Home Again after Documenta 14

After spending a few days in Kassel, Germany, experiencing Documenta 14, it was a pleasure to return to the trees in Helsinki for three mornings in a row. Two of them sunny and bright and the third, this morning, a grey day with drizzle. Not that visiting Documenta would not have been a pleasure, but it was exhausting, too, especially on Saturday, when everybody seemed to have decided to go there and the queues were long. The amount of people everywhere felt unfamiliar to somebody living in Finland, where we tend to look for crowds to get close to each other for a moment, for festivals and the like, and then quickly retreat to a safe distance afterwards, with plenty of emptiness around, if possible. Not many people passed by in the park these mornings; a group of small children from the nearby Kindergarten.

The plant growing from the hollow stub of the alder has gained in vigour and is now reaching far beyond its cosy base (see image above, and below).

But what about Documenta and plants? There were Beuys’ Oaks, of course, and in the current exhibition in Kassel, in Documenta Halle, Aboubakar Fofana from Mali had assembled plenty of living indigo plants as part of his work Fundi (Uprising). There might have been others, I could not see everything, in the overabundance of art works, but it seemed otherwise plants were present mainly as materials, or as representations.

There were three different plants that had been used to produce traditional indigo dye, Indigofera arrecta, Polygonum Tinctorium or Japanese indigo and Isatis Tinctoria or woad, which all contain indigotin and where a source of wealth and misery in colonial times, before synthetic methods for dyeing were developed. I remember reading a beautifully written ethnographic study about indigo, I suppose it was Indigo: the Indelible Colour That Ruled the World by Catherine McKinley, but I am no longer sure. And as a child I read a strange novel from the thirties or forties, called Aniliini in Finnish, which described the background to the chemical inventions related to textile colours, which has stayed in my mind more as vague atmosphere than any story as such. These thoughts never occurred to me while strolling in Kassel, I did not even think the art work in question was so special. But now, in retrospect, I am fascinated by the world it opens up. And similarly, various worlds could be entered via each and ever art work, uh! It is just too much…