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DOCUMENTA KASSEL 16/06-23/09 2007

Shooshie Sulaiman's invitation to her Emotional Library

What actually defines a pleasant social situation? And how do the design and form of a room impact upon our perception of art? Or upon our conversations and gestures?
Since 3 July, the artist Shooshie Sulaiman has been inviting visitors to documenta 12 into her Emotional Library: Draped in the same shimmering grey curtain material used in the Aue-Pavillon, this tube-like construction almost disappears against the camouflaged background – one of Roger M. Buergel's ideas. The circular, semi-transparent room serves Sulaiman as a refuge in which to hold her “surgeries”. Her two diaries Anna and Botanical Garden, intimate collages comprising text and images, can now be viewed and read in her presence if one books in advance. The room is furnished only with two upholstered chairs, borrowed from her favourite Kassel restaurant, which are covered in a soft moss-green fabric. With the entrance facing east, Emotional Library is a location full of meaning for the artist. Similarly, her choice of the Aue-Pavillon as her venue is no coincidence. She values the openness and generosity of space of the exhibition there, the “flowing” and non-hierarchical nature of the temporary architecture – all features echoed in her own work. Sulaiman explains that her guests remain for different periods of time, adding that she always makes a careful note of whether someone is genuinely interested or just, as it were, “faking their orgasm”. Before handing over the diaries, she asks her guests to choose a position for the chairs in the circular room. Sulaiman records the selected arrangement, together with the gestures of her interlocutor. When compiling the diaries, she had no intention of subsequently displaying them publicly.
Previously on view in a display cabinet in Schloss Wilhelmshöhe, the two diaries have now been transferred to Aue-Pavillon, where each day for the next two weeks Shooshie Sulaiman will engage in four personal conversations with documenta 12 visitors. By extending this offer, Sulaiman is enabling her separate diaries to be experienced on a sensory level: They can be touched, browsed through, read and smelled – for only then can their distinctive qualities and their wealth of detail be fully appreciated.
Her pleasure at the use of Ai Weiwei’s old, visibly threadbare Chinese chairs in the exhibition is matched by her desire to conjure up a different experience with her work even if, of course, it is a catastrophe from the standpoint of preservation. But Sulaiman enjoys the experience of handling a book still radiating the warmth from the hands of the person who had just been holding it five minutes previously.
Both diaries embody her experimentation with different materials and techniques. The handwritten pages in Anna are screen prints which she then impregnated with lacquer because she likes the smell. The documentary texts, her friend’s detailed accounts of her experiences in the late 1970s, are interspersed with black and white drawings by Anna; in this way Sulaiman serves as the medium for committing her impressions and interpretations to paper.

The fact that her social situation and the boundaries between the private and the public sphere are used as a vehicle to pursue another, veiled interest, was already illustrated in early works. She once threw open her dwelling in Kuala Lumpur to the public – she lives in a squat located directly behind the National Gallery, which was later condemned. But this venue, too, was chosen deliberately. She also invited the museum’s consultants and curators into her home, where they discovered their own portraits hanging from sticky fly-tape in the garden.
Sulaiman seeks to provoke: her motivation for granting access to her intimate sphere was to criticise the collection policy of the National Gallery. She accomplished this by confronting her guests with the concept of the private realm as art – a practice hitherto unknown among contemporary artists in Malaysia. In Kassel, she is concerned with observing how, and whether, the public engages with the intimacy of the diaries and what communicative situations this engenders. Some of her guests in Kuala Lumpur asked if they could cut her grass or even spend the night there. She documented everything on her videocamera. At the end of the two-week performance we are planning to interview Shooshie Sulaiman and several of her visitors on their experiences.

Until 17 July, selected visitors will each have the opportunity  to engage in an open, one-on-one dialogue with the artist for 45 minutes in the Aue-Pavillon. They will be able to peruse and read both diaries, listen to extracts from them, learning more about their genesis and background, or converse with Sulaiman on a completely different subject. During this time the display cabinet in Schloss Wilhelmshöhe will remain empty and merely refer to the performance in the Aue-Pavillon.


*all Photos © Julia Zimmermann/documenta GmbH



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