The tenth documenta is the last before the start of a new millennium. Now, if ever, is the time to look "back to the future". Catherine David has taken up the challenge. In her preparations for planning this, the world's leading contemporary art event, she moves between the opposite poles of a critical review of the past fifty years, as covered by documenta 1-9, and an interdisciplinary look into a future where traditional categories will no longer apply. Her dX will revolve around a comprehensive survey and interpretation of the state of contemporary art.
Reflection on what can and must be done with documenta X has made it evident that art today needs to be examined within its (in the widest sense) political context. This entails a far-reaching exploration of cultural practice. There is more to dX than the presentation of works of art; Catherine David calls it a manifestation culturelle. Essentially, it offers a variety of ways to apprehend the true state of the world. It uses a diversity of languages and operates on a number of different levels. Ideally, the manifestation culturelle that is dX might be visualized as a nucleus surrounded by concentric circles, symbolizing tightly packed energy within and radiant expansion without.
The nucleus of Catherine David's manifestation culturelle is what happens in Kassel itself: the exhibition that extends from the Central Station (Hauptbahnhof) to the River Fulda, and the event 100 Days - 100 Guests, a forum for thinkers and doers from all over the world, in which filmmakers, writers and artists will appear alongside philosophers, economists, architects and others. At a given time each day, from 21 June until 28 September, one of these guests will be in the documenta-Halle, presenting either a lecture, a discussion or an artistic offering. Here the focus will be on film, theatre, music and literature, together with debate, interpretation and commentary - all seen as necessary means of engaging with the present-day world. One objective will be to reflect the multiplicity of contemporary cultures - including non-European cultures in particular - and to present them as fully, vividly and flexibly as possible. Another will be to convey precise information on the different contexts within which cultural activity takes place today.
The approach in 100 Days - 100 Guests is that of a survey, a perspective. For the exhibition itself, Catherine David has coined the term "retroperspective". On the one hand, the aim is to set dX within the context of its predecessors, and to extract a clearly defined picture of the present-day situation. On the other, dX belongs within the tradition of innovation that has informed its predecessors, while simultaneously harking back to the critical currents that are vital to the understanding of contemporary art. From a "retroperspective" viewpoint, dX will pinpoint the critical attitudes that crystallized in the art of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Lines of evolution will be traced from there to the present. Against the wider horizon of contemporary art, Catherine David raises the question of how best to present the heterogeneous and increasingly complex artistic practices of today.
The locale defined for the presentation of this and other issues is the exhibition sequence, the parcours, that forms an axis running across the centre of Kassel. Starting at the old Central Station, this leads through underpasses constructed in the 1960s, and then by way of Treppenstrasse (Germany's earliest postwar pedestrian precinct), to the Fridericianum, built as a museum in 1769-79. From the Ottoneum, the earliest permanent theatre building in Germany (1605), the visitor goes on to the documenta-Halle (1992) and then, via one end of the eighteenth-century Orangerie on the Karlsaue, to the bank of the Fulda - another place of "passage", like the beginning of the sequence.
This richly varied parcours is used in ways that reflect both the history and the present state of the city of Kassel. Such concepts as the urban and the public, reconstruction and mondialization, vital to any analysis of the present state of the world, can here be exemplified in close-up. The visitor can trace the vestiges of princely rule, the industrial revolution and its decline, the catastrophe of war, the paradigms of reconstruction, the structure of post-industrial society, and the signs of mondialization.
The dX book will enable the issues raised here to be discussed in depth. It represents, as it were, the first of the concentric circles around the nucleus, and forms a "space" in its own right, an integral part of the manifestation culturelle. A concise exhibition guide will inform visitors about the artists, their works and the 100 Days - 100 Guests programme; the book will offer a different reading of the context, with insights that cannot be conveyed in an exhibition. It will cover the whole period 1945-1997, offering a "retroperspective" focus on the philosophical, political and art-historical implications of present-day art and visual culture. The evolution of documenta itself, embedded in its historico-political and cultural context, will be viewed as a complex expression of many different histories - in a lively combination of text and pictures that will span a wide spectrum, from scholarly essay to poetic fragment, from work of art to documentary photograph - without concealing any of the hiatuses, fractures, crossovers and overlaps that are part of history.
The message of dX will find its widest dissemination through the Internet, which will convey its content through a different and self-sufficient language. Here, documenta X will operate on three levels: information, artists' projects and a discussion forum for 100 Days - 100 Guests. Information on preparations for dX, and on the services offered, will be available before the opening. From June 1997 onwards current events, programme information and other material will be added.
Significantly, Catherine David borrows a metaphor from filmmaking to describe her work on dX: the preparations are a slow, patient process of editing or "montage" leaves the script relatively open, assembling individual sequences in such a way that an internal logic gives rise to the definitive outcome. By "definitive" she does not mean that the visitor to dX can expect a static phenomenon. These 100 Days will be marked by liveliness and involvement, analysis and criticism, openness and scepticism, experiment and statement, reflection and activity.
Theatrical Sketches Within dX, the programme 100 Days - 100 Guests will cover theatre as well as film, music and literature. Early in the run of dX, creative people in the theatre (directors, choreographers, composers, set designers, actors, writers) will be invited to Kassel for a period of critical dialogue and interaction, on the basis of which they will prepare "theatrical sketches". A selection of these projects will be staged by dX on a weekend in September, in the course of a theatre marathon held in the exhibition spaces and at other venues.
Films at dX The works of art produced for dX will include films. Catherine David has selected an international group of directors to carry out feature or documentary projects especially for Kassel, through coproduction deals with television networks and other bodies. Sony will supply the equipment that the artists need for their work. Alongside these new productions - a number of which will premiere in Kassel - a programme developed conjointly with the Filmladen in Kassel will be shown in the Bali Kino at the Kulturbahnhof. The filmmakers will attend the showings of their work.
Publications for dX Two documenta publications have appeared so far in 1996: they outline a broad conceptual background for the development of dX and provide all interested parties with a basis for discussion. The theme of documents 1 is "Identity", in the widest sense of the term; documents 2 is about the concept of "The Image". A wealth of perspectives on the selected themes will be provided in texts and ../images by a variety of contributors (including philosophers, artists and film critics). The next volume, documents 3, will take "Territory" as its theme. As well as the book described in the previous section, there will be a concise exhibition guide. While the 100 Days are in progress, documents 4 will appear, followed towards the end of 1997 by a retrospective assessment of dX in documents 5.
All the documents volumes will be available from booksellers or direct from the publishers:
Cantz Verlag, Senefelder Strasse 9, D-73760 Ostfildern-Ruit, Telephone +49(0) 711 449930, fax +49(0) 711 441579