Museum exhibition

documenta 14

Peter Friedl
documenta 14, Athens, Greece
8 April - 16 July 2017

Dénouement. When the miners’ uprising in Émile Zola’s Germinal reaches the fatal moment of dénouement, the novel’s plot unravels in a cathartic turn. The protagonist Étienne Lantier, sketched by Zola as a twenty-one-year-old “swarthy” strike leader, considers the inevitable, dramatic consequences of his youthful ambition to put into practice, by means of conflict, his all too fragmentary, autodidactic knowledge of revolutionary treatises. The pride he found in a growing capacity to imagine a resolutely different social model transforms into remorse for his naiveté, which is the result of his initial ignorance and entirely due to a lack of opportunity within his class, across the generations, for proper intellectual and moral education. However, in the final pages, when all the tears have been shed and Étienne has regained inward calm, perspectives toward a future “way out” emerge: an initiatory vision of hope announces itself in a cyclical return that nonetheless will be differential.

Reflexive Images. Peter Friedl’s solo exhibition in Turin, Dénouement (Winter 2013–14), premiered The Dramatist (Black Hamlet, Crazy Henry, Giulia, Toussaint), a sculptural ensemble of four handmade marionettes, all of the same height and facing the same direction. Side by side, their feet touching the floor yet held up by strings, the quaternion presents itself suspended in space, as if forever cemented into breccia stone. They impersonate characters who lived at different moments in time, and who arguably have exerted unequal impact on the course of modern history. This counter-monumental ensemble commemorates not only what history has been; it is as much about projects resurfacing, reflexive images of what reality potentially could have been, or might still become.

Radical Neutrality. Julen Madariaga, Anne Bonny, Tendai Pfepferere: they are but a few of Friedl’s proposed silent exempla. Only in his notebooks—of which so far no more than sporadic excerpts have been published—does the artist, born in Austria in 1960 and based in Berlin, disclose his observations, doubts, contempt, despair, and desperation. What if the “black man” did not show up too late, but instead arrived on the scene ahead of his time? What if her time is now, or still to come, if imminently so? Could this be “reported” by means of staging multilingual nonactors untheatrically, asking each one of them to recite from memory in their native language a translation of the same militant text by Franz Kafka? Can Friedl’s radically neutral approach to enunciation help us discover the germs of a community-in-construction, a new sensus communis in the making?

—Hilde Van Gelder

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