Allan Sekula and the 13th Task of Hercules

When Allan Sekula presented the third version of his work Shipwreck and Workers at Documenta 12 in Kassel, he employed an iconic ancient mythological figure as part of what he calls a ‘temporary monument’ to human labour: Hercules.

The statue of the hero is located at the top of the pyramid and octagon, a baroque monument in Wilhelmshöhe Bergpark.

Sekula, in speaking about the work, which brings together in an outdoor billboard structure earlier photographs of workers, with the figures of labouring mothers and gravediggers, is sensitive to the resonances of the Hercules myth as symbol of human labour.

He even compares the water cascading through the park to Hercules cleaning out the Augean stables.Finally, in a poetic text about the work (called ‘Bring me the head’, referring to the use of the head of the Hercules on his billboard), Sekula imagines a contemporary 13th task of Hercules as follows:

Mechanic of the twelve tasks. His work is never done. The Americans give him a thirteenth, unlucky task: Dig the Panama Canal. Use a nuke if you must. Spread democracy.

To learn more about Sekula’s project and the role of Hercules in it, you can watch the video below:


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