Flynn and Leonavicius. Still: Attempting Obliteration with Benign Violence

Art and Trauma

Flynn and Leonavicius. Still: Attempting Obliteration with Benign Violence

Flynn and Leonavicius. Still: Attempting Obliteration with Benign Violence

On official knowledge of contemporary art and trauma

“What does an object feel when it is attached or destroyed or ignored or misunderstood, or even misplaced?”[1] War, collapse and reconstruction have emerged as dominant themes for a series of interdisciplinary, contemporary art projects in 2012.[2]

The intention of the initiators of the Abandoned Mystery project[3], begun in 2012, was to research and possibly redefine abandoned military places within a buffer zone between the East and West of Europe. The title, suggestive of romantic and mystic experiences proposed that even with a certain level of danger present, these forgotten sites might also attract. Stop. The subject is trauma, pain and war, not mystery, though what is repellent to some might be attractive to others. Nevertheless, the exploration of “mysterious locations… [to] study their inner logic as an interaction between nature, people, ancient, contemporary, past and future”[3] sounds promising, especially as the topic directly correlates with the theme of Documenta 13.

On visiting bunkers and abandoned military places within this buffer zone on the Baltic coastline, the initial thought that arises is how these massive concrete constructions stand like foreign bodies within a peaceful landscape. “Someone must have been crazy, building fortifications in the middle of nowhere,” – is the first reaction. The inner parts of these constructions bring nothing more than a sense of disgust. Even with no historical perspective, there is no romantic or mystic experience left to seek out: these “mystic” places were, apparently, often used for “artistic invasions”, love, parties and toilets – “miga, 2012”, one graffiti reads, alongside a toilet sign and other invitations.

War, suffer and trauma don’t leave the mind. People must have died, their remains replaced with new bodies. During the first camp of the Abandoned Mystery project at Nida Art Colony[4] Fiona Flynn and Saulius Leonavičius considered memory in their research of the bunkers and fortifications. Their performance Attempting Obliteration with Benign Violence generated an unpredictable outcome: rather than preserve or otherwise revive the remains of the war, the artists used explosives in order to foster decay, that the remains might continue to “descend where they belong, into the sea and beneath the sand.”[5] Pain and tears are preserved within silicon samples in Katarina Cherevko’s piece The Tactile Documentation. Silicon might stay for a while. And an ambiguous aspect of the ‘official’ past is being analysed by Lukas Brašiškis, who is working on interdisciplinary installation.[3]

In contrast to the mystic intentions of Abandoned Mystery towards the remains of war, the curator of Documenta 13, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, defined the military past of Kassel as a trauma or, more optimistically, as a process of collapse and reconstruction. Besides some 300 art pieces in both inner and outer parts of Kassel, she decided to install within a local bunker two pieces: an installation by Aman Mojadidi telling a fairy tale story about war and a film by Allora & Calzadilla, featuring the sound of the oldest flute[2]. If the fairy tale strengthened any feeling of unsafeness and danger within the old military space, her choice to feature the oldest flute in the same space is unclear. Considering both the bunker’s mission during the war and the dominant themes of the exhibition, the bunker space without any additional objects would have probably worked better within the overall exhibition.

Artists and theorists from, working outside of the official Documenta, have created a work and festivity space[6] in Kassel where “collapse and reconstruction” can be contemplated. According to Google maps, space is located right in the heart of the Documenta-town, some 700 metres from the Kunsthalle Fridericianum. In June 2012, one of the team researched local aspects of the war and discovered that the street where they are based has an ambiguous meaning: during the Second World War, fire cleared the area, making way for a new, wide road known as a “Peemile”, which could have been a yet another ready-made “meteorite” for Documenta.

The curators of Documenta 13 may have made some progress in advancing the interdisciplinary nature of contemporary art practice, but in contemplating the “unofficial” work that is happening concurrently in Kassel, it feels like the curators have possibly failed in deconstructing their own established theme of war and trauma. So what do we have in 2012? An “official” knowledge of contemporary art, trauma and past? The pointed question, posed by Dr Matze Schmidt, remains: “Does one do ‘artgineering’? Is the drone of bombers post-dramatic? How far can cliché go, how far glitchè?”[7]

[1] Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev: On the Destruction of Art—Or Conflict and Art, or Trauma and the Art of Healing, DOCUMENTA (13) Catalog 1/3: The Book of Books, 2012, p 283.

Mindaugas Gapševičius, Kassel, July 20, 2012