Three Athenians in Kassel, Episode Eleven: The Quest

If any lover runs up to him to complain because he is furious at seeing the object of his passion derided on the stage, he takes no heed of such reproaches, for he is inspired only with honest motives and his Muse is no pander.

– the Chorus of wasps in Aristophanes’ Wasps

Far from their tiny house, the mind numbing routine, the drudgery of research and the bureaucracy of reporting back to documenta 14, our three Athenians had set out on their quest for the ultimate performance.

At the meeting of RAPIDO (the Rebel Artistic Performers In Documenta Organization), after Bia’s impassioned speech, they had all agreed to abandon their individual performances and to each forge a path towards that one performance that would collapse the distinction between art and life. Our three Athenians, like their seafaring ancestors of ancient times, understood this quest as one that meant that you leave the land, and embark onto the wild, expansive sea. (The Kassel equivalent being a calm, rather picturesque lake). Nina, Bia and Alexis were all excited and exhilarated by the open water, and by the knowledge that they had left the claustrophobic tedium of their landlocked performance behind them.

Here they could be free and, although their quest was a difficult one, as they had no idea where they were going, what they had to do and if they would succeed, the mere thought of all those other documenta 14 performers out there, breaking rank and heading out into the wild, into the outskirts of the outskirts, in search of the ultimate performance, kept them going and filled their hearts with joy and hope. There was just over an hour to go before their scheduled performance back in Kassel and as that time got closer, the more liberated they felt, wondering what would happen in their absence. What would the artist say? Would anyone notice they were gone? He was always checking up on them to make sure they were keeping to his strict score, conducting their movements, giving them orders (“Try to make the people’s microphone work!”, “Be sincere in your closing remarks” etc). They would not miss his dictatorial demands. Sure, they were used to authoritarian rule back in Athens, but this billionaire-turned-artist from Bilbao was a much worse taskmaster. Drifting across the serene water, they joked and laughed about their new found freedom, wondering if perhaps they’d already stumbled across the ultimate performance here on this very lake! Then, something surreal, something completely out of this world, happened to utterly transform the situation and send them rushing back to Kassel, back to their performance they had so readily abandoned.

As she was paddling along, Nina felt a buzzing in her left ear. She quickly swatted whatever creature was making the sound away, but within seconds it was back. Then, and this is hard to believe, but I believe her when she told me, the buzzing creature began to speak:

“Nina, you muzzzt turn around and go back to your performanzzz. I am a mezzzenger, from your native Athenzzz and I have traveled all of thizzz way to tell you zzzomething truly important.”

Nina stopped rowing, dumbstruck, and listened to this tiny, yet wondrously sonorous, voice.

“You know that marble tent by the artizzzt Rebecca Belmore? Perhaps you zzzaw the photograph of it in the Palaizzz Bellevue in Kazzzzzzel.

“Well, me and my family live on Filapappou Hill, where Belmore’zzz work was inzzztalled while documenta 14 was still in Athenzzz.

“We are the zzzervantzzz of the ancient Muzzzezzz and our home izzz an ancient zzzhrine to thezzze goddezzzzzzezzz of creative inzzzpiration.”

“One day, we were buzzzy with our daily work, when a curiouzzz bearded man arrived, zzzweating and breathing heavily from the walk up the hill. He proceeded to take many notezzz, photozzz and videozzz of uzzz, zzzeemingly jubilant and exhilarated by our mere prezzzence.”

“As he zzzat beneath our hive, zzzcribbling in his notebook. I wazzz able to read zzzome of his nearly indecipherable zzzcrawl and thizzz is what he wrote:

June 10th, 11:15am. I can’t believe what has just happened. While looking for artworks at documenta 14 on Filopappou Hill, (e.g. Rebecca Belmore’s marble tent) I have found a hive of bees on the ancient Hill of the Muses! This is such a magical, inspiring moment. I have to share this experience when I get back down the hill and enter, once again, that mesmerizing performance in the Odeion. I will tell them the story of the bees and how, while they were important metaphors for poetic creativity in Greek and Roman literature, they were especially associated with the Muses. Varro the Roman antiquarian called them the birds of the Muses and Plato’s Ion imagines poets as bringing us the honey of the Muses like bees. (In Plato’s ancient biography, sometimes he is described as having bees sitting on his lips as a baby!). The performance has been my inspiration since arriving in Athens and I cannot wait to share this incredible experience with them! I am so happy that their performance exists, it is the only place where I believe the connection between contemporary society and ancient wisdom can happen, between people, gathered together, between voices and silence, music and discussion, ideas and noise. I wouldn’t know what to do without this performance, which for me, and I am sure many others, is the ultimate performance, which I will follow to Kassel and beyond, to keep it in my life!”

“Thezzze were the wordzzz written by the zzztrange bearded man by our hive and from that moment on, I knew at once that it wazzz my mizzzzzzion to come here to tell you. Zzzo when I heard that they were moving Belmore’zzz marble tent to Kazzzzzzel I hitched a ride with it.”

“But when I arrived, I heard, to my horror, from zzzome other performerzzz, that you were planning to abandon the performance that the bearded man zzzpoke of zzzo pazzzzzzionately. I had no time to lose, they told me where to find you and that izzz why I am here, buzzing thezzze wordzzz in your ear on this lake. You muzzzst turn back, you muzzzt rezzzume your performance. Think of that romantic bearded man who livezzz and breathezzz your performance. What will become of him if you do not zzzhow up? He will be devizzzated, his whole faith in contemporary creativity dazzzhed. I implore you, from one creature to another, turn back, abandon your quezzzt for the ultimate performance, and return to Kazzzzzzel for the performance that has changed this perzzzon’s life (and that of who knowzzz how many more) izzz for them the ultimate performance. How do you know that your performance izzz not in fact the ultimate performance you seek?”

The tiny creature stopped speaking and it took Nina a few minutes to take in what she had said. But, quickly she relayed the message to Alexis and Bia, and in spite of their initial resistance – not only to the bee and her story (“are you sure it was a bee? It looked like a wasp to me!”), but also to their abandoning their quest for the ultimate performance – they all agreed to sail back to Kassel.

As the sun was setting across the lake, our three Athenians headed home, back to the performance that had brought them to Kassel in the first place, back to their daily lives, all thanks to a bee’s story of some odd bearded man who saw in their performance nothing less than the ultimate performance they were searching for.

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