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Art

At dOCUMENTA, amateurs shed new light on art

What do a neurologist and politician have to say about art? For the first time, people from professions outside of the arts are giving visitors guided tours of dOCUMENTA (13) in Kassel. DW went along for the ride.

The meeting point is the large industrial container in front of Kassel's main train station, known locally as the "Kulturbahnhof" ("culture station"). Ina Lange is holding a yellow dOCUMENTA sign in her hand. She does a quick headcount before marching in the direction of the tracks. Fifteen visitors follow her.

Since only a small number of regional trains pass through the station, it's being used as a satellite space for dOCUMENTA (13). Ina Lange likes to hang around in the Kulturbahnhof with her group because, she says, it's roomier than the Friedricianum where she also works as a Worldly Companion. Here she can allow herself more time to examine the artworks. There's no jostling for space as she gives her detailed explanations of the meanings behind the artworks.

That is what Worldly Companions is about - namely, instigating dialogue on art. "The classic museum guide is redundant," said Ina Lange. "dOCUMENTA (13) wants to do things differently, to enter into a dialogue with visitors on equal terms."

Worldly Companion Ina Lange, pictured here at dOCUMENTA (13)

"The classic museum guide is redundant," says Worldly Companion Ina Lange

A politician and 10 dogs

For that reason, dOCUMENTA (13) curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev devised the concept of Worldly Companions. She approached people working in professions that had nothing to do with art, who could bring their life experience with them. Ina Lange was one of 700 candidates. The 55-year-old mother of two is a neurologist at a clinic in Göttingen, and modern art has long been her passion.

Since January, Lange and her 180 colleagues have been reading up on the artists, artworks and history of the event. Together with high school graduates, car mechanics, architects, nurses, linguists, archaeologists and even agricultural scientists - the majority of whom live in Kassel - Lange attended seminars to prepare for her stint as a Worldly Companion.

Hans Eichel, Germany's Minister of Finance from 1999-2005, was also involved in the project. Born and raised in Kassel, he is an important eye-witness to the history of dOCUMENTA, which has taken place every four or five years since 1955.

Besides the amateur guides, 10 search and rescue dogs also play an important role in this year's exhibition and have been sniffing their way around the artworks in the Karlsaue Park, together with their trainer. Curator Christov-Bakargiev believes their natural instinct and curiosity make them great role models for human beings. There's even a sculpture park for dogs at the south end of the park, which looks a bit like a miniature amusement park.

A sculpture park for dogs at dCOUMENTA (13)

Natural curiousity? A sculpture park for dogs is part of dCOUMENTA (13)

Stamina and an awkward silence

One of the tours on offer is called the Stamina Tour and is the equivalent of the Iron Man for brave dOCUMENTA visitors. It starts at 10:00 and ends at 20:00. Ina Lange couldn't manage such a long day on her feet in her lightweight sandals. She shows her group around 10 of her favorite artworks in the Kulturbahnhof. "We need to have a relationship to the artworks, also an emotional one, in order to inspire discussions," explains Lange on the way to her first stop.

Cello music streams from the loud-speakers at the station, the cue for Lange to explain: "The string quartet is a composition by Pavel Haas, who was deported from this train station to the Theresienstadt concentration camp, where he died in 1944. The Nazis misused the piece by including it in a propaganda film."

Suddenly, the past and present collide as the music fills the station. Ina Lange asks what thoughts or feelings the piece inspires in the members of the group. An awkward silence is the only response.

Kassel Central Station

Pavel Haas' string quartet streams from the loud speakers at Kassel Central Station

A heap of mud and fabric sculptures

The selection process for the Worldly Companions was also a test of spontaneity and articulation. Candidates were asked to compose two texts - one about Kassel, the other about themselves. Ina Lange was successful. Her connection with the 1968 generation and the evolution of feminism impressed the panel. It isn't her profession as a doctor that makes here right for the role of Worldly Companion, rather, her sensitive manner with visitors.

Lange poses and answers questions in such a way that members of the group have no need to worry about embarrassing themselves. She is as amazed by the heap of mud by American artist Michael Portnoy as those viewing the volcano with an integrated theater stage for the very first time.

"Aren't we all the victims of capitalism?" Lange asks the visitors in front a group works by American artist Seth Price, who has sewn the logo of the Swiss Bank USB on the inside of fabric sculptures. It might sound naïve, but the question helps kick-start a discussion about the financial crisis and the banking system.

An artwork by American artist Seth Price at dOCUMENTA (13)

An artwork by American artist Seth Price sparked a discussion about the financial crisis

Detours and the cherry on the cake

There is no jurisdiction of the official meaning of artworks. Art doesn't explain itself, according to the philosophy behind dTOURS, as the tours with Worldly Companions are called. The name points to the experimental nature of the project. It is an attempt to reactivate the natural thirst for knowledge people are born with in order to inspire new ways of thinking.

In practice, the concept is as likeable as it is stimulating and sets itself apart in the unusual constellation of individuals with various fields of expertise from philosophy and history to education and medicine.

"We are proud of this artwork," said Lange, referring to the film installation "Refusal of Time" by South African artist William Kentridge, as the group disbands in the darkened room. Kentbridge is the highlight of the tour for many visitors to the Kulturbahnhof. Here they can abandon themselves to a range of images and sounds.

For Ina Lange, the last stop on the tour is the cherry on the cake "that everyone should enjoy." Away from her normal day job in the hospital, Lange appears to relish her role as a Worldly Companion to dOCUMENTA (13), namely the challenge of imparting the freedom of art.

Author: Sabine Oelze / hw
Editor: Kate Bowen

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