An artist’s view: Documenta 13 by Felicia Atkinson

 While at Kassel’s thirteenth edition of Documenta, one of the world’s biggie art events, French-born and Brussels-based visual and sound artist Felicia Atkinson scored a slot at the city’s Super Tokonoma Gallery. Giving young and emerging artists some much-needed visibility, the innovative gallery put on a solo show of Felicia’s most recent work. We went on a night walk through the streets of Kassel with the artist to find out more.

You’ve spent quite a bit of time at Documenta these past weeks: what are your personal favorites?

My very favourite is the piece by Pierre Huyghe, located in Karlsaue Park. It’s very mysterious, like most of his work. It’s a huge park and in one corner there’s this little sign saying you should not continue further with your dog or your bike. After this sign you arrive at what was once the park’s compost heap. You see some concrete piles in this kind of deserted garden that looks a bit like the end of the world. Some of the plants are psychotropic, like cannabis for example, or toxic and aphrodisiacal plants. And then there are two dogs, real ones, alive, which walk around, one of them with a pink-painted leg. These two dogs are the masters of this space. The plants are almost higher than you and at one point you arrive at a statue with a beehive on its head. It’s not just like visiting a statue in a park; it actually becomes a sensual and metaphysical experience. It’s like entering a fictional garden.

I also really liked the piece by Thea Djordjadze, which is also located in that park. It’s an in situ installation in a greenhouse with minimal glass elements, and an old chair… Her compositions are very sophisticated but at the same time, very simple.

Another thing I really liked is located in the building of C&A, the clothes shop. On the last floor there’s an empty space with a sound installation with very minimal, abstract sounds that answer each other. The shock, the surprise effect of coming from a shopping center to this space is very special. There’s nothing to see, just to hear and feel. It’s beautiful.

And at the Fridericianum there are fascinating wall carpets created by a Norwegian artist. She lived in a little village in the north of Norway and spent her life making, things like political carpets with portraits of politicians. I like the combination of ancient technique and contemporary subjects.

The artist Omer Fast has made a quite disturbing fictional video that I really liked. It’s the history of an older couple who lost their son in the war in Afghanistan. Now they pay escort boys to play the role of their son, him coming back from the war. It’s very strange. In many pieces at Documenta there is talk of a historic context but through fictional means. Only through fiction can you really understand a real-life event.

How come you have an exhibition here in Kassel?

The collective Super Tokonoma, made up of former students of Kassels’ art school, decided that they wanted to create a kind of off-exhibition of Documenta. They invited five artists for three weeks each, me being the last one.

What’s your show about?

The title of the exhibition is ‘Tabu’. I had a discussion with a Japanese artist from Tokonoma, Aiko, about language that was very inspiring. The presence of language is seen differently in different cultures. Europeans talk all the time and Japanese, for example, talk much less. And as we were getting to know Documenta we realised that everything had to be explained. It was almost disturbing. What interests me in art, though, is when something happens that is inexplicable. Otherwise I’d be a writer. There are also necessary taboos – sometimes you just have to stop talking. Not to run away from the subject, but to get a different perspective on something. This thought runs throughout my whole exhibition.

It is not a problem for you if people see something in your art that you hadn’t intended?

No. I talked to visitors and I found it really interesting what they had to say.

You said you came up with the theme of the expo while here in Kassel – does that mean you created all the artworks here during your residence? 

Exactly. I came here with nothing. Over a period of two weeks I created all the pieces. Before, I spent one month in Finland, where I worked a bit in the same style. So I already had loads of ideas in my head. But what I did in Finland was quite joyful, as we spent a lot of time in nature. When I arrived here I felt like doing something a bit contradictory. First of all I couldn’t even find a real art supply shop, but there was a store for architects and one for children’s activities.  I bought spray paint, for example, something I’ve never used before, and clay. I also bought watercolours and black ink. All this was very antagonistic, and that interested me. Just like the contrast between the countryside and the city. The abstract sculptures I made are a result of that.

Did visiting Documenta inspire you?

Yes, completely. I had a pass for the whole exhibition. So I would go see a part of it every day in the morning, and afterwards I would work on my own pieces. In this edition of Documenta, there is a strong will to link politics, science, social issues and art together.