Thecentral position of “learning from” in the workingtitle of documenta14 (hereafter d14) led to an open debate regarding theappropriations and translations of what people learned and unlearned in themonths following the closing of the 14th edition of the quinquennialexhibition. The fundamental political proposition of d14 was the redefinitionof the “Other”. The title “Learning from Athens” redirected our focusto the declarative weak link of the severe European crisis.
However, the focuslater gained a combined and wider horizon. The policies of otherness played acentral role in the whole organization. Consequently, it would be ignorant andincomprehensible to think of the event as a neo-colonial event, as some haveimplied.
At its core, it is a quest for politics in modern art as somethingthat can be found “elsewhere”. Where? In the “repressedother”. d14is an important exhibition that has prompted prolonged ambivalence. The choiceof Athens as a topological example by an intelligent curator with anticipatedand unexpected virtues, Adam Szymczyk, initially fuelled wider enthusiasmwhile, at the same time, brought to light a series of inherent pathologies andfantasies of modern culture in Greece, which manifested themselves in adistorted and often aggressive manner – analogously to how Athenians would projectthe argument of the crisis as an excuse towards these pathologies. Awide range of artworks, including the EMST collection, Antidoron – which hadremained in the basement of the closed National Museum of Contemporary Artuntil it travelled to Kassel, when Adam Szymczyk decided to exhibit it in theFridericianum, or the works exhibited in the Athens Conservatory; a series ofindeterminate objects, scores and media, express a spirituality but also apolitical position, without depicting the usual political media. In otherwords, revolts, resistance fighters, dictatorship events, ethnographic reps,queer rhetoric, financial evidence, or shipwrecked archives, but anonymousobjects and indefinite moments, seemingly of subordinate importance. Theirpolitical element is that they focus on the way we see things, helping usunderstand what Jani Christou calls mysterion.This composition of works and curatorial decisions illuminate a new socialtreaty through the materiality of memory and the subjects that make themaccessible to direct social and therefore materialistic analysis, one could sayby rephrasing Walter Benjamin.
Amplecriticism of d14 has been targeted towards Athens, but has not sufficientlyidentified the subject of learning, the subject of the verbal type of”learning”. Is it Europe? Is it the West? The artworld? d14 wanted tolearn from Athens, which it dealt with, in the words of Adam Szymczyk “notas a cradle of Western civilization, but as a place where the discrepancies ofthe modern world come together and collide as they are incarnated in heavilycharged poles such as East-West or North-South”. In fact, a prerequisite ofd14’s deliberate movement is an assumed starting point of mutual definition.Learning from Athens implies creating a form of diversity, while simultaneouslybeing formed by diversity, being established as diversity.