MTomorrow the fifteenth edition of Documenta opens. For the first time, a group is responsible for it. Ruangrupa comes from Indonesia and has invited 54 other groups and congregations. They must, as the Documenta officials echoed like a slogan at the press conference, also bring a global South perspective – just as there is a shared vision of things among these billions of people in dozens of countries on four continents. The largest pool on Earth, so to speak.
In fact, it is much different from the norm, the Museum Fredericianum, the central location of the Documenta, is now called the “Fredericolle” and brings together initiatives from all over the world. Asian art archives and the Algerian women’s movement Kiliketla! Library from Johannesburg, Rojava Films Municipality from Syria. There is a large nursery for young children where they can study with their parents.
Not a complete art, life itself is supposed to happen here, but what kind of life is this? An event that occurs in society and in which there is a lot of talk. Flags, notes, mind maps, groupthink media, appeals and beliefs prevail. The Documenta’s many rooms that could be used as workshops or meeting places don’t want to have aesthetics – yet they unconsciously developed one. It’s a document of benches made of beer crates fitted with wire ties, walls covered in cardboard and made-to-measure pine, school chairs and old discarded sofas.
There are no grand gestures, nor any central control by Ruangrupa. Put another way: The Documenta fifteen wants to plant fewer oaks for future generations like Joseph Boyce once did, it wants to be a mushroom here and now that spreads as quickly and widely as possible. I have done it successfully. There are a total of 32 places. The press conference stated that about 1,500 people were involved in some way. No one will ever count them, they are like grains in the Indonesian rice fold, saliva that is often summoned. In Documenta’s glossary, it states that the surplus of the harvest is to be brought in and the surplus used for the benefit of all. Nonkrong is different, it means hanging out together.
Contrary to what some fear, there is also art to be seen. In the Documenta Hall is a light, 1990s building that looks a lot like what you’d expect at a Biennale, apart from the corrugated iron cladding from the Wajukuu Art Project. Video work, sculpture, painting, and a half-pipe tube in the middle where you can skate. Next to it is a real printing workshop that produces posters. Cuban artist Tania Bruguera and her companions, who are being harassed by the authorities in their country, are conducting a hundred-day program to raise awareness of the world of Cuban art, which has been fragmented and distorted by the oppression of the regime. This is powerful and important.
Other familiar documenta sites are the Ottoneum, usually used as a natural history museum, the Stadtmuseum and the Grimm World, classic cultural sites in the northern city of Hesse. Bettenhausen, a commercial district in east Kassel, new. So far, Documenta has not been hacked yet. And why one wonders, because it is inhospitable and has long distances. In a former oriental pool, Indonesian group Taring Padi showcases the best twenty years of agitprop painting. Gentle light falls on the halls of Huebner’s factory, there are no walls, everything flows together: an art festival from Mali, a film about the refugee situation in Denmark, an Indonesian art initiative. Sold locally and sustainably produced, a DIY map shows where you can get them from.
Cookies taste like mud
Creating an alternative economy is Ruangrupa’s goal, “Ekosistem” from below. Nearby, in the Basilica of Saint Konigondes, the group of Haitian Attis Resistance artists displays eerie sculptures on the theme of death. Next to it is a trailer selling “mud biscuits”. The artists show how they add the finest clay to the dough, up to 70 percent. You can actually chew it, and it’s a traditional Haitian food supplement, says Michel Lafleur, who left his homeland for Documenta for the first time. Biscuits taste not so good, just like clay, but what can you say? It comes down to the thing. This is what happens over and over again.
Often you can do very little with art, which almost always moves outside the coordinate system of museums, universities and galleries, but the people are very kind. It’s a document to sit down and make friends, not a theoretical document, despite the many books and writings in the exhibits. Also remarkable is the complete absence of sexual arousal. This is quite unusual nowadays, and in fact the temptations of the body have always been one of the main driving forces of art. not here. Interest prevails, for example in the form of a nursery of very generous proportions, and care, in the form of eating together and focusing on nature and farming. Sometimes the parade itself turns into a square, for example in the form of a botanical garden under the Documenta Hall.
Flesh, fertility, society, non-hierarchical. No wonder, one would think, that many of those responsible for Documenta highly praise the invitation of popular initiatives as an expansion of views: those who do not know them always praise the simple life the loudest. creeping idea. If “nature” did not exist as the Great Romantic Other, as theory has asserted in recent years, then perhaps the Global South does not exist as well as the Other in the West? Is it just a useful imagination to avoid asking uncomfortable questions? Artist Hito Steyrl (invited by the INLAND collective) is perhaps the only one of the many participants who treats postmodern distortions of nature and civilization on a par with current discourses. In the media installation Animal Spirits Spanish Shepherds are shown, who resist the idealization of the wolf and Disneyfication in the country. Video game aesthetics and reality series meet real cheese loaves under a glass, where bacteria produce an immutable chain of signs, the cheese currency, where values can be written just as in tainted cryptocurrency.
Hito Sterle Documenta slammed
Is she serious? For once, you don’t know, and that’s really sabotaging this mutually unmistakable celebration. In the run-up to the event, Hetto Stirl took a critical look at Documenta 15, which she accused of not thinking enough about her position in the context of the anti-Semitism debate. Steyerl actually wanted to provide this critique in his “We need to talk” talk series, which was then canceled by Documenta. It is unclear if it is still coming. At the press conference, the document makers and the mayor of Kassel showed no willingness to see the preconceived criticisms of some anti-Israel document makers as little more than “questions that were not up for discussion at all.”
The show itself does not present anything scandalous, as far as one can tell after the first run. However, nothing would affect the course of things in art. So the question arises: why all this? Three months is not a long time. From September, Fridericianum will be a regular art museum again, no matter how many sandpits, hotplates, or sewing machines there are. And the social aspect that Ruangrupa emphasizes so much is not entirely dependent on the rooms of Ruangrupa with the charm of a high school centre. In every hookah bar in Kassel, there is more going on in the evening than in the house of Ro-Ro.
If you want to replace art as a space for discourse with something else, the question remains how this completely different thing should be discussed. How can an audience that is no longer meant to be an audience look at something? What are the criteria for art criticism when it comes to interests and improving life? And why should I use a gallery format if it’s not primarily about art and artists?
40 million to hang out
The answer is money. There is simply no other festival on earth that can provide around forty million euros for fourteen Lumbung groups to meet, chat and hang out. Only Kassel can handle that. This is the paradox of Document XV: precisely because this format has been developed over decades, because the public, the art world and not least the media have been trained to find the document important, and it can now be emptied from the inside.
Shall we go further than that of the Documenta Bazon Brook veteran and learn something holistic in “The Fifteen” and the beginning of the end of the show? Brooke, whom we met on a tour of Fredericianum, organized the first “School of Visitors” in Documenta in 1968, the year of the revolution. The Professor Emeritus of Aesthetics and Cultural Mediation sees a turning point in the fifteenth edition of the show, which he has long accompanied, The Triumph of Culture, which has become comprehensive here. According to Brooke, it does not matter what culture the naturalist comes from, it does not matter what culture they come from, nor does the artist matter. This “authority of authorship” as the only acceptable thing in art is now replaced by the authority of the group, which determines what can be said and shown.
It’s funny how three young British literary magazine editors say something very similar, albeit in different terms, at a documentary celebration of Press Release Night. It is almost as if the love of the community and the deep-rooted community has reached its climax with this massive communal celebration. And perhaps Documenta’s next film will focus again on what plays absolutely no role here: the stubborn, curious person he insists on writing.