documenta 'heads to Athens'

The Russian aviation engineer Konstantin E. Tsiolkovsky, whose ‘rocket equation’ pretty much made space travel possible, once said “the earth is the cradle of humanity, but mankind cannot stay in the cradle forever.”
He believed that one day our species would venture out into space. Although he didn’t live to see it, his faith in human ingenuity paid off. In 1961, his fellow compatriot Yuri Gagarin became the first man to journey into outer space. Soon enough we would even put a man on the moon.
Although progress in space travel has since dwindled, we continue to explore all sorts of opportunities that lie beyond earth. In some respects, we have already set in motion what may one day be the great human exodus.
And while that is certainly an awfully long way away, it is, for right or wrong, a very possible outcome. As Tsiolkovsky observed, it has always been our destiny. Earth will always be home, but there comes a time when you have to say goodbye to your beginnings and look forward.
This idea of origins, of place and memory, is something that has been on the mind of Adam Szymczyk since he took up the prestigious post as director ofdocumenta 14, which takes place every five years.
For the first time ever, since it was founded in 1955, the major exhibition of modern and contemporary art will deliver a comprehensive programme of art (in 2017) beyond its historic home of Kassel in Germany. In addition, it will host another complementary yet differentiated programme in the Greek capital Athens. This long-established position of host, Mr Szymczyk explained, is no longer tenable.
“A feeling of loss and longing brought about by geographic and mental displacement created by two distant iterations of the exhibition might change the visitors’ perception of the show, working against the idea of rootedness and countering the widespread, normative assumption that such an exhibition must sustain the unity of action, place, and time,” the organisers of documenta explained.
“Challenging this state of things, documenta 14 will attempt to encompass a multitude of voices in, between, and beyond the two cities where it is situated, reaching beyond the European context from the vantage point of the Mediterranean metropolis, where Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia face each other.”
It’s an ambitious idea but, as the last 13 editions of the expo have demonstrated, every new artistic director likes to live up to the challenge of putting together a documenta that is simultaneously true to the fair’s heritage and unlike anything that has come before it.
In their brilliant tome 50 Years of documenta 1955-2005, Michael Glasmeier and Karin Stengel noted that this has always been one of the defining characteristics of documenta. Its approach to art is singular and full of integrity. It is always looking beyond the possible and, in this temporary or permanent displacement of location – with consideration to Tsiolkovsky’s idea of departure – it has once again achieved the remarkable.
“documenta has shattered the world of art, whether in poor post-war times when people thirsted for art, whether in rebellious years of revolution, whether in the lighthearted era at the end of the 20th century or whether at the turn of the century dominated by globalisation,” the authors stated in their book of the exhibition.
“The history of the documenta is a history of defeats, of doubts, of scandals and, at the same time, of renewal, of discovery and of artistic creativity. Above all, however, it has always been a history of success.”
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