documenta 12 Magazine Project
Research has begun in different continents for documenta 12, which will be held from June 16 to September 23, 2007 in the German city of Kassel, following the appointment (in 2003) of Roger Martin Beurgel as the Artistic Director.
This time round worldwide research is being carried out not only on artists, art works and projects, but also on magazines and journals. "documenta 12 magazine", or "a journal of journals", is the central project of documenta 12. This takes the form of a dialogue between documenta 12 and magazines, journals and online media from around the world, and a dialogue between this media in different countries. Around 70 printed periodicals and on-line media, all of which have been engaging in critical dialogues with their own local communities, have been invited. Hence, this is an attempt to reflect the interests and specific knowledge of respective local communities through magazines and journals, and to form a discourse around the three main themes of documenta 12. Here, the magazines and journals will serve as navigators that guide and connect the public and artists, art works and projects, theory and practice, specific local interests and the international arena, while creating a forum for contemporary discourses, both aesthetic and conceptual. And, at the same time, this is an attempt to connect these specific local contexts by establishing a network of periodicals and on-line media that will hopefully continue and develop beyond the exhibition period of documenta 12.
The three themes for debate that have been given to the participating periodicals and on-line media are: "Is modernity our antiquity?", "Bare life (subjectification)" and "Education: The local institution". The debates will be published both in print and digitally in an online version of the documenta 12 magazine , and in three publications (each concentrating on one of the topics) to be brought out ahead of the exhibition. Participating magazines have not only be invited to publish independent contributions, but also to respondto and comment upon the contributions made by other participants, and in this way initiate a multilingual dialogue.
In many ways the documenta 12 magazine is an effort to engage the art community at the core of the Western "center", and one of its aims is to generate a discourse on decentralization. Efforts to do so have been made in one way or another by artistic directors of the past documenta exhibitions. Appointment of the first woman Artistic Director (Catherine David for documenta 10) and the first Artistic Director from the African continent (and also the first non-European;Okwui Enwezor for documenta 11) were also part of this effort. These artistic directors had their own philosophy to deal with issues, manifest in subtle or more visible manners in the events they were involved with. They used different methods to reflect not only the climate of the time but also to represent the demands and expectations of art communities from the "periphery". Different stages such as, "100 days-100 guests" (documenta 10) and "5 Platforms" (documenta 11) were set up to involve artists, art critics, historians, social scientists, writers, and theoreticians from different parts of the world in an aesthetic and social discourse around themes and concepts of the documenta exhibitions. This time, the ideas and practices of editors of magazines, journals and on-line media from around the world are brought in as "a central interface between the realms of art production, art discourse and art criticism". The issue of inclusion and exclusion has been a major topic of debate in the post-colonial art world and this is still the case with every major exhibition in the West. Why not then face this problem by bringing a micro level of inclusion and exclusion, that is practised daily by editors around the world, into the international arena and learn from local professionals (of inclusion and exclusion)? In the time when technology allows a variety of democratic, individual and personal media, the old practice of editors (or the culture of journals) that is fast diminishing, is to be spotlighted once again. This will be achieved by combining old practices and new media technology, like an advanced content management system and print on demand, that will allow editors to work on collective editing (such as we see today in Wikipedia), and to select and publish articles that are contributed by other participating magazines, in their own magazines. Editors and readers will also be able to print any article that they like with a push of a button to make their own documenta magazine.
This process will highlight the problems of translation and interpretation, which will be vigorously debated. The printed documenta 12 magazine will be a bilingual edition (German/English) and an online version will be available in other world languages such as Russian, Chinese, Spanish, French and Arabic. Contributing editors will submit articles in the original language and in English, both of which will be published on-line. One of the projects that will come out from the documenta 12 magazine , for example, is from a Middle Eastern city where editors are planning to launch a glossary of artistic terms, that have not been translated yet, into Arabic. My hope is that a project that streams in the opposite direction will also happen where, a glossary of artistic terms of non-Western cultures with a minor language, become available in English. Take only the terms "art", "fine art" or "visual art". These alone open up a major inter-cultural discourse, since for most of the non-English speaking Asian countries the term "art", in the Western sense, had to be newly created to accommodate imported notions on art, in addition to a term they already had that referred to their own sense of art. Thus the project overall will also become a platform to debate interpretation of an artwork coming from a different sense and from different cultural practices. "The issue here is not the role of discourses in artistic practice, but rather art itself - its media, dialects and transformations in different roles, regions and realities."
documenta 12 magazine and South East Asia
In January this year, Georg Schoellhammer, the initiator and Chief Editor of documenta 12 magazine visited South East Asia to conduct a regional tour that involved meeting editors and presenting the project to the public. Prior to this, I had been assigned to research and coordinate magazines, journals and printed media in the South East Asian region for the magazine project. The research began with asking people a simple question - "Which art and culture magazine do you read, which one do you trust most?" This was to open up a dialogue and debate with local people about the subject rather than to collect statistics. This was also to get recommendations, meet editors, look at magazines and read articles, meet some of their writers, and study access of these periodicals by visiting local bookshops, libraries, galleries and museums. South East Asia consists of hundreds of ethnic groups and languages and it is by no means an easy area to research in a short period of time. ASEAN is not the EU, and there is no guarantee for freedom of expression, nor is it easy for editors in the region to do their job to the best of their abilities. Editors must confront commercial pressure, political pressure, various forms of censorship, translation, and varying levels of education of their readers. Unlike cultural periodicals in Europe, few receive subsidies from the state and foundations. If we talk about art magazines, readers tend to trust Western enterprises, such as Art AsiaPacific , more than local magazines despite the effort of local editors to engage with their local audiences.
With a view to encourage struggling editors by reminding them that their efforts are appreciated by people in different countries, we decided to organise forums to use highlight the local problem. Thailand (Chiang Mai) and Singapore were chosen for the two forums as each represent two different situations and problems from this part of the world. In Thailand we are witnessing the flourishing of a civil movement, from environmental issues and anti-FTA to media activism. Citizens feel that local wisdom is currently threatened by large commercial interests - refered to globalization or Thaksinomics - and are standing up against it, protected by the latest constitution that is yet to be developed but nonetheless is more democratic than any constitution of the past. This dynamic civil movement, however, is not reflected much in artistic discourse and practice, partly due to the fact that there are few spaces that support critical discourse in art. A free on-line education site based in Chiang Mai called Midnight University ( www.midnightuniv.org ) came to light in this respect. It is founded by a group of professors from Chiang Mai University, including the influential historian Dr. Nidhi Eoseewong, with the aim to create an opportunity for everybody to get a higher education for free. It is an interesting meeting place for people from different spheres: civil right activists, farmers, teachers, students, artists, etc., and a crossroad of different genres and topics of studies. Topics range, taking "D" for example, from Discursive Practice to Disney, from documenta to Doctor (Spin-Doctor). Active in organising forums and meetings that are well received by the local community, I found them ideal partners to translate the spirit of the documenta 12 magazine into the local context. Reflecting the direction and interest of both the local partner and documenta 12 magazine , the invited 13 Thai media groups to the Chiang Mai Forum, entitled "The Roles of Arts and Media in Developing Critical Thinking for Thai Social Justice (in aspects of politics, economy, art and culture)", were a dynamic mixture of political and social magazines, from those for art/design/architecture/culture, to on-line forums, as well as alternative publications dealing with minority issues circulated to the mass weekly. Considering the concern that commercial interests are taking over many aspects of life in Thailand, the need for the community to be able to distinguish what is commercial and what is art, has been raised. To address this need, a series of discussions and forums, focusing more on media, organised by the Midnight University are planned for the future.
Singapore, like other English speaking countries in South East Asia, have seen the height of a Western-style discourse in the past. However, the local people believe that this is in a critical state. There is no art magazine of serious critical discourse any more due to a number of complex reasons. And these complex reasons have mostly to do with constant modernisation orchestrated by the state. The Singapore forum was held, with the local partner - The Substation, to examine this, following the Chiang Mai Forum. The Singapore Forum lay more emphasis on artistic discourse, especially on art writing. The first part was a presentation by Ruth Noack, the curator of documenta 12, followed by the presentation of documenta 12 magazine by Georg Schoellhammer, the Chief Editor of the magazine. Invited speakers Sharaad Kuttan, Lee Weng Choy, Ray Langenbach and Lucy Davis, all of whom have been involved in creating magazines and journals no longer in existence, spoke about the situation in Singapore and Malaysia in the second part of the forum.
The third section of the forum saw talks by editors from different countries in South East Asia invited to the working meeting of the documenta 12 magazine held the previous day. Indonesia had the most representatives with 6 magazines, which could be seen to represent the current boom of independent media in the country in keeping with the post-1998 sentiment of euphoria. Among the 6 was Kalam , a journal published by a liberal Islamic cultural organisation called Utan Kayu Community. Such publications, media and activities of the liberal Islamic cultural organisations and groups in South East Asia are highly relevant to today's political climate, and it is an urgent task to study their activities. Hopefully the translation of these publications and texts into a major language through documenta 12 magazine and its network will open up much needed dialogues with media from many parts of the world. Two on-line publications from Vietnam participated, talawas and vnvisualart.com, both reflecting the situation of the country in which freedom of expression is exercised more on-line than in the printed media. They serve a crucial role in encouraging citizens to discuss issues freely, while at the same time connecting Vietnamese living overseas with those in the country. From The Philippines Pananaw - an annual review of visual art published by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, also took part . Art magazines and journals in The Philippines are few and far between at the moment, mainly due to economic reasons. However it is one of the few countries in the region where the state acknowledges the need to support contemporary discourse in art and culture, and it is necessary to examine this model. Another interesting model of a magazine is Off the Edge from Malaysia. This is a mass circulation general weekly magazine catering, officially, to business people. However, it also attracts students, artists and writers because of its quality articles and experiments in art (it has, for example, pages called Gallery w/o walls , a space that is provided to artists to use print media as their exhibition space).
Both the Chiang Mai and Singapore forums provided a rare opportunity to editors of different magazines and journals to meet and discuss particular topics. It was a chance for an investigation into the many faces of modernity in a local context. The crisis of journal culture in Singapore and The Philippines must be discussed further. New publications and media need to be encouraged. The research on the situation of countries that were not in either forum must continue. For all of these tasks, the editors expressed the need to continue exchanging resources and ideas, and we hope the network can be sustained over time with a growing interest from participants and with the help of technology.
Organised by: Chiang Mai University College of Graduate Study Media Arts and Design, Midnight University, documenta 12
Speaker: Georg Schoellhammer
Guest speaker: Dr. Nidhi Eoseewong
Invited magazines: Art and Culture, art4d, Buddpage, Fa-Daew-Kan, Friday College Magazine, Isara Political News, MADgazine, Matichon Weekly, Open, Pra-Cha-Thai, Question Mark, Salween, Sarakadee. Guest magazine: Irrawaddy
Organised by: The Substation, documenta 12
Speaker: Ruth Noack, Georg Schoellhammer, Sharaad Kuttan, Lee Weng Choy, Ray Langenbach and Lucy Davis, Keiko Sei
Indonesia: Clea, LeBur, Kunci, Karbon, Kalam, Surat
Vietnam: talawas, vnvisualart.com
Malaysia: Kakiseni.com, Off the Edge, sentAp!
Singapore: Focas, The Substation magazine, Vehicle, the2ndrule.com, Missing Section
Apart from these regional meetings of editors, a series of cross-regional meetings of editors from different continents will take place in cities around the world over the next 15 months.
Keiko Sei is a writer, curator and educator of independent media. After working in Japan, Eastern Europe, Central Asia and Caucasus region, she is now based and working in South East Asia.
- Wed, 1 Feb 2006