Words About Art That’s Beyond Words

Sitting in a dark room in the basement of the Neue Gallery in Kassel, Germany, I experienced a wave of not entirely unpleasant but utterly uncontrollable nausea.  I was watching a video by the artist Wael Shawky called Cabaret Crusades (2011). Both magical and macabre, it is a marionette musical based on the 1983 book The Crusades through Arab Eyes by Lebanese author Amin Maalouf.

My experience was quite beyond words. Somehow I knew I was witnessing a work that was epic in a number of ways. I was sensing something so right and so wrong about the combination of elements and frankly I was lost in it. I was enthralled and lost to myself in the stories. I was lost in the faces of the puppets as they stabbed each other and burned. I was lost in the music and lost somehow to the connections between my thoughts and my body. And then it hit me, I was going to be sick!

I write about art, but sometimes there’s something so completely and utterly un-writable about my experiences of it. Sometimes what it does is so embodied and emotional that I know I’ll never do it justice with a simple explanation.

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the concept of the art experience ever since – nor the number of other moments at Document 13 where I was overcome by art. So I decided to ask the Twitter-sphere about their own overwhelming art moments…Is there an artwork that nearly made you throw up? Or cry? Did it do something else to you? Did it change your life?

Here’s what was kindly shared with me:


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