|Grabner, Michelle. Documenta's Foil: Ben Kinmont, in Bridge Magazine, 2002.|
Ben Kinmont is a conceptual artist whose projects, starting in 1988, have expanded the field of social sculpture. The son of California conceptual artist Robert Kinmont, Ben Kinmont plumbs interpersonal relationships and recovers daily monotony, reframing innocuous activities as an art form. Conversations with acquaintances and strangers, serving waffle breakfasts in his home, making a cup of tea, saying prayers for greater compassion in the art world, these are the activities that seep between the nothingness and the consequential in life. And, these are the activities on which Kinmont bases his art practice.
Invited to participate in Documenta 11, Kinmont’s project titled Moveable Type No Documenta initially appears to fit with Okwui Enwezor’s curatorial emphasis on transnational politics and documentary formats of art production. But inherent in the project is a radical redefining of art practice. It calls into question the necessity of global exhibitions and levels a critique of curatorial agendas. Kinmont’s project challenges the integrity of every aspect of the contemporary art institution, its economy, audience and cultural function. Yet Kinmont handles this deconstruction of power in a gentle, democratic way. Below is a breakdown of Kinmont’s project:
I will visit several people to ask whether their activities could and should be thought of as art.
1. I will arrive and talk with each person about what it is they are doing and take some digital photographs. The conversation will be recorded.
2. I will transcribe portions of the discussion into a computer and paste in an image to make a broadside.
3. With the time remaining each day, I will then print out copies of the broadside and distribute them in and around the neighborhood where I had the discussion with the participant.
4. The number of copies printed will depend upon the amount of time available after the discussion. Only one day will be devoted to each person visited.
5. Just prior to the opening of Documenta 11, I will reprint all of the broadsides into one publication.
6. In the exhibition space, and for the length of the exhibition will be:
a) display my portable publishing apparatus (see equipment list below), and
b) distribute the publication (mentioned above) for people to take away for free.
In this way, visitors to the museum will be able to take a group show home with them.
Laptop computer with rechargeable batteries
Portable printer with rechargeable batteries
Ink cartridges for printer
Embroidered project labels
Movable Type No Documenta refers to my own activity in Kassel and the history of project art. Project art is characterized by being outside of the museum or centralized power construct and usually functions without a single point of meaning or primary object. In this particular case, Moveable Type No Documenta will investigate the question of whether value can be generated in a non-art context through an art discourse. Equally, the non-art site will reflect upon the art and history of Documenta through the valuing of people’s activities outside of the exhibition space.
Kinmont had conversations with ten people or groups of people in Kassel from April 3-April 11, 2002. Excerpts from their conversations were printed on a sheet of 8.5x11 and mounted to the museum wall. The text was in English and German. As a visitor to Documenta11 you could ask for a copy of all ten excerpts from a young woman sitting on the floor near the wall-mounted text work. She was outfitted with a laptop computer, printer, paper and envelopes. She would print a copy of each of the conversations enclosing them in the official Documenta envelope that was also stamped with "Movable Type No Documenta by Ben Kinmont."
Talking to people in their offices, homes, cafes, at their church or shops, Kinmont asked a doctor, housewives and young school children if they could frame their life as art. Naturally the responses varied. Most profound, the participants acknowledged some aspect of their daily activities are art. They also recognized that this daily art experience was different and more essential than the experience they had with artwork housed within art institutions.
"Art is communication with the other, but with understanding. It is lebenskunst, where you know how to live a full life with what you have. When in the museum you experience a summary of life, aspects of life; at home you have the art but with the zwischentone (literally, "the sounds in between")."
3 April 2002
"I am not an artist with my family but the process of coming together with my children is the most important thing to me, and this process between us could be understood as art. In this way, I suppose, even my children are lebenskunstler. But this is not like the art of a museum. The art of the museum is an end product and this is a process."
7 April 2002
"The most meaningful thing to me is that there are some things which cannot be explained and you must open your mind to them. You must choose to open your mind before nature forces you to. If you decide to open your mind it is art. If nature forces you to then it is not. When in a museum, you can always say no to the piece and then move on; but in life if you ignore it you die."
4 April 2002
Kinmont is a skillful conceptualist. He lets others articulate the ineffectiveness of art. In Moveable Type No Documenta, the inadequacy of the exhibition itself was exposed, apparent obviously to everyone but the institutional players. He is not a charlatan, a player exploiting the system for personal gain and notoriety ala Maurizio Cattelan. He works hard to re-imagine what else art can be. Yes, he labors in the conceptual tradition of Joseph Beuys, Mel Bochner and Seth Siegelaub but he is serious and invested in conceptual ideals. Unlike a current trend in contemporary art that is trying to recoup meaning and intelligence via the look of warmed over 70s conceptualism, Kinmont is playing for keeps. In the end it looks like the best critical analysis of Documenta 11 comes from within.
Michelle Grabner is an artist living in Oak Park.