There is now wide agreement that Documenta 12 was a very poor art exhibition (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8) , but it is almost impossible to curate a show that has nothing good in it at all. Certainly Mauricio Dias and Walter Riedweg provided two interesting video installations and I will deal with one of these here: FunkStaden, 2007, which was shown within the palatial environment of the Schlossmuseum Wilhelmshöhe, an interesting venue because of its elegant and ornate 18th-century architecture and its excellent collection of German, Dutch and Flemish old masters. Dias and Riedweg constructed a site-specific three screen video that referenced its palatial environment by referring to the colonialist mentality of 18th-century Germany. FunkStaden is a three screen video projection that begins with images from a book published in 1557 by Hans Staden. Staden (c. 1525 –c. 1579) a German soldier and mariner, who made two voyages to South America in Spanish or Portuguese ships (Wikipedia). Mauricio Dias is Brazilian and the wood engravings reproduced in Staden’s book would have been particularly poignant. The image reproduced above, for example, is used in FunkStaden and is a wood engraving of the Brazilian Tupinamba tribe portrayed in an alleged cannibalistic feast. Obviously, in an age before photography, there was even more room for imaginative interpretations of far-away exotic locations than is the case today. The reality is that the colonists were the Barbarians. The Portuguese, in particular, enslaved massacred and exploited the native population of Brazil (Minnesota State University).
In FunkStaden (SEE VIDEO) Dias and Riedweg montage engravings from Staden’s book with a parodic party-performance organised in contemporary Brazil. The party consists of a group of young Brazilians on a rooftop recreation area that appears to be located in the favelas because we are shown a vista of Rio de Janeiro from a point of view on the outskirts of the city. The favela location was probably chosen in order to sustain a link between the politics of inclusion and exclusion that informed 16th century colonialism. In the video of the performance-party video images of Staden’s imaginative wood engravings shown on the screen are parodied by metaphorical enactments all of which are accompanied by loud funky music. So we see, for example, the engraving of the “cannibals” montaged with scenes of a barbecue and close-ups of party participants gorging themselves with meat. In another sequence an engraving of a European being roasted over a fire is recreated by means of a white plastic manikin set on fire.
The stupidly serious curation of Documenta 12 (1, 2, 3 paragraph viii) meant that there were rather too many works chosen solely on terms of political correctness; chosen solely on the grounds that they were “third world” and/or “political”. The problem of Documenta 12 is that so few works managed to achieve what FunkStaden achieved, which is a judicious balance between ethical and aesthetic dimensions. This was a work that was not heavy handed, which did not try to ram its “message” down the viewers throat, or provide the viewer with a substandard visual artefact that was supposedly justified purely on the basis of its marginal status.