About: Last weekend, the art event Documenta waved its last visitors goodbye. The perfect moment to lean back, enjoy its afterglow and ask ourselves: How to make the most of art?

Ok, so you’ve just visited a renowned international art exhibition. You’ve heard plenty of stories, shuffled through parks, seen new forms, Brad Pitt, and read lots of reviews. After three challenging days you retreat and drive back home on a hot Sunday in August, shower away your car sweat and doze off a bit frazzled because the journey was long and the art abundant. You wake up several hours later, with an empty mind but a brain full of things. Now what? How to crystallize that vague background radiation? How to deal with all those imprints, spheres and knowledges? How to make the most of dOCUMENTA(13)?

Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev and Brad

Documenta is the biggest of the art world’s big biennials, triennials and international group exhibitions. It lasts 100 days and features more than 200 artists and scores of exhibition sites in the out-of-the-way German city of Kassel, Documenta’s hometown since 1955. Held every five years it is also seen as the most “serious”, often curated by super-brainy spectacled cosmopolites. For Documenta’s 13th edition, the Bulgarian-American curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev took a path-breaking approach. Let’s take a look at two of her main ideas, and how they could tickle your everyday life. Documenta’s motto isn’t for nothing “Du müßt dein Leben ändern”. Yes, you must change your life!

In 2009, philosopher Peter Sloterdijk published "Du mußt dein Leben ändern" on the idea of practising.


Everyone is an artist, said artist Joseph Beuys. And so is any thing, continues Bakargiev. She challenges the anthropocentric way of thinking and stimulates you to look at the world through the eyes of all non-human beings, say, your dog or a meteorite. All objects are makers of the world, Bakargiev says. They are emancipated and have their own consciousness; they can talk, feel, get damaged and utter their proper wishes. So much can be found in a single image or object (if you stay alert). Because we are all actors among objects, only by understanding them we can get a better comprehension of ‘being in and with the world’.

Joseph Beuys during his lecture “Jeder Mensch ein Künstler”

While driving home through the woods, I put on my new glasses and try to imagine what a spider would think while waiting in her web. Does she know what she’s waiting for? Does she dream of succulent moths and foolish mayflies? Or does she wait with her mind blank, idling, thinking of nothing at all? A pinprick is roughly the size of a spider’s brain. That’s where it all happens. Makes you think, I think.

A spider on caffeine

Various other thoughts sail by, though no heavy ones, they all remain floating in an unhurried, meditative air. The nice thing about driving a car is that it occupies a good chunk of your brain cells to navigate, push buttons, lower windows, change CDs and blow bubbles. A moving car almost enforces you to meditate. My car is my bald Buddhist friend. I think Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev would be very proud of me.

The peaceful mood vanishes when a truck almost brushes me away. I feel besieged and swear like hell. Then something strange happens, something Bakargiev would bless with a nod of deep approval. I shout “Idiot! You almost hit me!” to the big ignorant truck. Apparently when two vehicles hit each other  in traffic, the drivers are more likely to say: “Idiot! You hit me!”, than “Idiot! You hit my car” or “Idiot! Your car hit my car”, to be accurate. Philosopher Martin Heidegger explains this by saying that people tend to extend their identities in objects when interacting with them. When entering a car, it becomes an extension of our body, it absorbs our sense of identity. Of course because your car equals your money driving around your life, shouting “you hit me” is pretty legitimate. Nevertheless, next time you’re lucky enough to be just almost hit, keep in mind that it’s just your car, not you.

Jonathan Schipper's "Slow Motion Car Crash"

After some kilometres I recover my composure – and my identity – while new scenery erases what came before. Some more hours to go with my GPS as sole companion. Once back in town but not yet home, I know the way and silence him (it’s a he because I’m a she). I somehow feel sorry for the kind GPS man. He gently guided me all the way from Kassel to Brussels, but is now completely obstructed in his mission to bring me home safely.  No ‘you have reached your destination’, no finishing in style. He stares at me with dark fiery eyes. This is what an emancipated GPS looks like, I guess.


The GPS incident reminds me of Marcel Duchamp who was an expert in liberating objects from their functions. By presenting found urinals and bottle racks as art, he questioned the notion and adoration of Art, which he found ‘unnecessary’. Likewise, what art is and what art is not, is not important says Bakargiev after Beuys. More important are the general recognition of creativity as a cosmic power, in any field, and all the efforts done to capture the imagination, in any field.

Bakargiev is therefore not sure that the field of art will continue to exist in the 21st century, by which she doesn’t mean art will disappear, only that the current categorical boundaries will shift and be redefined (something humans have always been doing, but never so drastically). This is why Bakargiev invited all kinds of ‘participants’ to present their archaeological research, scientific findings, artworks, philosophies, stories, or any research that sheds a new light on things. At Documenta, I saw an ode to artistic research, and a glimpse of what post-art might look like.

Bottle rack, Marcel Duchamp

Back home, I take another look at my Cabinet magazines and am now fully convinced that every Cabinet article is a beautiful – or at least beautifully potential – piece of art. Then I take an A4, jot down some ideas, shake myself a snowy gin-fizz, sketch some not-yet-existing objects and feel very alive, almost in a state of optimism, or hope. I read about geographers who want to relocate Jakarta (to Borneo!) because of its perennial traffic jams, about biologists observing how plants talk to each other, about socio-psychologists studying our eyebrows’ wave-like motions and the other seven hundred thousand non-verbal human signs (a non-verbal dictionary of humanity is on its way), and wonder how artistic their work is, maybe even much more radical and penetrating. If scientists now would just get hold of visual beauty, learn how to design their scientific posters properly, craft wooden models and etchings to explain their brilliant ideas, post-art could take a real start.

Cabinet Magazine, 2012

Ps: To know what the art critics say about dOCUMENTA(13), take a look here, here, here and here.

About Poke Poke: Every now and then, Base Brussels’ researcher Jasmine De Bruycker pokes the week with her view on the world. In her posts, she links and sews together different themes and impressions to give you something to muse on during the week. Nothing is sacred. Anything is worth exploring. See this series as an omnivore’s tribute to these unleashed roller coaster times, with influences pelting us from every imaginable corner of the world.

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