their position and what they want to do about it, their namesake, the ghost of Occupy’s past events, silently hovers above them.

In her letter welcoming the ‘dOCCUPY’ movement, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev wrote, “I also want to affirm the abilities of the people involved to care for the square, and to take responsibility for the space that they have the right to occupy, to consider the City of Kassel and the other visitors of dOCUMENTA in a worldly spirit of germination and flourishing.” Are dOCCUPY devoted caretakers of this semi-public domain, or, as many a witness to the Occupy movement at large has pointed out, essentially a band of Bartleby’s with no objective but occupation? When dOCUMENTA moves out for another five years in mid September, will dOCCUPY pack up and go, or will the city of Kassel call dOCUMENTA before their police throw them in The Tombs? Do they need an audience? As Jonathan D. Greenberg, who has spent some time exploring this comparison, pointed out, “The unclarity of Bartleby's aims -- What does he actually want? What are his demands? -- invites our attention but defeats our reading.”

I asked Our Man how this camp differs from others he has been active in, notably Occupy Frankfurt (stationed outside the European Central Bank), which is currently being threatened by police eviction. Frankfurt has already fallen, he notes gloomily: their camp has been over-run by Romanians, who have usurped power through a leaky General Assembly voting process (according to the most recent reports, there are fifteen ‘activists’, over sixty ‘homeless Romanians’, and a lot of rats – no word on if they are actually mice). I asked if it is problematic for homeless Romanians to live there, and he told me, “It’s not that I have a problem with them, they’re fine in small groups. But it’s a bit like if I as a white man were to go to South Central L.A. and tell the people there ‘hey, don’t sell crack’, I mean, it’s not going to work”. He was referring, I can only imagine, to the Romanian settler’s ‘anti-Occupy’ spirit, which according to Our Man includes rife stealing and harassment. Occupy Frankfurt initially welcomed Romanian families on an ideological but also symbolic premise: there was a desire to make public a group of people who are, for all intents and purposes, invisible.

The dOCCUPY General Assembly was to be held that night, and Our Man dutifully explained its procedure. Simple: a movement is proposed and voted on by inhabitants of the camp and anyone who wishes to be present. If there is a majority in favor of a motion, it is passed. Now, I was either misinformed by this account of their voting system or there has been a rather grievous error in communication to dOCCUPY from the higher Occupy powers. Generally, the Occupy movement has a clearly delineated veto system (physicalised by the famous crossed arms held to the sky), which protects from the loophole-pricked procedure the Kassel movement ostensibly has in place. Nevertheless, Our Man suggested that I gather a group of twenty friends and put forth a motion, while also encouraging me to come so that I could back the three ideologies he wished to propose.

Carolyn Christov Bakargiev cited Joseph Beuys as a potential spiritual guide to the dOCCUPY camp in her open letter to welcome them. She suggested that his social sculpture methodologies would lend themselves to Occupy’s desire to crystallize frustration against Western rapaciousness and corruption. In speaking of 7000 Oaks, Beuys said, “My point with these seven thousand trees was that each would be a monument, consisting of a living part, the live tree, changing all the time, and a crystalline mass, maintaining its shape, size, and weight. This stone can be transformed only by taking from it, when a piece splinters off, say, never by growing. By placing these two objects side by side, the proportionality of the monument’s two parts will never be the same.”

Later, at lunch with Julia, we made a list:

POSSIBLE MOTIONS TO PUT FORWARD AT THE
FORTHCOMING dOCCUPY GENERAL ASSEMBLY:

i.    Attach weather balloons to all the camp’s tents so that they hover just centimeters off the ground until someone climbs inside of one.

ii.    Protest Maria Loboda’s cypress trees by night, at their most ambulant and therefore most vulnerable.


Or,

iii.    Consider whether the cypress trees are friend of foe and act accordingly.

iv.    Paint a life-sized impression of the Fridericianum and place it in front of dOCCUPY’s camp entrance.

v.    Pick a direction and elect one person from the camp to walk there until (s)he can do so no longer.

 

Prologue:

Two weeks later and I am walking past the Friedrichsplatz once more. Something has changed: the dOCCUPY camp has grown exponentially. Their production of banners and their presentation of knick-knacks and photocopied literature are all the more abundant, but there are also four or five new tents, slightly separate from the rest of the camp. Later in the day, I find out that these new additions to the camp are not necessarily here for Occupy. No, they are visitors to dOCUMENTA - tourists.

 

August 14, 2012

I had passed by but never stopped. The mixing of esoteric and futuristic sounds was not much to my liking. Besides, I saw a guy solemnly standing at the visible entrance to the mud mountain and I thought the piece was really a trap, a place you could not abandon any time you wanted to. So I did not go in.
Then I met Michael Portnoy at a dinner party and he was certainly a very suave person, softly spoken and very cultivated, interested, as I personally am since years, in the work of the intensely Italian artist Carmelo Bene.
I had to admit I had not see his piece – and he told me with no resentment at all that I could do so the next day and to be "chosen" I just had to make patently clear that I wanted to go in. So I did. I was picked up almost instantly by a young assistant who gave me a mother pearl token half-painted in blue, very pretty, but looking an awful lot like the tokens you get to go into bumper cars. Only people with that token could enter the mud mountain. After a while there were more people wanting to go in than mother pearl tokens so I had to share mine with an Indian looking and very pleasant young man. We were told that the performance would be in "sophisticated English" – to which the Indian young man, coming from New Delhi, retorted that he was not sure that was the English he was familiar with. We chuckled. We were told to stop laughing and hold our token high, held by both our right hands.
We marched in, led by one of the solemn assistants. We came into a sort of circular futuristic contest room, curved everywhere so that you could not stand your ground safely anywhere – you were permanently unstable.
In the middle of the room Michael Portnoy and a young lady I recognized as his wife were wearing elegant but bizarre suits – their backs were naked – and making signs around their noses, esoteric and futuristic sounds as a constant background.
I tried to keep myself very low profile, to no avail! I was of course picked up as a contester in the contest of the 27 Gnosis (it sounds like 'noses') – we were two groups of three, I recognized my other two companions as students working at dOCUMENTA, and one of them, I thought, had told me he worked for Michael Portnoy. He came in handy; we were soon urged to answer totally incomprehensible questions, and he seemed to have some experience.
The questions were not the problem, it as the vocabulary that did not make any sense, even if the grammar was American English (Is this sophisticated English? I wondered – but my early companion was now far away and I could not share the joke).
I could not understand anything we were talking about, and yet it sounded like reasonable English. The clothes of Michael Portnoy and his wife and their earnestness when stalking us with extremely urgent questions made me think of this TV series I used to watch with my son: "My parents are aliens", where two aliens adopt the form of an adult woman and an adult man and adopt three orphan children. They adopt as well all possible human behaviour and habits, and yet, nothing they say or do make sense to the horrified children.
What was really interesting in the performance of Michael Portnoy was that you felt compelled to make sense of a gibberish that did not make any sense to the reasonable part of you.
Why we were the winners of the contest I cannot tell you. As a price, I was honoured to give a name to a yet nameless Gnose. I said "Arbaces", the evil character of the movie "The Last Days of Pompeii". And my alien parents were happy with it.

Dora Garcia

 

August 29, 2012


It is decided from the beginning that the tour will take place in German, me being the only English speaker participating. Everyone else – late middle-aged Germans – inquire as to my origins while Gunnar Richter, our tour leader, smiles forgivingly. We are waiting for something in front of the composer and noted Freemason Louis Spohr’s memorial. His commemorative statue is adorned with a small sticker of a raccoon, an animal originally introduced to Germany in Hesse in 1934 to enrich the Nazi myth of plentiful German fauna.

At this site in April 1933, a mock-concentration camp housing a donkey (the beast of burden) was used as a publicity stunt to dissuade Kasselers from patronizing Jewish shops¹.

A tram comes, and soon we are following the same rails Breitenau prisoners would take toward a village called Guxhagen. Gunnar asks us trivia questions upon arrival: ‘What was the percentage of Jews in Germany before the war?’ One woman with ‘gender equality’ printed on the sleeve of her shirt suggests 60%. 0.7% is the correct answer, but in this region it was closer to 16%. I follow the group with dire visions of neighbors imprisoning neighbors.

I ask, ‘What are the differences between the German and the International members of your tour?’ ‘Germans want to know who the people in the camps were, how they got there, while International people are more interested in the process German people have gone through to understand the Nazis after the war, what we learn in school and so on’, is Gunnar’s measured reply.

I catch about every sixth word of his rolling narrative, although Gunnar has offered his daughter as a translator and she sits by my side whispering into my ear. ‘What did he say about Napoleon?’ I ask as we walk along the Fulda toward the entrance to Breitenau. He didn’t, but this is of little consequence: ‘Napoleon’s brother lived in Kassel in a house built next to the Orangerie. He was terribly cold during the winters and so clogged the chimneys with all the fires he lit, eventually burning the house down. He bathed in wine’.

We arrive at the brick wall and wrought iron gate of a 12th century Benedictine monastery: Breitenau. A red brick edifice with bars on its windows is surrounded by tree-shaded out-buildings. In 1871, during the Franco-Prussian war, the property was transformed into a prison. In 1874 it became a workhouse for drifters, tramps, and prostitutes. In 1933 it was converted into a concentration camp for political prisoners, and by 1938 much of the regional Jewish population were sent here. From 1940 to 1945 a so-called Work Education Camp was established to hold International dissidents of the Nazi regime, while also becoming a transfer camp for Jewish prisoners. It remained a work camp until 1949 (although it is unclear who exactly was made to continue working here after the war), and from 1952 to 1973, it became the Fuldatal Home for Young People, a securitized reformatory for bad girls. The reformatory was shut down following Ulrike Meinhoff’s film Bambule and her subsequent protests against its poor living conditions². Breitenau currently houses a psychiatric institution. Figures in the distance sitting on plastic deck chairs occasionally peer over their shoulders at us.

There is a modest museum on the second or third floor of one building. The psychiatric ward is on the other side of the glass doors we pass in the stairwell. The museum holds various documents from the Nazi era of the camp – nametags, letters, and documents betraying the Third Reich’s finesse for bureaucracy. A member of the tour tugs my sleeve, ‘Look; this is a document about a Belgian prisoner. He was sent here because he was a slow worker’. I mutter ‘typical’, waiting for a reaction and am greeted by uneasy laughter.

Outside, a long blackened window on the main building is pointed out. This is the passage that separates the local parish church from the work camp. Inside the church, local babies pasted to silhouettes of apples are pinned to a notice board. This church was active even as it shared a wall with a prison camp. We enter the prison and are taken into the shower room, 10 degrees colder than anywhere else in Breitenau. Gunnar says something about Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, but my interpreter is nowhere to be found. We climb some stairs, and enter Judith Hopf’s work: a forest of bamboo made of water glasses stacked floor to ceiling, cut-out green paper leaves variously sticking out from their crevices. Members of the tour cry ‘angel’s wings!’ while others gasp in emotion. We walk back to Wuxhagen train station, eating the apples we’ve picked from Breitenau’s orchards and throwing the cores in the bushes. The tour has ended.

The pace changes on the train back from Breitenau. We speak of Dachau. Gunnar Richter leans in confidentially: ‘I have a thought about those Korbinian apples, you know’. My ears prick up:

November 8th 1939, the anniversary of the Beer hall Putsch:

Johann Georg Elser attempts to assassinate Adolf Hitler, but his bomb detonates thirteen minutes after Hitler leaves the room, a fact the Nazis will later use to speculate on his divine providence. Elser is arrested 35 minutes before the explosion for un-related reasons at the Swiss Border, and after interrogation and torture by the Gestapo, he is sent to Sachsenhausen then Dachau where he is murdered in 1945 on Heinrich Müller’s personal orders. On November 9th, Korbinian Aigner, a Bavarian catholic priest, teacher, pomologist, and co-founder of the Hohenpoldinger Fruit Association gives a sermon on the fifth commandment, questioning whether Elser’s act was sinful in the eyes of God. Aigner’s comments lead to his arrest and imprisonment at the same camps as Elser. At Dachau, he works in the camp’s garden tending the apple orchard, developing four new strains of apples: KZ-1, KZ-2, KZ-3, and KZ-4 (KZ is the German abbreviation for Concentration Camp). KZ-3 is later renamed the Korbinian apple, and in 2012 a Korbinian apple tree is planted by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev in the Karlsaue across the park from an Arkansas Black apple tree planted by Jimmie Durham. Surviving Dachau, Aigner continues his life as a priest, cultivating his orchard and making nearly 900 nearly life-sized drawings of his apples rendered in colourful detail, 274 of which are presented at dOCUMENTA(13). He wears his prison uniform as he works on his apple orchard, and professes a desire to be buried in his Dachau-issued jacket.

‘Now,’ says Gunnar, ‘Here’s my suspicion’- he is grinning a Cheshire smile –‘Seeing as Aigner was a Catholic priest, I think perhaps he must have had some sort of … attraction to the apples. You know, the apple being the forbidden fruit of the Garden of Eden. The apples must be a replacement for what he cannot have’… We nod in complicity.

I ask Gunnar if he knows Jimmie Durham’s allegorical label design for the dOCUMENTA(13) Korbinian apple juice. He doesn’t. A smirking Eve reclines under the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, enjoying or about to enjoy a glass of apple juice. There is a suspension of the rules: she’s still in the garden, but she seems quite comfortable in her nudity, sultry even, as she stares back at us imbibers. A placid wolf is seated by her side, seemingly unaware of the serpent uncoiling from his perch above them, four apples falling from the tree, and the menacing Berlin mascot - a grunting black bear with his red tongue and claws protruding - breaking through the picture to terrorize them all. ‘Concept: Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev’ and ‘Naturally Cloudy!’ are written below in dancing typography.

‘If the apple was Aigner’s sensual escapism, his erotic code in good times but particularly in bad, then what does it mean for Carolyn and Jimmie to press his apples into juice?’ I wonder aloud. Gunnar’s not sure, but he knows what Catholic priests are like.

Carolyn has refreshed the weary with her juice for 100 days. She sells it for a few Euros a bottle; a price worth paying, for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. {3:6}.

I get off the train. Somewhere, Carolyn and Jimmie are trying to figure out how an apple tree thinks.

Later, I stop by a dOCUMENTA(13) gift shop and notice limited edition signed bottles of the apple juice. For considerably more money, it is made available as a souvenir - never to be tasted but left to rot from the inside: an object of purity.

Much later, when the first Korbinian apple from her tree is ripe for picking, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev will return to Kassel as Eve to take the first bite, masticating its illicit and delicate white flesh and caressing its red skin. She will throw the core on the ground as she licks her sticky fingers, look up to the sky and, thinking of Iðunn, will contemplate her mortality.

Notes:
¹ Sanja Iveković’s The Disobedient (The Revolutionaries) explores this image, presenting numerous plush toy donkeys from private collections and naming them after individuals who resisted the oppression of the Nazis and other 20th century dictatorships.

² dOCUMENTA(13) participant Chiara Fumai, a politically activated witch, draws heavily on this film during her performance in which she embodies Meinhoff.

Bitsy Knox

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