For the fifth documenta, Harald Szeemann (1933-2005) had originally planned a separate section entitled “Participation and Play,” for which air inflated tents were to be constructed on Friedrichplatz. Due to the cost, this did not come to fruition, and Szeemann ended up housing important artistic positions in other sections so that this newly emerging artistic direction would not have to be omitted. Szeemann had noticed the work of Günter Sarée (1940-1973) and invited him to participate. The artist received his own room directly in the entrance area of ​​the Fridericianum. For the concept “Project for Shortening the Conscious Time of Life,” he sought volunteers who were willing to be anesthetized by an anesthesiologist for 15 minutes. He wished to interrupt their consciousness so that they could experience deep sleep and the sensation of being aware, even briefly, of the “big sleep” in a temporary simulation of the transition from life to death. For the sake of indemnity, participants were asked to fill out a certificate stating their consent, which also informed them of the risk of death and the anesthesia’s mortality rate (1:6,000). It also contained questions about their individual wishes regarding a funeral in case of death. Sarée declared himself willing to take on the responsibility of any funeral arrangements. 

 

A draft of this certificate has been preserved in the documenta archiv. It is a black and white collage made from various patterned papers with a statement in capital letters and printing instructions on the back. The text was to be completed with the number of minutes the anesthetic was administered, the date, and the signature of the anesthesiologist. However, the risk of death was erroneously stated as 1:60,000. In addition, a less elaborate certificate (perhaps the actual design), a contract with a funeral home in Munich, and a form filled out by one of the patients have been preserved in the file.

 

In the end, the action was banned after only five days by the Hessian Medical Association — with the threat that the anesthesiologist who had come from Munich would have his license revoked — which led to some press coverage. The room was closed and the concept abandoned.

 

Only a year later, Sarée died from complications resulting from cancer. Born in Eger, the autodidact had lived in Munich since 1965, where he pursued various activities to support himself. Starting in 1969, he devoted himself to conceptual art and collaborated with artists such as HA Schult (born 1939) and Wolf Vostell (1932-1998).

 

Birgit Jooss