In protest of Documenta 14’s perceived exploitation of asylum seekers in Athens, an LGBTQI refugee rights group seized a sculpture from the exhibition and claim that they will not give it back.
The activists stole Spanish artist Roger Bernat’s Replica of Oath Stone—a facsimile of a limestone table where oaths were sealed, which is also known to have been at the trial of Socrates in Athens in 399 BCE. Made of porexpan, fiberglass, and acrylic paint, the work was made in collaboration with Roberto Fratini. The group is calling the action “#rockumenta 14.”
When Bernat’s piece arrived in Athens it was included in the artist’s project “The Place of the Thing,” for which the sculpture was carried through the city by different art groups and collectives in a mock funeral procession before it was set to ship to Kassel where it was to be buried in the Thingplatz. The LGBTQI Refugees GR had agreed to be part of this performance and even accepted a payment of 500 euros for their participation in the project. After taking the work, the group released a video of its members dancing around the object and accuses the artist of coming to Greece “to purchase the participation of invisible exoticized others.”
In a statement the group explains that that the piece and the performance planned was meant to give them a voice. They proclaim that “rocks can’t talk!” and “We can!” Claiming that since millions of refugees who traveled to Europe to seek a better life have disappeared, they have made the stone disappear.
“Your stone may be languishing without papers in a prison on the island of Samos,” the group said. “Your stone may have drowned and sunk to the bottom of the Mediterranean. Your stone may have been deported to Turkey. Your stone may be on a flight to Sweden with its new 2,000 Euro fake passport. Your stone may be driven to suicide in Moria detention center desperate for freedom. Your stone may be waiting in line outside the offices of Katehaki. Your stone may be selling its body to strangers in Pedion Tou Areos. Your stone may be legally recognized as a refugee but sleeping on the street. But unlike your stone, no energies have been spent searching for those who have disappeared—not minerals or even artworks, but flesh and bone. And we’ve had more than our fair share of funerals.”
In response to the action, the artist claims that the group was never “purchased,” and that money from the project’s budget was offered to groups who wanted to participate in the performance as compensation. In a statement, Bernat called the stone a “cheap fake,” which only has symbolic value from the people engaging with it. He also declared that the stone was delivered to the group since they wanted to contribute to the project, so they didn’t have to actually steal it.
“If the LGBTQI refugees or its spokesmen think that stealing a fake stone is worth anything—celebrating their triumph around it—is a true political action or good artistic deconstruction, maybe they should check their political agenda or their artistic parameters,” Bernat said. He also thanked the group since the project gained more visibility after their action, but added “if they thought that their action would go against the project, we’re sorry to say that their video is right the kind of action around the stone we’re wishing to feature on its trip to Kassel.”