Three Athenians in Kassel, Episode Five: The Research

Oh happy, happy, happy me, I understand arseophony! Anyone who knows the ins and outs of a gnat’s arse is going to find it easy to get off a criminal charge. 

– Strepsiades in Aristophanes’ Clouds

When our three Athenians in their tiny house are not working at their tedious day-jobs, spending their days-off sleeping and dreaming and delivering their mind-numbing reports to documenta 14 officials, they are preparing for their daily performances. Of course, we’ve yet to find out precisely what these performances are, but we’ll save that for a later episode. Today we will discover how our three Athenians go about conducting research as part of their preparations for each performance. There are two main stages to their research – let us call them ‘witnessing’ and ’embodying’. Here is Bia doing the ‘witnessing’ research in a cafe near their tiny house.

She looks like any other student working on her thesis, right? But if you were able to see the screen of her computer, you would realize that she was watching 14 different video feeds from around the world, some showing archival footage, some live action. (Her screen looks a little like Michel Auder’s The Course of Empire at the Former Underground Train Station, KulturBanhof).

Through this ‘witnessing’ research, Bia is giving herself a daily cross-section of the global media so as to see (although not really understand) how single actions, events and situations coalesce into a collective experience. Watching a slide-show of ancient Greek vase paintings, footage of a volcano erupting and the ins and outs of the lives of beavers in a nature documentary, all hone her ability to extract information from these disparate sources and make generalizations about what they mean when brought together as a collective whole. (It is this kind of skill that the documenta 14 official was testing Nina in yesterday’s episode).

The next stage of research for the performance puts this ‘witnessing’ into action, as our three Athenians attempt to ’embody’ what they have just seen. For example, here are Nina, Bia and a friend (who looks suspiciously like the documenta 14 official!) embodying the positions of figures on an ancient Greek vase from the ‘witnessing’ session.

Here is Bia embodying the moment of burning tension and irresistible pressure before a volcano erupts.

And here are Nina and Bia embodying the ins and outs of beaver behavior, performing some some kind of mating ritual by baring their teeth.

These two stages of research – witnessing and embodying – prepare our three Athenians for the most important hour of their day – the performance. But let us leave that for another episode.

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