documenta fifteen

“An exhibition in Kassel?” An exhibition in Kassel. It was as if there was a Djinn named “predisposition-to-exhibition” inside of us, an automatism, a fatalistic tendency which possessed us as soon as we apprehended what documenta was, what it represented, what it would allow.

A Door to the Sky (Or a Plea for Rain)

Amidst the drought, thirty-three meetings were held. Each lasting for seven days, they were characterised by run-on rants, brainstorms, non-pertinent diversions, logistical parentheses, endless flow charts and cloudless skies in which the “LE 18 team” (as we refer to it on Whatsapp) began its fall into a delusion of decontextualised and increasingly compromised ideas for an exhibition in Kassel.

“An exhibition in Kassel?” An exhibition in Kassel. It was as if there was a Djinn named “predisposition-to-exhibition” inside of us, an automatism, a fatalistic tendency which possessed us as soon as we apprehended what documenta was, what it represented, what it would allow. On the last day of the meeting, predisposition-to-exhibition blurted out a working curatorial statement which started like this:

“A Door to the Sky” (1989) is a film, the first Moroccan feature to ever be made by a woman— Farida Benlyazid. It recounts the story of Nadia, a punk who comes back in a rush from France to her native Morocco to bid farewell to her dying father... Her father’s eventual death leads to spiritual visions and a rediscovery of a Moroccan identity she long tried to erase…  She becomes attached to the fabulous riad in which she grew up… she occupies the riad and turns it into a Zaouia, inviting women seeking refuge to occupy it… some of them happened to be artists… This story resonates with that of LE 18, a riad in the old medina of Marrakech…

Then predisposition-to-exhibition went on, as if it was cantillating devilish scripture:

Our proposition consists of an exhibition in Kassel and a public programme between Marrakech and Kassel. Most of the art works in the exhibition and the events in the public programme represent one or a combination of LE 18’s primary axes of research— vernacular and collective practices; the politics and poetics of water; the commons, agriculture and food production; or the ancestral/popular oral arts as a basis for cultural decolonisation... The exhibition presents a set of traces produced in our space over the years, imagined as “leftover” artworks which, while opening a door to LE 18’s sky, make up for the harvest failures caused by our lack of rain.

By the time these words were put on paper, it was April and the rain still hadn’t fallen. The sweltering summer heat seemed to have begun earlier (every year, earlier and earlier) and we decided our bodies would benefit from leaving the meeting table which, cracked by over-ambitious plans and untenable budgets, was on the verge of collapsing with the weight of spreadsheets and shared folders on our laptops. 

We left Marrakech for Aghmat, at the foot of the Atlas mountains, where the ruins of a mediaeval town are besieged by olive groves and lush gardens. The snowy peaks above had spared Aghmat with plentiful irrigation channels and cool wind which the trees trapped between branches. There, we walked and walked until, suddenly, predisposition-to-exhibition started screeching and howling. When we looked up, there in front of us was a Zaouia, a refuge and burial place of a saint. We came across it unintentionally, but once our eyes set upon it, we felt predisposition-to-exhibition wrenching itself to escape.

If an outsider were to walk by, this impromptu exorcism would appear as nothing more than a heated debate between co-workers. Only we could hear the djinn’s screeching as it reached a crescendo, and only we could see it ejected from our collective body, appearing, in its veritable state, as paperwork which shot up into the sky and disappeared. Suddenly, our bodies fell to the ground, exhausted and immobilised. How did we not see it coming? These djinns thrive on institutions like documenta.

We swore, right there and then, that we would cancel the exhibition. The Zaouia in front of us was a sign. What Kassel needs is a refuge for those who lost themselves like we did. After all, isn’t that what Nadia does in A Door to the Sky? Did she not initiate a space for people to gather and heal? There must be a space to hydrate and hide from the drought, to make pleas for rain and visas, to keep the door to the sky wide open for it is “a sign of our wealth!” as one of us exclaimed. A wealth… “Of culture, of history, of practices, of stories to tell!” A door to the sky, opened, to welcome our exhaustion and failures but also those of documenta– failure, like success, is dialectic. But above all, a door to the sky to welcome the rain that used to fall on time… But “Who took the rain away?” asked another, “how do we make rain fall?”

A plea for rain… “A sign of our precarity!” No, we aren’t the ones who are precarious—it is not a sign of wealth to succeed in a world sucked dry by grandeur, exhibition and exploitation of resources (and of others). Amidst the drought from which we speak, “precarity!” is a precarity “of resources, of conditions of cultural work in North Africa…” It’s not inherent, it's structural, material — “Political!”  Like predisposition-to-exhibition, drought is external to us. We’re exhausted by it, terribly exhausted, so please… please… 

May the rain fall,
May the harvest be bountiful, 
May the land be blessed,
May that day come this year!

May the sheep reproduce,
May forty shearers come to your help,
May each shear a hundred sheep!
May that day come this year!

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