Critical Art Ensemble Performance Sparks Major Police Operation at Documenta

Critical Art Ensemble Performance Sparks Major Police Operation at Documenta
Haris Epaminonda and Daniel Gustav Cramer, "The End of Summer," 2012
(Photo © Alexander Forbes)

KASSEL — Police were deployed in large numbers on Tuesday evening after two glass vials containing an unknown substance were found at Documenta. The suspicious receptacles were discovered by two employees of the exhibition inside of the old Customs House at the front of the north wing of the Kulturbahnhof. The venue, which holds a large-scale installation by Cyprian and German artist duo Haris Epaminonda and Daniel Gustav Cramer, was immediately evacuated

The contents of the test tube-like glass vessels could not be immediately verified, hence the mobilization of local police. Specialists from the Landeskriminalamt, the centralized police force for each German state, were flown in by helicopter to help identify and diffuse the potentially hazardous materials. They quickly took the containers back to their headquarters 200 kilometers away in Wiesbaden to be analyzed.


Later Tuesday evening, the operation came to a successful, if not slightly anti-climactic end, with authorities reporting that the vials were filled with nothing more than cooking oil. The faux-terror scare was eventually revealed to be the work of Documenta participants Critical Art Ensemble (CAE), which was executing a performance for which they filled test tubes with cooking oil and drops of blood and distributed them to Documenta visitors. Allegedly, a pair of those viewers decided to unburden themselves of the vials within the old customs house, sparking the massive police investigation.

(This is not the first time that CAE's boudary-blurring art has gotten its members in trouble with the police. In 2004, collective member Steve Kurtz was put through a major ordeal and became a cause célèbre after he became the target of a terrorism investigation on account of biological materials found in his studio which he had been planning to use in an art installation. The charges were definitively dismissed in 2008.) 

A version of this post originally appeared on Berlin Art Brief.