After leaving its home in Kassel for a few months, documenta has moved to Athens for the first part of its 14th iteration, and we were there to experience its multifarious program sprawling across museums, cinemas, residential spaces, pavements and even radio stations and kiosks, to name a few of the locations. Four years in the making, under the working title “Learning from Athens”, one of the topics addressed in documenta 14 is the meaning of education and its reconstitution through the works of more than 160 international artists. Following the press conference opening featuring a cacophony of all participating artists and members of the team onstage, the artistic director Adam Szymczyk encapsulated this year’s approach: “Unlearning what we believe we know is the beginning. There are no masters that can tell us how to live or what to do. We are in need to mobilize energies and act through unlearning. As we abandon preconceptions, and some of our hopes too, we immerse in the darkness of now knowing. And only from that state can we then make small steps towards something different.” More than a couple of times we were urged to “get lost” in the city, fully experience the public realm and embrace the peripatetic manners of ancient Greek philosophers. Among numerous spaces and places, the program took us from the impressive building of the Athens Conservatoire built in the ‘50s as a vision of central European rationalism, to the former brewery housing the National Contemporary Art Museum, to the Polytechnion – an emblem of historical resistance, to a pavement inscribed with Samuel Beckett’s poetry, and a kiosk turned into an electronic music station on a picturesque plateia. Sound has indeed a prominent role in the program and is an essential part of its impact. Sonic elements are dispersed throughout, whether as protagonists or as discreet additions permeating the visual spectrum; appearing announced or other times fully conquering your headspace. It often felt like this year’s documenta should be heard more than seen.
As April 9th marked the first day of the 1,850-mile journey on horseback to Kassel starting from the side of the Acropolis, we also anticipate the second part of documenta and the evolution of this ‘continuum’.