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Local Visual Artists Showcased at Germany's dOCUMENTA (13)

This summer, Canada sent six representatives to the world’s most prestigious art show. Three are from Vancouver, but that’s where their commonalities end, as discovered when I spent two nights living in one of the artworks
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Geoffrey Farmer’s Leaves of Grass
Geoffrey Farmer’s Leaves of Grass: shadow puppets made from Life magazines (1935 to 1985 displayed in chronological order), tall grass, and glue. Photograph by Anders Sune Berg. Courtesy of Geoffrey Farmer, Catriona Jeffries Gallery, Vancouver, and Casey Kaplan Gallery, New York
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This summer, Canada sent six representatives to the world’s most prestigious art show. Three are from Vancouver, but that’s where their commonalities end, as discovered when I spent two nights living in one of the artworks

Documenta—Held every five years in the central German town of Kassel—is arguably the biggest deal in contemporary art: over 200 artists share eight venues over 100 days between June and September. At this year’s edition, the 13th since its 1955 inception, three-quarters of a million visitors passed through its galleries, bought its publications, and consumed its macchiatos.

One of that horde, I arrive at Kassel under grey skies after a sun-dappled train trip from Berlin. I’m given a map, and from this I locate my immediate goal: Gareth Moore’s installation A place—near the buried canal deep in the Karlsaue parklands.

Vancouver artists have been well-represented at past Documentas, but this year marks a shift. Absent are the Stan Douglases and Rodney Grahams, the Ken Lums and Liz Magors and Jeff Walls; in their place, a new, post-boomer generation: Geoffrey Farmer, Brian Jungen, and—my quarry—Moore. All are graduates of Emily Carr University, and all are represented by Catriona Jeffries Gallery.

On my walk to A place I detour into the Fredericianum to scan the rotunda—what Documenta artistic director Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev has called the “brain” of her exhibition and the lens through which to consider the whole. Contemporary Afghan ceramics, a 1945 Vogue article on bombed-out Germany, drawings from 1967 by Vietnamese artist Vu Giang Huong, a text piece by Lawrence Weiner (“THE MIDDLE OF/ THE MIDDLE OF/ THE MIDDLE OF”). War, I jot down. Reconstruction. And that which lies between.

The entrance to A place begins at the edge of a wooded area made narrower by a roped-in path. On either side are handmade signs in German and English that tell us what to expect (a kiosk/meditation centre, a shrine to Vulcan, a foot bath); listed too are verbotens concerning phones, cameras, and dogs; and reminders to “VISIT VULCAN” and “NO PUBLIC TOILET.” The seniors ahead of me read these signs aloud to great gales of laughter.

When we get to the entrance booth, a stern young art student/volunteer asks the woman ahead of me for her camera. (Postcards of the installation, a co-worker chimes in, can be purchased at the kiosk/meditation centre.) Dutifully the woman hands over her bag and is told, in manner most officious, to remove the camera because the storage cubbyholes were designed for phones and cameras only. We are already part of Moore’s project; the booth bears his delicate yet rough-hewn aesthetic. Same with the cubbyholes.

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