Documenta 14

The In Sound from Way Out: Benjamin Patterson at Documenta 14 in Kassel and Athens

Benjamin Patterson’s work in Kassel. ARTNEWS

The work by the late, great Fluxus artist Benjamin Patterson at Documenta 14 is both gigantic and almost entirely invisible. In Athens, it is tucked away in the gardens of the lovely Byzantine and Christian Museum, and in Kassel, it’s located down a long avenue in the sylvan Karlsaue Park. You hear the piece long before you see it: a chorus of frogs croaking. At times they are subdued and almost sweet, at other moments they go wild. Human voices enter the fray, too, and speak repeating phrases, but it’s difficult to understand what they’re saying. This morning, in Kassel, I thought I made out the phrase, “I walk up,” which was rather inspiring to hear at the start of a day of lots of walking.

Patterson, who died about a year ago, titled the piece When Elephants Fight, It Is the Frogs That Suffer, which hints at the political stakes at play in the work. Here the frogs are fighting back, shifting the aural landscape and potentially the surrounding ecosystem. It’s a protest by means of sound, and the artist termed the work “sonic graffiti.”

Will new predators move into the area of the parks, on the hunt for delicious frogs? Will potential frog prey flee elsewhere? I could not spot changes in the ecosystem this morning in Kassel, but then, I’m not a scientist. What I did see, though, in Athens, was a very delighted young boy laughing at all of the crazy noises coming out of the pretty well camouflaged speakers, and his father smiling along with him.

The park, with the Orangerie off in the distance.

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