Three Athenians in Kassel, Episode Two: The Routine

She’s off on her daily routine of sacrificing! every day a sacrifice of some sort for her! This god one day, that god the next, god only knows to what god she’s sacrificing today.

– Sostratos in Menander’s Dyskolos

It is the start of a typical day for our three Athenians in their tiny house in Kassel.

While it is barely light outside, Nina, Alexis and Bia sleepily crawl out of their minuscule beds – well, Alexis and Bia do, as Nina had to give up her bed as it didn’t fit in her corridor space of a room.

Every day our three Athenians, while spending most of the day (and so of the night as well) preparing for their one hour performance for documenta 14, also work to make ends meet. Kassel is not like Athens where they all live comfortably and have rewarding and stimulating jobs, so the type of work they have to do is often menial and tedious.

For example, every day, from 7:30am to 1pm, Alexis works in a piano moving company, with this back-breaking work leaving him exhausted for the rest of the day.

Bia’s job initially seems much more bearable. She is employed by a local sports car rental company. Given that people in Germany are too poor to own sports cars for themselves, companies like the one Bia works for rent out a range of fast cars for an hour at a time. To make the experience all the more thrilling and exciting, these companies also send along with the car one of their assistants – their official title is ‘screamers’ – who sit in the car with the renters, and fling their heads back, laughing and screaming, as they simulate the first-time exhilaration of the speed and joy of the car ride. Here is Bia on one of these rides, feigning to enjoy this fleeting and artificial experience of freedom for her paying fellow passengers.

Nina works for Beuystours, a government-run tour agency that shows wealthy foreign  visitors those sites in Kassel touched by the work and artistic philosophy of German artist Joseph Beuys. Here she is waiting to lead her first tour of the day.

Their first stop is one of the streets names after Beuys.

Then they head to the Neue Galerie where one of Beuys’ most iconic works is installed (sadly on this day, her tour cannot go inside the installation as, for some reason, it has been blocked off by the curators of documenta 14).

Nina spends most of her time on the tour wandering around the town, pointing out to the Beuys-loving crowd any number of the 7000 oaks that the artists planted for documenta 7 in 1982. Here is one of them now.

After Nina finished her last boring Beuys-tour of the day, Bia her final joyless  joy-ride and Alexis has stopped moving pianos, the three Athenians usually meet in a cafe for a modest lunch and to work together on their upcoming performance for documenta 14. Typically Alexis is always late and Nina and Bia, exhausted from their morning’s labors,  have to wait for him.

After the manual labor of moving and lifting pianos all day, Alexis likes to unwind by exercising his mind by visiting one of the many museums in Kassel. He doesn’t really like contemporary art (which makes documenta 14 a very difficult and frustrating experience for him), so he tries to find somewhere to get away from it all. His favorite place is the Museum für Sepulkralkultur, which is entirely dedicated to the culture of death, from burial customs and memorial symbols to more everyday experiences of mortality. Here is Alexis enjoying one of their morbid exhibits.

He especially likes to meditate on the differing burial cultures housed in the museum.

And he also achieves a state of tranquility looking at paintings of the dying and their grieving families.

On this particular day, something at the museum makes him later than usual for his daily meeting with Bia and Nina.He found out that documenta 14 had infiltrated his favorite museum with some contemporary artworks that at first seemed only tangentially related to his beloved death-drive. Yet, suddenly, he came across two works, among all the death-masks and tombs, that gave him a great idea for that day’s performance. The first was the poster for Sanja Iveković’s Monument to Revolution, which he had seen in the flesh back in Athens.

The second was a series of crumpled posters for Collective Exhibition for a Single Body, which he completely missed at the Archaeological Museum of the Pireos, again back in his beloved Athens.

On seeing these two poster-works, Alexis, realizing that he was late to meet his fellow Athenians, ran to the cafe to tell them about his idea.

Breathless he arrived at the cafe and told Bia and Nina that their performance today should be more traditional, inviting the audience to speak or perform at a microphone while everyone else watched and listened. This would make everyone happy that they had attended something – that they could say that they were there. Then, after the performance, they would all make posters advertising these individual performances, which, even though they had already happened, the seeing of them would make people feel better about not having been there. “It’s like they somehow escaped death, don’t you think?”, Alexis excitedly shouted, “They missed it in real life, but the poster makes them feel like they didn’t, so its like some kind of minor afterlife! What do you think?”

Nina and Bia didn’t say anything, but just looked at him bemused and confused, still annoyed at him for keeping them waiting.

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