dOCUMENTA (13) spaces: Kulturbahnhof

Functioning as an “exploded museum,” as curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev calls it, the hundreds of artworks of the dOCUMENTA (13) are housed in venues near and far. Beyond Kassel, Germany there are dOCUMENTA happenings in Kabul, Afghanistan, Cairo, Egypt, and in Banff, Canada. Within Kassel, the exhibitions are taking place in the Karlsaue park, at the historic Fridericianum (claiming fame to being the first public museum in Europe), at the Neue Galerie, the documenta Halle, and the Hugenotten Haus, to name a few. One appropriately less conventional exhibition space is the Hauptbahnhof, also known as the Kulturbahnhof.
Kulturbahnhof Kassel
The Hauptbahnhoff of today is a cold and minimalist structure, much changed since its original Romantic Classic style build in the mid 1850s. What was once Kassel’s main train station was largely destructed during the bombings of WWII after which it was reconstructed in a more modern mid-century style. When Kassel’s main train lines relocated to the Wilhelmshöhe train station in 1991, the Hauptbahnhof was abandoned and left with plenty of unused space. In the mid-1990’s the central station became known as the Kulturbahnhoff and was converted into a space for cultural events: galleries, a cinema, and an architecture office.  The documenta has utilized the venue before, but never quite as creatively choreographed as the dOCUMENTA (13).The raw and gritty aesthetic of the Kulturbahnhof lends to a fitting contemporary feel for the cutting-edge works on view here. The unrefined architecture is like a neglected warehouse and the art has plenty of breathing room. Christov-Bakargiev greatly concerned herself for conceptual and physical space in her curation, her attraction to empty rooms and transition areas is evident in each dOCUMENTA venue. At the Hauptbahnhof one encounters the works as individual exhibits and is allowed time for digestion and reflection on walks between train tracks.

One of the most exciting and applauded works at the Hauptbahnhof is The Refusal of Time by South African artist William Kentridge. The multi-media video installation utilizes five channel projections, megaphones, and a breathing machine (referred to by Kentridge as an elephant). The piece runs a duration of 24 breathtaking minutes and beckons multiple viewings for the full experience. This audio-visual work is overwhelming in the best way. All of the senses are stimulated through the combination of a quickening metronome beat, flashing lights, flickering typography, working machinery, and a choppy narrative. Kentridge tells his story through silent film, an assortment of instruments, African ritual dance, scraps of paper, and various maps. The fear of passing time is expressed by the ticking metronome, the manipulation of untimely events in the silent films, and the alternation of audio-visual chaos with eerily soothing hymns and whispers. A must-see at the dOCUMENTA (13), this work has soul.
Also of note at the Hauptbahnhof, is South Korean artist Haegue Yang’s installation “Approaching: Choreography Engineered in Never-Past Tense.” Yang’s amusing piece is composed of a series of blinds hanging over an abandoned train track. The blinds move in a choreographed dance of elegant simplicity as they slide up and down, open and close. British artist Susan Philipsz presents a louder 24-channel sound installation, “Sound Test.”
Throughout the tracks, outdoor areas, dark rooms, and even one cave, are films, sculptures, and various multi-media works. dOCUMENTA’s Hauptbahnhof is not to be missed; as an architecturally interesting yet unobtrusive backdrop, the space allows the art to speak for itself.