One of the installations in the dOCUMENTA’s Karlsaue park is being mistaken on warm summer days, as a playground. Children chase each other up and down the wooden steps, climb on the beams, and admire the view of the park. What guidebook-carriers and informed visitors know however, is that Sam Durant’s intention was to create a scaffold. Composed of wood and metal beams, the scaffold seems architecturally simple at first glance. It is this simple make-up that portrays a more complex combination of infamous scaffolds of history: a recreation of the device that took the life of Sadaam Hussein in Iraq combined with the structure used to execute the Haymarket Martyrs of Chicago in 1887. The structure is bare and lacking in architectural style or cohesion, it stands absurd facing the Orangery in the beautiful baroque park.
Upon further reading it becomes clear that Durant does in fact believe such a device to be absurd. Paired with the installation is a pamphlet by the American artist in which he presents the facts of capital punishment and incarceration in the United States. The booklet presents reasons to oppose the death penalty along with statistics showing the high percentage of African Americans in prison, the links between education and incarceration, and so on. The end of Durant’s pamphlet reads: “Yes, America, we have executed an innocent man.”
While the piece may be far from being a playground, the interactive elements and perhaps even the children’s games are powerful to the visitors experience walking themselves onto a scaffold.
Sam Durant lives and works in Los Angeles, California. He has exhibited throughout the United States as well as at the Sculpture Bienalle of Carrara, the Bienalle of Sydney, and the Whitney Biennial.