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by Sarat Maharaj

Merz-Thinking – Sounding The Documenta Process Between Critique And Spectacle

An edited version of a lecture for the 50-year anniversary of Documenta (Kassel-Hofgeismar. 27 October 2005)

My talk is made up of a series of appreciative if querying annotations on what I call the Documenta Process: an umbrella term I am using to cover the past eleven Documenta curatorial events across 50 years (1955-2005) onwards to the next. It does not mean that I am simply lumping them together. To refer to them as a constellation is little better. It implies I have joined them up and configured them with a pre-given idea in mind. My focus, however, is on the fact that each Documenta is a singularity; each is a one-off affair with its own distinct stamp. At the same time, the regular five-year basis on which they take place, their periodicity, lends them a sense of seamless continuity. By the Documenta Process, therefore, I mean that the eleven events can be looked at in double-terms of continuity and discontinuities, of repetition and difference. We can highlight this by speaking of their quiddity, a word that, in English at least, has dual, contrary meaning. On the one hand, it signals that each Documenta has its own essential nature, that they are discrete, incommensurable curatorial events. On the other, that differences between them are quibbling: insubstantial enough for us to treat them as one undivided thing. The Documenta Process is shot through with a tension between two forces: Inszenierung und Kritik. The first I’ve translated as ‘staging’ or ‘bringing into view’: the endeavour of putting on a presentation, a feat of engineering and ingenuity. It is about the machinery for getting the operation off the ground, for conjuring the show’s spell or spectacle. The second is about ‘critique’ or the reflexive analytic. My focus is on taking the sound of the in-between space or ‘Zwischenraum’ between critical force and its polar opposite. Can we sustain such a strict division between critique and spectacle except perhaps on an abstract plane? Some Documentas have tended more towards one or the other pole. But each pole really takes in a measure of its opposite. It is hard to imagine pure critique untouched by display and staging. Nor can we easily speak of sheer presentation, though some said the logic of Documenta 5 tended towards ‘exhibition about exhibition’. Today we understand Spectacle less as a mindless spume, more as a retinal-cognitive structure with the capacity to strip bare its own devices, to generate its own critical self-scanning. An abiding impression is that the Documenta Process is about Critique, with exposition in and through art practice, rigorous curatorial thinking, related analysis and discourse. On the English side of the Channel, we fight shy of appearing too earnest about art and full-blown critique. We are apt to say ‘let's leave that to the Germans’. Sometimes this conceals a sneaking admiration. But the contrast is with ‘our’ native empiricism, with a more open-ended, hands-on approach. It is easy to parody critique: in which the aesthetic, social and political spheres are dealt with in a grand system as over the top ‘Teutonic’. But it overlooks how critical models, often dispersed by thinkers and artists fleeing the Third Reich, have shaped post war art spaces. Beyond stereotyping bluster, German approaches to art and Critique have now become part of the institutions of art internationally as critique has spread with the art-culture industries of the consumerist economy. In emerging global art scenes today, the art-critique model normalizes before our eyes. As contemporary art sets up shop across China, South Africa, India, Brazil staging and critique intersect as a part of its symbolic and market actualité a norm once associated almost only with something like Documenta.

The normalizing of critique in the Documenta Process seems to be summed up by a photograph of Bazon Brock, tutor extraordinaire, during one of his famous teach-ins.1 It is not surprising that his zest for learning and thinking through art is now the subject of a celebratory show.2 The snapshot is of him in front of a spellbound class expounding and debating, like Joseph Beuys in action in his Office for Direct Democracy3 or his three and a half hour Ulster blackboard session.4 It records the glimmerings of a teaching-learning, public discursive space that would become an institutional feature of the art world by the 1990s. On the blackboard, Brock has chalked up keywords of critique: AUFHEBUNG looms formidably large with a clutch of satellite terms reaching a crescendo with the daunting ‘totalization’. With Aufhebung we look on the linchpin of critique and related notions of enlightenment, modernity, autonomy, historical progress, totality, freedom, universalism. In hardnosed English, it can be translated as ‘cancellation’ and ‘carry over’, though  in philosophy-speak we might have to use the fearful term ‘sublation’. It is about a historical passage where a particular stage of art or society is superseded by a more advanced one. As the lower phase becomes obsolete it also provides the germ for the next. Aufhebung evokes a long haul, social-cultural dialectical trek unmatched outside Germany, except perhaps by the arduous route to enlightenment in the ancient Sanskrit philosophy of India. The dynamic of negation in Aufhebung: opposition, crossing out and transposition onto a higher plane, amounts to a constant upgrading. It tots up a linear story of advancing modernity, rational life and enlightenment. But does such an ‘abstract’ scenario of critique have any bearing on the vagaries of the actual world? I wonder what Brock’s group made of the blackboard terms, what scenario they mulled over? By 1968, a string of Documentas had already taken place in a divided Germany with further rumblings from the ‘other’ side of a split Europe. Did this cast doubt on the cumulative tale of modernity and ‘totalization’? For Jacques Derrida, Aufhebung so haunted thinking that Hegel’s dialectical snares seemed near inescapable. He therefore juxtaposed an artist’s way of thinking: Jean Genet’s wayward semantic-sexual force, with Hegel’s totalizing steamroller5. If this is roughly in tune with poststructuralist unhinging of critique’s overbearing ‘meta-narratives’, it is reflected in an understated way in Catherine David’s Documenta X; something we sense both in the event’s intellectual scaffolding and in its lay out. Okwui Enwezor’s curatorial project, Documenta 11, applied the deconstructive probe to the intersection of the postcolonial and the emerging global ‘Empire’. The scenario of critique propelled by Aufhebung is scaled down. The linear tale of progress and modernity that relegates everything outside the scope of the ‘West’ to Der Anderen Modernen is checked by bringing into view a plethora of vibrant modernities. Documenta 11 enacted this by setting up platforms beyond the Euro-zone: a de-centred staging that mirrored new networks of heightened, unsquarable diversity. Here critique is not simply about voicing the excluded or aboriginal. Beyond the classic territories and identities of North/South, self/other, inside/outside, there are new play-offs between the authentic, simulated, replica, fake-similar and hybrids. These convoluted relations encapsulate the nature of contemporary entanglements. They are articulated in Georges Adéagbo’s installations or in the colonial African landscape as a ‘monstrous lookalike’ of the English countryside that opens Zarina Bhimji’s Out of Blue. Looking back from the last, it is apparent that each Documenta throws up its own critical coordinates. They do not mirror a readymade critical essence called ‘critique’. Its academic authority does not mesmerize them. They unpack its terms, toy with them, use them as raw stuff for new tools and approaches. We have a détournement of critique, a topsy-turvy of systematic academic force. Here critique is a sounding from within art and curatorial practice.


Bazon Brock 1968


Art History Room. Salisbury Island, Durban. C. 1980



Some of us learn German not so much to chat to ordinary German speakers but because we want to converse with Hegel. We end up knowing big words like Aufhebung, Entscheidungsproblem, Verfremdungseffekt. But we still don't know how to order a cup of tea in the lingo. Brock’s chalked Aufhebung jogged my memory about similar lettering from my student days in Apartheid South Africa, at one of the racially segregated institutions (University College, Durban for Indians). It was blackboard scrawl in the ‘Kant to Heidegger’ class run by the bril-liant Professor Z from Germany. Suspicion simmered over why he had come to Apartheidland when there were calls for a boycott? Though he was politically wrong-footed, he was a fount of knowledge: our odd link with Hegel. He resisted discussing Marx who was of growing interest to the buoyant students’ movement. The University Rector, Professor O, had returned from the US and Europe to warn against the three evil monkeys of critique of our time: Marx, Mao and Marcuse. It simply whipped up our interest even more. To goad Professor Z into discussing the first monkey, we would feign ignorance; asking about the thinker who was reputed to have turned Hegel ‘upside down’. I am not sure whether he was making the point avant le Derrida that we imagine we have an escape hatch from Aufhebung, only to find Hegel lying in wait for us down the road. What I’d like us to note this evening are the extensive roots of the scenario of critique; the ‘inside’ of Germany is matted up with the oddest of ‘outsides’.



Was there an equivalent of Brock’s blackboard (Kassel), a record of Professor Z’s chalkboard (Durban)? The South African artist Clifford Charles found for me something close enough. This is the Art History room in which I studied in the 1970s. It is Professor CL’s office at the University for Indians, which was on Salisbury Island in Durban bay in the buildings of what was the naval base. The stamp on the margin is of the University Archive. As you can see, on the back wall is a Breugel: the North European tradition of retinal painting. Through the window, a railway line that normally carried goods to and from the shipping docks, occasionally, a wagonload of prisoners. On the blackboard ledge an Islamic calligraphic strip in angular Kufic style; an Aztec head, an elongated African wood figurine: Prehistoric South Africa alongside contemporary Zulu, Ndebele and Xhosa craftwork. Scholarly papers, bric-a-brac, filing cabinets, the room is a six-continents art-culture-clan tableau, an epistemic-classificatory machine with the Greco-Roman-Hellenistic bust as the radial point. However, Professor CL’s staging of the subject is ambivalent. It is ostensibly a straight representation of Apartheid ideology of separate but equal cultures. In actuality, a resistant spark runs through it, not only a hint of incipient translation and cross-talk but also of the promise of cosmopolitan mix. For on the blackboard is a quote from Rukmini Devi’s cosmic universalism. In colonial India, she had led the revival of dance troupes that had fallen into disrepair and disrepute. Islamic rulers and colonial administrators had tried to stamp them out. Indians who had adopted Victorian taboos had become ashamed of the dance’s sensual-erotic nature. Hegel too is askance at the misfit in India’s thinking ‘zwischen’ sublime metaphysics and the shameless sensual. One suspects that here was a prime case for an Aufhebung: presumably more for cancellation than carrying over. Anna Pavlova’s meeting with Rukmini Devi was key to the revaluation of the dance beyond the Cartesian body-mind split: a pivotal moment of ‘dance as critique’. Rukmini Devi stepped out of her sheltered upper caste world to perform in public, to identify with the ‘lowly knowledge’ of the dancer clans. A defiant move in the rising independence struggle, it marks an aesthetic and gender stand off, a refusal of colonial authority over the ‘native, racial’ body. The act of resistance took place around 1935. It was the year the Nazi’s both shut down the Tanzkongress in abhorrence of the critical, experimental dance body and the year they ushered in the Nuremberg laws.



Several universalisms crop up here. Bazon’s Aufhebung chimed in with the period’s utopian politics: towards a modern, enlightened, liberated commonality. But, as postcolonial critiques asked, was this not also about assimilation to Eurocentric norms? Rukmini Devi’s universalism is about live and let live within teeming multiplicity, contradiction, divine proliferation, while finding unity in subjective feeling of oneness with all cosmic life. At odds with the above, is the ‘universal’ touted by Apartheid. Its claim of not only tolerating diversity and difference but of also giving them room to blossom separately and equally was a façade for racist hierarchy, a fraudulent, multi-cultural commonalty. In Orwell’s phrase, here some cultures were more equal than others.

Today, globalization claims to be hammering out a world-system in the name of the universal and cosmopolitan. But it is largely in the interests of the mega-corps and companies. In the deterritorializing world space it forges, it becomes less and less easy to distinguish between outside and in. As a consequence, what dwindles is the sense of an external sphere of universals: freedom, equality, autonomy, that stood distinctly outside and above the everyday with some sort of critical purchase on it. The promise of this levelling out is that lofty universals now become down-to-earth terms within  a more concrete legal framework. But brittleness also sets in. Diversity, for example, gets treated reductively: as set-piece representations of cultures. Earlier, I noted how England tends to stereotype Germany through a few stock images. Probably much the same happens the other way round too. We brush it off as handy clichés of global com-munication. In the same way, under guise of the universal and cosmopolitan, globalization operates with well-thumbed representations and clichés of difference. This is at odds with the world as an unending churn out of difference: heterogenesis, as unpredictable, creative surplus spawned by migration and translation. But ‘levelling out’ does not mean that critique simply comes crashing down into the realm of Spectacle below trapping us in a one-dimensional situation. That globalization has hijacked critique and its universals6 is a vivid, pointed but moot observation. But to dismiss multiculturalism as an ideology of globalization7 overlooks how it is produced by migrant struggles for visibility. What is crucial is the potential paradoxically thrown up by the no-exit situation. For as critique levels off into the everyday, the basis for an immanent strategy is laid, for teasing out transformative possibilities and alternatives from the grain of the globalizing process itself, for critical thinking ‘from below’.8 Ulrich Beck’s draws up a more balanced map, in empirical, sociological terms, of the universalizing forces at play for and against cosmopolitanism. He notes that over and above globalization, almost as its unwitting by-product, a process of cosmopolitanization is afoot. With it surfaces an uneven, rudimentary, if somewhat distorted sense of universal interaction and inter-dependence. Is this a co-opting of human rights and the cosmopolitan ideal or the implicit preparation of the ground for its more concrete realization?9



By deterritorialisation, I mean the dissolution of established fields of experience, action and knowledge. Documenta 1, signposted a break with the tribal territories of art-culture-identity of the Third Reich: also, a re-connection with what had been excluded while opening up to fresh, future possibilities. In charting the classic territories of the various arts in Laocoon10 (1766) Lessing had confined sculpture to  the static non-temporal part of his division of the arts that is not unlike Adam Smith’s capitalist division of material labour in Wealth of Nations11 (1776). Transgressing Lessing’s laws, Eduardo Paolozzi’s collage Just Plug It In (1946) suggests literally wiring up the Laocoon sculpture with electricity to get it moving. His real target was the reterritorializing of the arts that Clement Greenberg proposed in Towards a Newer Laocoon (1940)12, a landmark for Anglo-American Art History. He prescribed that each art keep to the limits of it own medium against tendencies to blur ‘normal’ boundaries, especially against the rising mix of mass culture, advertising, Hollywood kitsch. The stance has a touch of Adorno, without the Aufhebung and weight of German thought. It adds up to a scenario of critique from outside and above: the sense of an authentic, autonomous art sphere that passes judgment on Spectacle, on everyday culture hopelessly mired in consumerist experience. In contrast Rudolf Arnheim’s Laocoon (1938)13, from around the time of his exit from the Third Reich, took a much less prescriptive view of the division of the arts and their current tendencies to converge and blend. Beyond this period of ‘Kulturkampf’, stands Arnold Bode’s momentous start-up of the Documenta process, beyond territories of art-culture-identity charted by the Third Reich. Subsequent curatorial projects, such as Documenta 4 (Arnold Bode, 1968), Documenta 5 (Harald Szeemann,1972) and Documenta 11, are sometimes judged as having brought an undue political charge to critique. More likely, they were chasing up epistemic–political frequencies prefigured by the very first one.



Documenta 6 (1977) featured John Latham who had left Southern Africa for the UK around the time the Apartheid Reich was being set up. By the 1950s, Greenberg's Laocoon essay, later published in his book Art and Culture14 had almost bible status in some quarters. A shift away, though, from the art autonomy and abstract expressionism he championed, was discernable earlier. In the 1960s, Latham, a tutor at the Central School of Art, London, had Greenberg’s Art and Culture out on loan so long that the Librarian sent him a reminder: ‘Urgently needed by students, Art and Culture’. It sounded barely credible: whoever has heard of students desperate for art and culture? In England at least, we somehow expect them to ignore it, then perhaps to get round to making it for themselves before they ever feel they are gasping for a shot of it. Latham organised a party, I imagine it as an indoor picnic, a precursor to the discursive picnickers from Humboldt Universität.15 Partygoers were offered pages from Art and Culture: an awfully dry cocktail to chomp through. They had to spit out the cud into a bowl of chemicals. He distilled the vapour off the ferment, bottled it and sent it to the library in a phial labelled ‘Essence of Art and Culture’. On the scent of conceptual art territory? A letter from the School Principal followed. Latham was sacked.



The moves I’ve sketched: the Lessing-Paolozzi-Greenberg-Arnheim-Latham chain, fold in and out of Arnold Bode’s Documenta 1. The exhibition This Is Tomorrow at the Whitechapel Gallery London in 1956, specifically The Crazy House by Richard Hamilton et al, dramatizes tendencies that have parallels in the Documenta process. Hamilton participated in Documentas 4, 6 and 10. The Crazy House16 took a quizzical look at media, advertising, pop imagery, consumerist mythologies of everyday life, at spectacle. This was not critique from an external vantage point, as in Greenberg or perhaps the Frankfurt School or the French Structuralists. Around the time, Roland Barthes too had unpacked the mythologies of everyday spectacle, but with the power tools of a systematic semiotic critique. On the contrary, The Crazy House ploy was to generate critical awareness through immersion in the sight-sound-smell experience of pop ephemera, ads, kitsch: by soaking it up, getting under its skin, by ironic displacing from within. The dérèglement of the sense faculties, problematizing perception-vision, taste and smell add up to a somatic-motor-sensory event more than a semiotic one. We are not so much connoisseurs conducting a detached reading-interpretation of representations high art or popular culture. We are in a ‘hands-on’ mode, dunked into the atmospherics with palpable impact on our body-mind states. Across Documentas 4 to 10, models of art as durational flows, performance and immersion run alongside those of a connoisseurial-retinal kind. The art event becomes both about reading-textual decoding and enactive, embodied know-see-feel. Critical thinking takes not only the form of the top-down application of an analytical toolkit. It shapes up as awareness that seeps out from flows of affect and experience. The TiT17 Crazy House summed up James Joyce’s phrase Guten(morgen)berg, hailing the bright morning of media technologies and futuristic electronic cultures beyond the print-press-typographic era. The rosy dawn heralded new sensory-cognitive faculties, new territories of art, alternative mental-emotional-bodily possibilities. In Documenta 10, Hamilton and Ecke Bonk greeted the new dawn with their Post-Gutenberg Pavilion by displaying a computer stripped bare, its core innards on show. We verge on a new reality made up of both actual and virtual elements. The digit-pixel count: the level of resolution of the image, becomes a sort of yardstick of the ‘real’. Hamilton had visited the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Ulm in 1958 when Eduardo Maldonado was the head. The students nicknamed him the ‘blue jinx’ philosopher, at least, that is how he had heard it. They were referring to his cool dress code of denim jeans and jacket. They visited him in London while he was tussling with $HE18 that blended high brow expressionist painterliness with slick, sexy pop-media imagery. They brought him a plastic laminated eye that winks naughtily as you walk past: just the pop risqué touch to round off the piece. Here we have another instance of intimacy between ‘Germany’ and ‘elsewhere’ concerned with unravelling terrains of art, prefiguring the new morrow of techno-spectacle and of Mediengesellschaft that Schneckenburger made the curatorial focus of Documenta 6.



By deterritorialisation I mean both new media, ethernet dimensions of mind, art and culture and present-day migrations: the traffic of people, border crossings, labour circulations of the global economy. It is about the ‘non-documented’: illegals, refugees, clandestini, sans papiers, asylum-seekers, aliens, detainees, deportees. To keep track, we need an auto-updating dictionary and an atlas of detention centres, prisons, transit camps that ‘process’ migrants. The migrations hit the headlines every so often with news of yet another disaster, as with the drowning of 30 cockle pickers from China in the UK in 2004. They were ‘digging for fish’, raking up shellfish on the Morecambe Bay mudflats for the restaurants of the Euro-cities, when they were engulfed by quick-rising tides. The sand banks dissolved beneath their feet, a literal, fatal deterritorializing. Some scrambled frantic calls on their mobiles to families in South China. Without a common language, rescue was severely hampered. It sums up a global communicative sphere seething with translation, a jangle of tongues, of heterogeneous, ever-mutating identities. Against this, Jürgen Habermas’ vital mapping of the communicative sphere now appears somewhat even-toned and flat-line. In his perspective of critique and modernity, everyday transactions take place between regular rational citizens. Though he flags up the ‘inclusion of the other’, the speakers remain comparatively fixed identities tuned to much the same discursive-cultural wavelength. They interact in steady dialogic rounds of exchange on a deliberative plane within much the same cognitive parameters. But is today’s communicative space on as even a keel as this? It is riddled with incompatible ways of living and knowing, jammed with cultural difference and untranslatables. It is cacophonic Babel, rather more a space of interference and cross-talk than poised conversational shuttle. It is pervaded by an ominous sense of radical otherness and difference in our midst. The symptomatic figure is, as Hannah Arendt noted, the  ‘refugee’.19 But now it also takes in the cases I mentioned earlier, even the suicide bomber’s murderous black hole of non-communicating communication. In this space of  non-accord, self/other have both to forge a lingo for living in and through difference, contradiction and plurality and to stitch together a commonality or ‘plane of parley’.



I use James Joyce’s phrase ‘Pidginy Linguish’ or ‘pigeon-pidgin-English-language’ to signal a liquid lingo bubbling up from scratch, an open-ended communicative surge. It has to be distinguished from creole that hardens up as it develops grammar rules of usage. Globalization is a hybridizing condition but it hardly follows that creole should be the ‘universal tongue’. Pidginy Linguish is not a meta-lingo with global pretensions. It is a patchy, piecemeal parleying force, something that self/other thrash out on the spot. As it wells up from below in unforeseeable ways, it spreads out, evaporates. It has a ‘onceness’ about it. I relate this to Merz thinking: to Kurt Schwitters' omni-sprouting constructions that choked up his Hannover flat; Or to his Norway Merz, or his UK MerzBarn wall that Richard Hamilton and students managed to conserve by carting it off from Ambleside in the Lake District to the gallery in Newcastle. His ‘stick on’ way of working without knowing beforehand how the pieces will configure suggests an add on ad infinitum model of thinking-creating. I call this an agglutinative mode: an unfinishing process of becoming, billowing out, nosing-forward. If we relate Cartesian thinking to clear-cut concepts, then the Merz-mode is cloudy, far less hard edged. It stops short of reductive, black or white expression that ends up eliminating singularity and difference. Adorno observed grimly in Negative Dialectics20 that concepts are homicidal: he was referring to the killer instinct in the conceptual process that snuffs out the quiddity of things. I have updated this with xenocidal: the coercive streak that represents the foreign and alien only by reconstituting them in its own image, by violating them. Both Adorno and Deleuze speak of a ‘non-conceptual kind of conceptualizing’. Merz-thinking, however, is not so much for or against concepts; it is about the tightrope of an aconceptual mode. When Jan Hoet remarked, “There is no concept to my Documenta, there is no concept to art. I don't even know what the definition of art is”21 he raised a few eyebrows, his words taken as an opting out of critique. In hindsight, they sound like an instinctive hesitation over containing or essentializing; the attitude is of ‘letting be’, a less bullying kind of thinking. We can sense something of the assemblagist drift in Hugh Locke. There is an affinity between Schwitters' ‘stick on’ and his cut-out, DIY pile-ups: aggregations of Sargasso Sea junk and jetsam.22 The Merz Meer of rubbish and leftovers parallels flows of migration-translation detritus and surplus in today’s communication spaces. Deleuze23 and Feyerabend24 had chanced upon Schwitters as a model for an agglutinative thinking process. The former speaks of a basic add on logical mode formulated as ‘and + and + and +…’ It is not unlike the loose join-up Feyerabend associated with the common list where items are stuck on without a pre-given sequence. It is key to his ‘Dada epistemology’ pitted against over-systematizing critical rationalism: as a welter of cross-grained, higgledy-piggledy, unprogrammed procedures. The sort of knowledge associated with Merz-thinking might be paradoxically described as non-knowledge or Avidya to use a Sanskrit term which, however, should not be confused with ignorance. Academic scholarship operates largely within well-recognised channels. The focus here is on the capacity to meander, to stumble over and spawn new think-know-feel spaces. In this sense, Thomas Hirschhorn's Deleuze monument project25 or his Bataille project26 are non-discursive explications of the philosophers. His 24 Hour Foucault27 is concerned with how to ‘put thinking on display’ so the ‘exhibition feels like being inside a thinking brain’. His staging: kiosks, shacks, sheds, lean-tos and podiums are makeshift gear for encounter. We can find ourselves knee deep in texts. Critique becomes almost touchable experience, exegesis beyond academic reading, just as Maria Eichhorn’s Documenta 11 piece28 is a ‘discursive-non-discursive’ disquisition on capital. With legal backup, it places a sum of money in deep freeze but blocks any loophole for gaining interest on it suspending the drive of capitalist accumulation. In contrast, Lu Jie's The Long March. A Walking Visual Display29 looks explicitly at scenarios of critique and modernity. It is a road show of installation-events. It shadows the original route trudged by Mao’s Red Army: the violent uphill to modernity through the ordeal of critique. As knowledge-production in progress it conjoins the critical, curatorial and creative. Several Western stars, from Julia Kristeva, Philippe Sollers through Louis Althusser to David Hockney had actually undertaken some sort of China pilgrimage or made it their critical touchstone. The road show stops at villages where Mao and his band had sojourned. By initiating discussions with local communities, a kind of lab emerges to probe critique, its coercive use in communist times and after. The test-sites veer between cultural-revolution style auto-critiques and soul-searching confessions. Plugging into local expertise, such as the paper-cutting co-op, various kinds of knowledge about past and present, about skills and practices are aired and eked out.


Terror Bomb, Russell Square, Bloomsbury, London 2005



I draw to a close with an image from the Weimar period: Aby Warburg confined to the Kreuzlingen clinic because of a mental crisis. Around 1921, he pleaded to be allowed to make a trip to the Pueblo and Hopi. He had originally visited them 27 years before. The intensity of Native Indian living, performance and experience had led him to look at Renaissance Art with fresh eyes: beyond academic, bookish sources and in terms of the vital sources of ritual. He scandalously linked the elaborate spectacles of the Medici30 to earthy ritual, basic bodily needs and energies. He made a re-connection with primal forces ‘lower down’ the cultural ladder, with ‘primitive elements’ that, in the scenario of critique, Aufhebung and modernity, should have been superseded long ago. Should we see his wish to visit as a desire to re-connect with the ‘other’ and with ‘other ways’ of knowing, in terms of what I call Xeno-epistemics?31 It is about knotted relations between diverse practices, ‘unrelated’ art-culture territories and knowledge systems. Warburg failed to persuade the Kreuzlingen doctors to let him make the trip. By the 1930s, his library went into exile to London. It is today still in Bloomsbury, round the corner from where the bus terror bomb exploded in Tavistock Square on the seventh of July 2005. I mention these disparate, scattered events to stress that critical thought is not only about detached, connoisseurial states of consciousness. It shuttles between critique and crisis, between rupture and turbulence both as exile and migration and as mental-emotional upheaval. For Deleuze/Guattari, deterritorialization is crisis both in the clinical and cultural-political senses. In their scenario of capitalism and schizophrenia it is the prelude to the emergence of ‘other’ potentials and creative activity. Warburg’s final years were a mix of crisis and creative outpouring: new modes of thinking, non-linear, image-idea assemblages, a Dada epistemics. Critique short circuits regular conceptual-discursive exposition. It is thinking in and through visual processes, perhaps like Arnheim’s visual thinking.32 Both explore ways of thinking in and beyond the linguistic-cerebral register, knowing through sound, smell and movement: elements of a para-discursive-somatic-limbic force. There is no mean overlap with the modes of Merz thinking and non-knowledge. Their ideas prefigured territories of today’s new cognitive sciences: probes into mental processes, consciousness, creativity of cognition that intersect with spheres of communication, globalisation and critique to give us the knowledge production in our time. The ‘re-connect’ with lost, terminated, interrupted, exiled, diasporized terrains of idea and art practice parallels the ‘re-connect’ signalled by Documenta 1. This marks out the horizons in which future Documentas would have to thrash out their singularity and difference, their quiddity. It is the space in which the Documenta Process thrives, mutates, and transforms in unforeseeable ways beyond the 11th and also the 12th to which we look ahead.


South African born, Sarat Maharaj – Professor of History and Theory of Art, Goldsmiths College, University of London where he is now Visiting Professor – has written extensively on visual art as knowledge production, textile art, sound, cultural translation, difference and diversity. He is currently Professor of Visual Art and Knowledge Systems at Lund University, Sweden. He was the first Rudolf Arnheim Professor, Humboldt University, Berlin (2000) and Research Fellow at the Jan Van Eyck Akademie, Maastricht. With Hans Ulrich Obrist and Gillian Wearing he curated The New Contemporaries (1997) and with Richard Hamilton and Ecke Bonk Optical.Retinal.Visual.Conceptual… (Boijmanns van Beuningen, Rotterdam, 2001). He was co-curator of documenta 11 (Kassel, 2002). His recent work investigates consciousness, convergence of art practices and science in a series of Knowledge Labs (Berlin, 2005 and 2006). Since 2007 he is the Professorial Mentor, New Media Art, Banff, Canada.



compiled by the editors


1 Bazon Brock created  a ‘visitors school’ for Documenta 4, 1968

2 Bazon Brock Lustmarsch durchs Theoriegelände, Haus der Kunst, Munich, July 2006

3 Joseph Beuys’ Hundred Day Office  for  Direct Democracy, Documenta 5, 1972

4 Joseph Beuys’ lecture at the Ulster museum on 19 November 1974, as part of the exhibition The Secret Block for a Secret Person in Ireland

5 Jacques  Derrida Glas, 1974/86

6 Jean Baudrillard The Global and the Universal, The European Graduate School, Summer Seminar, 2002

7 Slavoj Zizek Third Space Seminar, 2003

8 Paolo Virno “The Grammar of the Multitude” in Semiotext(e), 2004, p. 93-106. Michael Hardt & Antonio Negri Multitude, Penguin Press 2004, p. 328-348. Antonio Negri “Review of Georgio Agamben” trans. A. Bove in Il  Manifesto, 26. July 2003

9 Ulrich Beck Cosmopolitan Vision, 2006

10 Gotthold Ephraim Lessing Laocoon: An Essay on the Limits of Painting and Poetry, 1766

11 Adam Smith An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, 1776

12 Clement Greenberg Towards a Newer Laocoon,  in Partisan Review 1940

13 Rudolf Arnheim A New  Laocoön: Artistic Composites and the Talking Film, 1938

14 Clement Greenberg Art and Culture: Critical  Essays, 1961

15 The collaborative group Unwetter have hosted discursive picnics since the  group was formed at Humboldt University in 2001

16 The  Crazy  House was  reconstructed at the Friedericianum, Kassel 2001

17 A shortened form of  the  exhibition title This is Tomorrow.

18 1958-1963, the work is in the Tate collection.

19 Hannah Arendt “We refugees” in Menorah Journal no 1, 1943 or “The ‘Nation of Minorities’ and ‘Stateless People’ & The Perplexities of Human  Rights” in The Origins of Totalitarianism, Harvest books, 269-302

20 Theodor  Adorno Negative Dialectics, 1966

21 Jan Hoet in 50 years Documenta, Archive in Motion, 2005, p. 334-341

22 Hew Locke and Sarat Maharaj in conversation “A Sargasso Sea Hoard of Deciduous Things” in Hew  Locke, Walsall art Gallery, Birmingham 2005, 8-16

23 Gilles Deleuze What is Philosophy?, Verso 1994, p. 10

24 Paul  Feyerabend The Conquest of Abundance, University of Chicago 1999, 240

25 Thomas Hirschhorn Deleuze Monument commissioned for the exhibition La Beauté, Avignon, 2000

26 Thomas Hirschhorn Bataille Monument, commissioned for Documenta 11, 2003

27 Thomas Hirschhorn

28 Maria Eichhorn Maria Eichhorn, Public Limited Company first shown at Documenta 11, 2003

29 Lu Jie, The Long March, A Walking Visual Display, 1998 onwards

30 The Medici spectacles A.Warburg refers to occurred 1587

31 Sarat Maharaj Xeno-Epistemics: makeshift kit for sounding  visual art as knowledge production and the retinal regimes, Documenta 11, Platform 5, Hantje Cantz  2002, 71-84

32 Rudolf Arnheim Visual Thinking, 1969


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