Material Matters Library

The “Material Matters” library is a collection of objects and sounds that have been entrusted to aneducation by documenta 14 artists.

Through this library, students can learn about the interwoven themes that are unraveled throughout documenta 14, including migration, colonialism, tradition, economy, ecology, and technology.

This page includes images and short descriptions of each object and shows how materials contribute to the processes of art making.


Daniel García Andújar
Material: 3D-printed model of marble sculpture

This is a standard icon that comes from the “classical way” of representation, which ultimately becomes the standard way of representing reality. In this case, the human body. Most of these influences come from the classical era, starting from 500 B.C. The object itself is a 3D printing, a plastic object, simulated to look like a marble piece, the sculpture of Diadoumenos.

I made it in something that I call “hack language.” When you understand the whole of the system and its language, you have the capacity to hack it, for better or for worse. You can use this language to transform, to make little transformations, like in this icon, a classical sculpture breaking out of classical standards because it represents a body in different proportions.

You can use it to rethink why we all look the same. Now we have the capacity to transform our bodies. We are self-representing. We are taking selfies, people are taking selfies, millions and millions every day, but they all look the same. They are using the same technique, the same distance, the same approach to representation. This is a simplification of our world, a simplification of reality, and maybe we can use different tools and ways of being represented.

I believe that art has the capacity to transform reality. I believe that art allows us to generate models of resistance that transform cultural practices taken from the machinery of digitalization into a creative process. This doesn’t necessarily lead to acculturation and the passive reception of globalized cultures; the structures we create condition our perception of reality, but we’re able to modify them, even transform them—and maybe we are even capable of hacking the worker’s body as a form of resistance.

María Magdalena Campos-Pons
Material: Yoruba sculpture, coconut shell

I have brought a small object that is traditional to Cuba. I took it from Rubier Bernabeu, an artisan in the city of Matanzas, the so-called “Athens of Cuba.” The object has two parts: a half coconut shell and a half-shell of a fruit called güira, used to make musical instruments. Güira is also used to make idols of the Yoruba spirit Elegua. Elegua is the god of the path, the god of the road, the one in charge of your destiny. He is a trickster, often represented in the form of a mischievous child.

Both materials have different uses and different histories, but they have a very specific precedent connotation within Yoruba and other African-born religions and practices in Cuba. They are both used as percussive instruments and also as idols and symbols of idolatry in the African tradition. They are also used as containers, as receptacles to either drink or store.

I am interested in the quality of their surface, the organic, meaty, peculiar texture. In the piece Matanzas Sound Map (2017) that I made in Athens, I was committed to bringing materials that we don’t often find in contemporary art exhibitions. Coconut bark, palm bark, a coconut contained in a glass jar. I have vines that make sounds, bark that makes sounds, flowers that blossom in a very rare and particular way, and heavy surfaces, like rusted iron and pristine glass. I think of the piece as a living organism.

In the right context, the two objects would hold tobacco or rum. They are living organisms throughout their existence. With good intentions, you could worship them, and put a little bit of Greek liquor and anything that you think might be appropriate. I am sure that, with the blessing of the good energies, it would be okay.

Nikhil Chopra
Material: Toy boat

The boats were sourced from the Athens’ flea market. They appear to be navel strategy models. I wished to include them in my installation in Athens, Drawing a Line through Landscape (2017), because I was drawing the sea during the performance. They became a reminder of the constant battle between migrants, refugees, and authorities. I suspended these boats on a fishing line as if they were floating but also flying.


Ciudad Abierta (Open City)
Material: Card game

This game should be played as a poetic act. Its principle is the idea that poetry can be made by all. It’s a proposal by French poet Comte de Lautréamont who said that poetry should not be made by one, but by everyone.

Every card has an abstract image made by the students and professors in Open City. That was the beginning of our series of acts for the Paper Pavilion presented in Athens. The idea is that any person can look at the picture on the card and give us a word, or an idea with words. If we play in the street, you can ask anyone—it doesn’t matter if they know the question or the purpose—but the idea is that the image inspires people to say a word. Then, the poet of the group provides the connectives between the words and creates a poem. That poem is the world where all the participants are safe.

On the back of each card we have nine points connected differently, all unique. People presented us with a word and we draw lines connecting the points and creating a sign. These given words on the cards can also be used to make a poem.

This was our poetic vocabulary in Athens. We made an act and from there we drew relationships that were fed with content. The material of the work is the act, the union of the place and people present. In a way, this game celebrates the “appearing of the place” at that very moment.

The poetic act (or game) is the basis of our work. It’s a dialogue between all worldly trades and poetry. In this sense, the core idea is poetry developed in acts, in poetic places, in public spaces, always collectively. We arrive without ideas, just a name, such as “paper pavilion” (in Athens), and we have materials, tools, people, and, at the same time, card games. We start by playing this poetic game in the space and the present time, present place, present people are the main material. The construction—our paper pavilion—gives or takes form illuminated by the poetry made in the act.


Moyra Davey
Material: Notebook

Each time I open this notebook, I’m reminded of one from my childhood, even though I can’t precisely conjure the look or feel of that imagined one. It’s a strange sensation to be reminded daily of an object from the past, but be unable to place it in memory. Possibly there will be a Proustian moment where I’ll brush up against the thing that will finally reveal details and circumstances of the original notebook to me.


Bonita Ely
Material: Found plastic objects

I decided to send a package of plastic litter I found on the streets of Sydney. It was hard to make a choice out of all the plastic trash that I’d found.

My artworks, my sculptures, are made out of this plastic rubbish—what I am trying to show in the work is not just that plastic is polluting the environment but also how foolish we are—so many things made out of plastic are absolutely useless, or could be made out of materials that would not pollute the environment. Why use a plastic bottle when we can drink tap water out of a reusable container? Why use plastic bags when you can use a cloth shopping bag?

I could go on and on—you know all these things. For example, I found this cute, soft toy on the street. It’s made of synthetic fabric. When you put synthetic fabrics into a washing machine, the fibers break down. The water that goes into the ocean after being treated at wastewater processing plants cannot remove these tiny, micro bits of plastic. Fish and all the creatures in the rivers and oceans are ingesting those invisible pollutants. Then we eat those fish and the pollutants go into our digestive system. But you know, we’re the ones who are causing this, so fine, it’s okay if it’s poisoning us.

But we’re poisoning all life forms, not just our own.


Aboubakar Fofana
Material: Indigo textiles, indigo leaves and seeds, hand-woven roll of textile

Song of the Loom

One knows something that another does not
Someone doesn’t know it but another knows it well
Declares the pulley

One goes before another, someone else follows
One follows another but someone else precedes
Beat the pedals

Someone leaves whilst another arrives
Someone arrives and another person leaves
Sings the shuttle

Someone rises up and another falls down
Someone falls down whilst another rises up
Say the shafts

Understanding! Harmony! Accord!
Nothing is as valuable as these
This was how the world was built, this is how it will end
This is how the world was born, this is how it will finish
hammers the beater.


Gauri Gill
Material: Photograph, KODAK film, quilted fabric

I contributed a quilted fabric embroidered by Jogi women. My Jogi friends are nomadic people who live in the desert of Western Rajasthan. They are some of the oldest nomads to roam the world, and by several accounts, the ancestors of the Roma people in Europe. In Lunkaransar, where this cloth was embroidered and stitched, women traditionally gather scraps of old cloth from the home and make a patchwork fabric, which can be used for many purposes. It is inspiring to see that although it is recycled from old material, and has utilitarian value, the women still put labor into making it beautiful. In the last couple of years, I have been working with some of the younger women to try and make these quilts for sale: taking discarded pieces of cloth from local tailoring units or craft-based NGO’s who may have no use for them and stitching the pieces together into new designs by hand and with sewing machines which they have learned to operate. The hope is to create a self-sustaining cooperative for young women and to offer another livelihood. Life can be difficult for those who don’t have a steady income, no land or access to education and jobs, to the basic amenities that we take for granted, and who must perforce exist on the periphery and at the mercy of mainstream society.

I sometimes see photography as my own form of embroidery, and the process of using film and paper in the darkroom to make prints, akin to craft—in its slowness, its use and acceptance of the human hand, and in how accidents are intrinsic to the process and embedded within what is created.


Irena Haiduk
Material: Book, seal, graphite

This is a seal and a manifesto I made in 2008 and 2013, after the subprime mortgage crisis hit the United States. The bureaucratic seal is the logo and emblem for the Gesture Guild (GG). This work was an occult consultancy, preparing visitors for the moment when factory wages equalize in the so-called First and Third Worlds. The seal features two swans bleeding in puddles, pierced by GG.

For me, swans represent the fluffy poetics I associate with good manners, politesse, and cowardice; things that are not nourished by the realism in my work. What I deal with most often, materially, is the issue of weight. We are crushed by the weight of everyday life, political and economic problems, that the task I set before myself is often to lift that weight and liberate movement.

Bon Ton Mais Non is an instrument of levity. It has the punishing humor of sirens. The tagline “Hope Is the Greatest Whore” is printed on the cover. The manifesto is sold through flexible pricing, when someone buys it you cross out the word “Hope” and write the name of the purchaser in its place. I find hope to be one of those things that is a weight on our shoulders, because in the societies I have lived in, hope immobilizes, and placing you in a holding pattern, yearning for the promised futures that never arrives.


Gordon Hookey
Material: brushes

These are the brushes that were used to paint the mural beside the Old Library at the Athens School of Fine Arts. I thought that contributing these would be a nice gesture because they are the actual brushes that we used for the work. I put red, yellow, and blue, which are the primary colors, on the brushes. Of course, when you mix these colors you can create orange, green, and purple to form the rainbow, which, along with the clenched fist, is one of the central images in my mural.

The symbolism of the rainbow is wide-ranging. In some European cultures, they believe that there’s a pot of gold at the base of the rainbow. Thus, the rainbow becomes a symbol of prosperity. I come from Aboriginal ancestry. We have stories of strong ancestral spirit beings and one is called the rainbow serpent. One story says that when the rainbow serpents, one male and the other female, go up in the sky, they take the spirit of everything living in the world and they make love and reproduce. When it rains, the rain gives birth and renews every spirit that had gone up into the sky with them.


Andreas Ragnar Kassapis
Material: Telephone

This object is a phone commonly used in Greece in the 1980s and 1990s. It came to my attention because it was in my studio when I moved there and it belonged to the people who used the space before me. I photographed it several times and used the photos as “models” for the Things that Bend (2017) series of paintings. For me, this phone is a symbol of distance. It is a mechanism of distance in collective and personal memory.


Khvay Samnang
Material: Barkcloth

During my early research in Areng Valley in Cambodia, I was looking for any material cultural indicators of the indigenous Chong. I noticed they did not have a discernable tangible culture in the present (aside from one instrument) and wondered why. Surely they must have had something in the past—what did they wear?

The only officially recognized material object in Chong culture is an instrument. Many of the other indigenous groups in Cambodia, for example, have highly developed weaving, basketry traditions, and distinct architecture. I believe that the lack of tangible heritage for the Chong is partially due to them being the only indigenous group that has not been granted legal recognition of their land. When I conducted numerous interviews at the beginning of my research, I asked about this, and most subjects did not know. One old woman remembered the barkcloth. I asked a man in the community to try and find the tree and to make the barkcloth again. I wanted it for a costume for Nget Rady, a choreographer, dancer, and one of the subjects (along with the landscape itself) of my work Preah Kunlong (The way of the spirit, 2017). After a few tests, the barkcloth-making was successful. I was not aware of the impact of this experiment within the community until I was shown a photograph, which is attached here. The community made more of the barkcloth and an ensemble for a ceremony in recognition of indigenous cultures at the main theater in Phnom Penh—so now they have the barkcloth and the instrument.


Katalin Ladik
Material: Sound piece, images

I have contributed several photos and a sound recording titled It’s Time (2017). The first photo shows a visual poetry object I created in 2014 specifically for Luciano Benetton’s Imago Mundi art collection. This is the object I used later as a score for the sound recording. My second photo shows this recording as an abstract score notation. The third photo displays an embroidered version of this abstract score.

Now a few words about the narrative of the It’s Time visual object and the It’s Time phonic object:

I received a space, an empty canvas from Imago Mundi. I tried to fill the space with time by combining space and time into a single interwoven continuum of zeros and ones, the continuum of female and male principles. This ordered continuum is disturbed by the emergence of number six, by a decimal number not belonging to the binary system—that is, to the digital world. It starts to distort the visual elements of the structure, sound, and space-time. The emergence of 666, the number of the Beast according to the Bible, the number of the Apocalypse, the devil’s number, shows up as a virus, and raises the question of destructibility of time itself. The safety pin is the life belt of the future: man and woman fused into one.

This is a shift and drift inside the internal narrative of the visual poetry object. But there is also a transition from the visual object to the phonic object, where the visual object became, for me, a score to be performed and recorded.

I then mapped the sound pattern, with all its distortions, to the score captured in my second photo. This is a transition from sound back to the visual. Using the new score notation as a pattern, I embroidered it onto a palm-size handkerchief and took a photo of it. This is the final transition from rough sketch to embroidery. Finally, I inverted the embroidery object from the “right side” to the “wrong side,” from the “front” to the “reverse.”

I want to explore the mystery of the thread. How are the patterns formed? The beauty appears on the surface, but the joy of creation takes place on the reverse, on the underside. The energy that is freed from the restrictions unfolds and prevails. It does not follow the rules; it transforms into joy and pain.


Ibrahim Mahama
Material: Jute sack, archival map, metal tags, needle

When objects are produced, they accumulate memory and several life forms over the course of their existence. The metal tags, normally used as seals when commodities such as cocoa are being transported internationally, draw common relationships to maps that were made within a colonial system of exploitation, which categorized and segregated various geographical locations. These legacies have reshaped our modern experience of life, creating many restrictive forms that confine the body to specific spaces. These accumulations characterize the objects I submitted both politically and aesthetically, driven by the former. These materials—the archival map, the jute sack, the metal tags, and the needle—are stains that remind us of not just a colonial legacy but also the crisis and failures of modern capital, while revealing glimpses into potential futures which have been shaped by these same crisis and failures. Form is political.


Hans Ragnar Mathisen/ Keviselie
Material: Pencil holder

In my artwork, I use ink, pencil, and colored pencils. Artists have to be very careful not to waste material because, at least in my youth, artists were poor. We have to take care of our resources. When the pencil is so small that it becomes difficult to use, I have this extension holder, which makes it longer, you can easily use the pencil, almost until the end.

In my practice, I make handmade maps of areas in the Sami homeland, with Sami place names, because they are different, unique, and they have more content than most of the Norwegian names in the same area.

The maps, like this one, are drawn with ink, pencil, colored pencil, and colored crayons. I use these crayons to color the maps and they are very expensive, they are top quality crayons, so I need to be careful about how I use them.


Marta Minujín
Material: Book, clay nest

Life begins enclosed, protected, warm in the interior of the nest house.

The nest is one of the great powers of integration for thoughts, memories, and dreams.

There is, for each of us, an oneiric house, a region of dreams and memory.

Without a nest, man would be a scattered being.


Naeem Mohaiemen
Material: Boxed record set, laserdisc

This is a famous album called The Concert for Bangladesh, organized by George Harrison at New York’s Madison Square Garden. That same year, 1971, East Pakistan broke away from Pakistan and became a separate country, today Bangladesh—and it did so by going to war. It was a civil war that became the Bangladesh Liberation War. While it was going on there was this concert at Madison Square Garden in order to raise money for all the refugees—ten million people from East Pakistan ultimately crossed into India.

It created a model for the charity mega concert, a departure from the precursor of Woodstock, and penance for the dark night of The Rolling Stones Altamont concert (where Hells Angels beat African American audience member Meredith Hunter to death). It also introduced the Western world to Ravi Shankar and Indian classical music. Shankar played “Bangla-Dhun,” and beforehand there’s a moment where he and his band are playing for about five minutes. When they finish they pause, and everybody starts clapping and Ravi Shankar says, “If you appreciate the tuning so much, I hope you will enjoy the playing more.” The concert finally put to rest rumors of a Beatles reunion—Ringo Starr and George Harrison are on stage, but Lennon and McCartney are not.

I have a few copies of this album, and for years I’ve been trying to think of a project for it. The most important materials in my work are small historical objects. Not the main event, but what takes place on the side. I often look at a historical moment and imagine what the people who are not in the spotlight are thinking. I’m also interested in the unusual intersections of Bangladeshi history with other histories. In this case, the history of the post-Beatles music era unexpectedly intersects with Bangladesh and includes the West’s discovery of Ravi Shankar.

It’s not a nationalist project per se—it’s not about putting Bangladesh, or any country, into the center of a narrative. Rather, it’s an exercise demonstrating that you can have accidental connections anywhere, especially as you tie stories together through your personal frame of reference.


Joar Nango
Material: Reindeer hide

This is the face of a reindeer. It was used for making shoes in the old days. The face goes under the sole of your foot, and the nose is folded into a tip that is bent upwards. Inside the shoes, called gallohat, it was common to use a special kind of grass, suonjit, as insulation.

I got this skin from my aunt. Nowadays, it’s more common to use the skins from the leg of a reindeer to make this kind of shoe, but my aunt still makes some of these shoes from face-skins as well. My aunt is very traditional and lives in a small, all-Sami community called Maze. She sews these shoes all winter and is one of the few that still knows how to practice this craft.


Courtesy: Rosalind Nashashibi

Rosalind Nashashibi
Material: Sound recording

I have an audio recording from my film shoot in Panajachel, Guatemala. It features Vivian Suter and her mother, Elisabeth Wild. They are talking with me and their three (or four) dogs start to brawl and growl, taking over their conversation twice. While this was happening, we were trying to understand what was wrong. Elizabeth and Vivian, sometimes in English, sometimes in Swiss-German, were trying to calm the dogs, and I’m talking about why, how they’re angry, and what they’re angry about, and they’re just growling and being animals in the background.

I find it interesting to just listening without images, because the dogs are so physically present and different in comparison to the women. It shows the differences, the big chasm if you like, between animals and people, and also the closeness, this sort of emotional complexity, that we all experience.

I think it’s remarkable how Elizabeth and Vivian, mother and daughter, live. The mother in her 90s, the daughter in her 60s, and both are artists that create work every day, no matter what, and stay home, with their dogs and with a couple of local villagers who take care of them. They have a sort of mini economy there, a very carefully managed and nurtured way of living together.


Dan Peterman
Material: Copper ingot

I’ve contributed two ingots that are very central to the Ingot Project (2017). The project in Athens focuses specifically on copper and the one in Kassel on iron that is produced nearby in Duisburg. I mentioned the metals themselves, but in terms of the general content it’s more about process and systems, about ecology and economy. It’s about materials in motion, recycling systems, scavenging networks, post-consumer networks, and how material gets recovered, re-formed, and then finds an entry point back into production networks. I’m interested in these kinds of systems where material is really mobile, it’s losing value and regaining value, it’s moving through different structures and it’s taking different forms.

These objects have a long history in previous generations. They might become something else in the future, but this quiet minimal shape of the ingot is in an in-between state, where it’s possibly in transit or being accumulated or it may just be a simple quantity of metal that fits into a supply chain. There’s variation between ingots but they all have a kind of simplicity in terms of how they’re made, how they can move and be stacked, and have all these simple functions. It’s almost a level of design that’s before design, it’s a consideration: these are the “zero point of design.”


Pope.L
Material: Sound recordings

These sound recordings are three of a total of 115 created for my artwork Whispering Campaign (2016–17). Speakers, both human and machine, continually emit whispers for one hundred days throughout Athens and Kassel. The whispers can be heard at a range of locations: restaurants, parks, cars, museums, train stations, malls, restrooms, and a cemetery.

The whispers are narrative, historic, poetic, and rhythmic—at times the whispering is clear and easy to understand, at other times they sound like nonsense or secret codes. The recordings are in English, Greek, and German.

The content of the whispering is varied and explores a range of storytelling strategies and oral traditions from experimental fiction to Greek mythology to the Brothers Grimm. Of particular interest is the experience of “a stranger arriving in a strange town,” which I deploy in consideration of the long history of migration in the Mediterranean basin and the movement of peoples from one place to another—some of the whispers include recitations of migrants’ testimonies. Throughout, I interject non-narrative elements, such as listings of random number sequences similar to those used in listening stations during the Cold War or fragments of an American blues song from the 1930s—I exercise poetic license to show a sense of encoded or encrypted truth—a haunting of Europe through sound.


Lala Rukh
Material: Qalam pens

The qalam is a tool I have used in my work. It’s traditionally a reed pen, used for writing in Urdu, Persian, and Arabic. These scripts are written from right to left. The tip of the qalam is cut at an angle, so that its mark is a diamond-shape form. That form, when you write it on paper, is called a qat. The size of the qalam and qat determines the size and proportion of the letters in calligraphy.

One pen is cheap quality and the other is good quality. The cheap one I cut myself but it went all wrong. I use the qalam and qat in my work, when it involves calligraphic form, to express rhythmic patterns or abstract texts.


Cecilia Vicuña
Life crucified by plastic
Material: Unspun wool, plastic net

This is a piece of plastic net that I found on the beach. At this moment, our planet’s oceans are completely filled with plastic. They say that in a few years there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean. In other words, we are killing life in the ocean.

I picked up this bit of plastic net from the beach and put a piece of unspun wool inside. If you look, it is as if this object says socorro, “please help.” This “please help” comes from the living material inside the plastic. And the living material, in this case, is unspun wool. Unspun wool is just the hair of an animal and the difference between the two materials, the opposition between the two materials, is that the wool dies. Everything that is living dies so that something else can live, but plastic never dies.

Everything dies when it comes in contact with plastic, including us, human beings, because our bodies are filled with plastic.


Lala Meredith-Vula
Material: Plastic banner in pieces

My contribution to the library has taken several forms. Originally, it started as a moment captured on black and white negative film from an event in 1990. Then, in 2012, it was scanned as a digital file and printed on plastic, for a banner to be exhibited in the Archaeological Park of the National Museum in Kosovo for a few months. Finally, in 2017, I burned sections of the banner to create a puzzle.

The photograph was taken in 1990. I was born in Sarajevo and came to England when I was young (my father was from Kosovo and my mother from England). At the time of the photograph, I had returned to live in Kosovo. I was making art but there were political events unfolding and people were restless.

The photograph depicts an event I witnessed: people coming down a mountain from a reconciliation and forgiveness ceremony. I wasn’t aware of what was going on and how important this event was. I was an artist, capturing moments without really understanding the situation. Over time, when relooking and rethinking, I came to understand more. The object I created for Material Matters is fragments of a photograph as a puzzle for people to piece together and understand.

The blood feud reconciliation movement was organized by villagers in Kosovo between 1990 and 1991. It spread throughout the country and became a symbol of social change. Hakmarrja (revenge) was a fifteenth-century law that had remained in Albanian society. People felt the need to end the tradition, to move on towards forgiveness. Because it was a difficult time of political oppression, the meetings were held, often in secret, on mountain tops and fields near villages. This explains the serious mood of the people making their way down the mountains after witnessing murders being forgiven by victim’s families. There were no paths, as you see, people made their way through nature and I sought to capture their emotions.


Mary Zygouri
Material: Egg cup, knitting needles, marble cylinders, bandages

This is an assemblage of found objects that were gathered from the streets of Athens in the neighborhood around the Hilton Hotel. I found knitting needles, marble cylinders, bandages for blisters, and an egg cup from a fridge. I am interested in the way in which these different materials are connected in order to become an interactive game for students. Through this readymade, you can change the position of each object and create various sounds.

 

Colophon

Concept
Sepake Angiama, Alkisti Efthymiou, Elli Paxinou

Editors
Alkisti Efthymiou, Elli Paxinou

Associate Editor
Simranpreet Anand

Proofreaders
Lenia Mazaraki, Burkard Miltenberger, Alicia Reuter

Translators
Dimitris Saltabassis, Anna-Sophie Springer

Photos
Byron Kalomamas

Videos
Ilias Dovletis, Till Krüger, Yuyen Lin

Texts
Daniel García Andújar, María Magdalena Campos-Pons, Nikhil Chopra, Ciudad Abierta (Open City), Moyra Davey, Bonita Ely, Aboubakar Fofana, Gauri Gill, Irena Haiduk, Gordon Hookey, Andreas Ragnar Kassapis, Khvay Samnang, Katalin Ladik, Ibrahim Mahama, Hans Ragnar Mathisen/ Keviselie, Marta Minujín, Naeem Mohaiemen, Joar Nango, Rosalind Nashashibi, Dan Peterman, Pope.L, Lala Rukh, Cecilia Vicuña, Lala Meredith-Vula, and Mary Zygouri

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