Irina van der Sluijs


(Goshka Macuga, Of what is, that it is; of what is not, that it is not 1, 2012) - Photo by Marieke van der Perk

The work that impressed me most at dOCUMENTA (13) went accompanied by captivating sound. Mariam Ghani’s video installation (A Brief History of Collapse) of two buildings, one in Kassel and the other in Kabul, is already visually interesting because of its careful choreography and identical rhythm. But the soundtrack makes the experience truly mesmerizing.

It is a voice-over narration that tells historic facts of the buildings. At first, I was inclined to listen attentively and learn the facts. It annoyed me that I did not seem to understand all of what the voice was saying. That I could only distinguish words like ‘Grimm’, ‘Palace’, ‘Architecture’, ‘War’. Then when I stopped trying to understand the meaning, these words fell into place.  

They drew me into the images, into the journey the camera was taking – seemingly following someone inside the buildings’ rooms, stairways, halls, rooftops, making turns, looking inside and outside, hiding and fleeing. Was she fleeing out of guilt or shame? How could that be, she was so beautiful? I never found out. Instead, I was hypnotized by the synthesis of voice and moving images surrounding me.

Another thrilling experience of such synthesis was the Alter Bahnhof Video Walk (2012) by Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller. The start of the walk is the central hall at Kassel Bahnhof. My guide was an Iphone video with voice-over in my headphones. The idea is fun: you walk the same walk as in the film and get this great ‘what is reality / imagination experience’.

The execution of the idea was sublime. Immediately at the start I hear a loud brass band coming my way and I glance from my screen to discover not a tuba in sight, just ordinary train passengers walking by. A little later a lovely little ballerina performs; snow falls on the tracks (it’s actually 30 degrees); the voice orders me to continue and I obey. She is vulnerable too: ‘ no matter how much 2 people love each other, they will always be separate’.

A crazy guy harasses me in screen and she protects ( ‘go away’ in my left ear – fading crazy laughter in my right ear). I feel more secure walking with her through the station. She shields from the outer real world. She is funny too: low battery in screen makes some people go back to the dOCUMENTA boot only to discover she’ll change batteries while you’re waiting. The end dance is lovely and sad, two dancers so close and so alone.

There was much more to enjoy in Kassel – the town was covered with art. I wonder what is left of it after the art is gone. The shops and streets look uninspired. Only the park stands on its own. My friends and I had tasty cheese- and- wine pick nicks there, chatting and dozing off under a tree. Making fun of the bratwurst versus curry wurst controversy - something got very lost in translation. Then again, why would it be that curry sauce can only be served with chopped wurst and not with unchopped wurst?

Culture is a strong thing.