Documenting DOCUMENTA: A haudenschildGarage Project with Matthew Schum

banner image
Afghan Hotel

Like many participants, Mexico City-based Mario Garcia Torres contributed a writing, bound as a small pamphlet entitled A Few Questions Regarding the Hesitance at Choosing between Bringing a Bottle of Wine or a Bouquet of Flowers. ( Baudelaire would approve of these little books, no doubt, as they are unpretentious and to the point. )

In this pamphlet, No. 026 in the d13 library of “100 Notes — 100 Thoughts,” Garcia Torres discusses the formality of accepting an invitation, comparing a dinner invite to the negotiation that a curator might have with an artist participating in an upcoming exhibition. An exchange between Harald Szeemann and Alighiero Boetti is the basis of a story that explains how Garcia Torres came to accept an invitation to do a work in Afghanistan that reversed the invitational relationship artists have to exhibitions and their conveners. It is subtle, but one gets a sense that the artist may view a curator as a kind of concierge here.

Mario Garcia Torres speaking at the Ständehaus in the ‘On the Kabul Bamiyan Seminars and Exhibition’ panel discussion, June 7, 2012

In research into Szeemann’s Documenta 5, Garcia Torres notes that the thematic nature of the exhibition led to a letter of protest by Robert Morris, signed by Carl Andre, Hans Haacke, Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt, Barry Le Va, Dorothea Rockburn, Fred Sandback and Robert Smithson. Their contention was that they were being instrumentalized “to illustrate sociological principles” that trespassed upon their artistic autonomy. Since that 1972 exhibition, in part due to Szeemann’s influence, the illustration of themes by artists in periodic exhibitions like this quinquennial has become standard procedure. Garcia Torres explores this thematization of artworks using the hotel as an analogy for thematic enclosure—or art being housed in an overarching curatorial structure.

Mario Garcia Torres, Hotel One, Kabul

Occupying a hotel once part-owned by Boetti in Kabul finds the artist exploring his own instrumentalization in Christov-Bakargiev’s Afghanistan project ( this is the unstated subtext I gathered from the pamphlet ). The artist manages, through research and his stay in Kabul, to turn the relationship of curator to artist on its head by making a hotel residency that explores the role of artist-as-host.

The work of Daniel Buren and Martin Kippenberger are two of several correlating artistic occupations Garcia Torres researched. Buren, for example, explored the role of artist-as-host in his mid-1960s commissioned work in the US Virgin Island of St. Croix because he was uncomfortable with how museums entombed his art installations. In 1992, Kippenberger not only invited himself to Documenta 9 via one of his artistic PR-posters, he invited himself to occupy the top of Walter De Maria’s Vertical Earth Kilometer before the Fridericianum.

Martin Kippenberger, Documenta 9, 1992

Likewise, instead of an artist being invited to fulfill a thematic part of an exhibition, like a guest in a hotel, Garcia Torres invites Boetti’s hotel to be a guest in Documenta 13. This role reversal also meant Garcia Torres hosting other participants in the Afghanistan “Other Positions” project for d13.

Garcia Torres wonders during his occupation of Boetti’s old hotel if, “what Boetti was negotiating in his Afghan lodge was to be inviting while setting the rules of the game … [T]he artist and his ( sometimes casually requested ) collaborators and accomplices engaged themselves in creating a number of works that were appealing, ensnaring and enigmatic enough to captivate viewers but to make them conscious of their guest status. For, when conceiving a piece, an exhibition or a text, one should be able to charm the guests into inhabiting the work just enough to have them question their possible roles while entering the work.”

Walter De Maria, ‘The Vertical Earth Kilometer’, 1977

Inhabiting this short text, the reader is given some insight into the inevitable alienation that ultimately binds together an exhibition. Following Boetti, quite literally, Garcia Torres makes a case for aestheticizing the formalities of inclusion that guide exhibitions. His Hotel One also disperses the insecurity that the individual negotiates as a guest while making a case for how an artist can humbly accept an invitation to intervene in projects working on the periphery—even if it is the geopolitical crux of Kabul.

Other discourses of “occupation” are no doubt connected to this intervention. The work unravels as a meditation on personal inhabitance, how conceptual art conceptualized every aspect of everyday life and (art world) hierarchies central to its practices. In a larger sense, considering how the city of Kabul has been conscripted into tribal rivalries and the international proxy wars that have been going on since the Cold War, the artwork considers how the role of host and role of guest is a reflection of our democratic societies.