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Learning from Athens. Unfolding the Guest-Host Duality in the Context of documenta 14

This thesis considers the documenta 14 exhibition "Learning from Athens" under the aspect of hospitality. The concept of hospitality was formative to the 14th documenta, which for the first time was relocated on a substantial scale to another city. The split of documenta 14 into two parallel events in Kassel and Athens, and the resulting relations between hosts and guests, served as a case study to reflect upon the premises of hospitality under the neoliberal conditions of exhibition making. The thesis draws, to a large extent, on ethnographic fieldwork that I conducted in Athens two months prior to the official opening of documenta 14. During my stay in Athens, I pursued thirty interviews with people working in the field of art: for public institutions, in so-called "alternative circuits," and employees of documenta 14. Using documenta 14's premise of being a guest as a starting point, my aim was to understand what the presence of the institution means and does for the hosts and how the relation between hosts and guests in this particular situation can be performed. In addition, I asked my interviewees for a drawing that situates documenta 14 within the broader cultural, social, and economic landscape of Athens. These drawings served as a further analysis of the documenta 14 in Athens that render visible various interpretations of the institution and prompt further questions about the relation of size to value and what it means for an institution to be public.
The practical part of the project took the form of an artist book entitled “Occasional Déjà-vu.” The book plays with the similarity and difference of recurring elements and visual metaphors from the aforementioned drawings. These are complimented or contrasted with images of two nearly identical cats, as well as texts inspired by the language of theoretical physics. The book is a poetic and a personal account of an understanding of hospitality as the ability to estrange yourself and the incommensurability of this process in the institutionalized context of documenta 14.

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Akademie der Bildenden Künste Wien