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DOCUMENTA KASSEL 16/06-23/09 2007

documenta 12 Künstler Simon Wachsmuth in discussion with Roger M. Buergel

11 July, 1 pm, documenta 12 Halle

Foto: Julia Zimmermann

What image do we have of the past? How true and accurate are the accounts of history presented to us? In the installation Where We Were Then, Where We Are Now? (2007) Simon Wachsmuth questions the occidental images of history which portray Persian history only from a European perspective: He contrasts both antiquities in the form of the Apadana relief depicting the royal palace of Persepolis which was destroyed by Alexander the Great’s army in around 330 BC. The relief gives a successive account of the state agenda and shows diplomats and soldiers as well as the 23 subjugated Achaemenid peoples.
Juxtaposed to this is the replica of a fresco from Pompeii, dating from the late fourth century BC, which depicts a battle between the Achaemenid ruler Darius III and Alexander the Great. Wachsmuth translates the Pompeian picture into a modern language: a white panel with black magnets. A film documents the Apadana frieze, with rods, also rendered in black and white, representing the lances. Another video shows men performing Zurkhaneh, an ancient Iranian sport. In addition, a collection of texts and images forge thematic links between the historical incidents featured in both murals and the actual events.

Roger Buergel kicked off the discussion by asking about the genesis of the work Where We Were Then, Where We Are Now? (2007), to which Wachsmuth replied by alluding ironically to a fourth, non-existent leit motif: Is antiquity our modernity?

Buergel remarked that the individual images appear uncommented, leaving visitors with many open questions. For Wachsmuth the context is generated from the undated newspaper cuttings. His own research has established that the duality between Persians and Greeks, which he scenarises and criticises in his work, still features strongly on school curricula and remains part of the classical educational canon. Asked about the relationship between the individual elements of film, the image of the magnets, the rods and the newspaper cuttings, Wachsmuth replied that his installation is deliberately composed of extracts, by means of which he is examining the degree to which history can be considered authoritative. Consequently, in the first film he shows Persepolis, in the other, men performing a traditional ritual in the “House of Strength” who exercise with objects that originally were weapons. The motif of the magnet picture is infinitely variable. Wachsmuth explained that his intention was not to preserve this one battle motif comprising 20,000 round magnets. As Voltaire once remarked: History is the lie historians can agree upon. What if the forces of attraction beneath the magnets caused the motif to become more abstract by the end of the documenta 12? Buergel enquired whether Wachsmuth could envisage ever opening a museum. Wachsmuth answered in the affirmative, claiming that his institutional criticism is closely allied to his love of museums. He perceives the rods – echoing their context in an earlier work - as a measuring stick, as a portable object which can neither be classified as Minimalist nor Modernist. There are analogies to the lances and the spears from the Alexander battle motif, which the magnets replicate. At the same time, these can also be seen as vertical elements, transforming the entire object into a projection screen. Just as Modernity is the history of abstraction, so today abstraction in Wachsmut’s view signifies narration.



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