Documenta 15 is different from all previous Documentas since 1955. Because it is one colorful festival, open to all and in the absence of the establishment: galleries, museums and western exhibitors do not participate. And because art is not the goal here, but a by-product of collective work and of ‘ronkrong’, an Indonesian word for ‘to be together’. ruangrupa, the Indonesian collective of artists and creative artists artistically responsible for this Documenta, introduces an encyclopedia of concepts new to the art world. The most important is ‘lumbung’, a term translated as ‘shared rice barn’, meaning that the harvest is divided and shared fairly. The Documenta budget is located in the ‘Common Pool’, from which the money is distributed equally among those involved in a way that is transparent to all. ‘Ecosystem’ is an overall collective of groups and individuals working together and spending time together.
And so the impressive classicist museum Fridericianum is not the central location of Documenta with the most prestigious art. It hosts Fridskul, a meeting place and training center complete with nursery and sleeping accommodation. Here, lumbing values such as generosity, humor and connection to the local environment are put into practice. People talk to each other, sit on pillows on the floor and play with their children.
ruangrupa, for whom Documenta is primarily ‘a way to make new friends’, has delegated much of the artistic responsibility to fourteen lumbung members, who then invited artists (collectives) and other participants through their networks. In total, there are more than a thousand, which are found at 39 locations in Kassel. In addition to Fridskul, a publishing network, gallery, kiosk and radio station have been set up.
Also read: What’s so special about the fifteenth Documenta? And 4 other questions.
Individualism and the pursuit of power
Needless to say, Documenta 15 is strongly critical of Western ideas of art and, in general, of individualism and all the pursuit of power. European art is hardly to be found there, American art not at all. ruangrupa has radically turned the entire Documenta machinery upside down with all its associated art ideologies and market mechanisms. With unstoppable enthusiasm and optimism, they have transformed Documenta into a utopian world where people can coexist peacefully and sustainably – despite aggressive riots over Palestinian participation, accusing the ruangrupa of anti-Semitism.
It also means that Documenta 15 cannot be reviewed as an art exhibition because it is not an exhibition. The location, if you can call it that, excludes the ability to see or even recognize works of art as such. ruangrupa invited the participants to bring their practice, what they always do, to Kassel. Preferably no works of art made specifically for this occasion, after all, the process is more important than the result. Many artists therefore live in shared apartments in Kassel during the hundred Documenta days. On location, they do things and change them again, and most of all, they talk and hang out. A large part of the exhibition spaces are occupied by seating in endless variations, often reminiscent of living pits from the 1970s. There are no thoughtful art installations, but there are many hippie-like stalls and stands and also a kitchen garden project. Here and there they cook and eat.
Eleven collectives have settled in the Hübner-Areal, an industrial building near the wide Fulda River, including from Africa, China and Australia. It is a kind of market here for good intentions, with actions against deforestation, pollution, capitalism, colonialism and so on. As a visitor, you walk around a bit fluently here because there is no structure or plan. What can be seen is similar to art, such as photographic works, videos, drawings and collections of clumsy objects, but it is not urgent, the individual contributions are sliced into the general and purposeless coziness of the marketplace.
As a visitor, you walk around a bit fluently here because there is no structure or plan
Outside hotspots such as the Fridericianum, Documenta Halle and Hübner-Areal, the more interesting works can be found. The highlight of Documenta 15 is a film by Pinar Ögrenci (1973) at the Hessisches Landesmuseum. The movie, with the title as itKurdish for disaster or avalanche, takes place in Müküs, the Anatolian hometown of Ögrenci’s father. He had to flee, first to Istanbul and then again, to Berlin. Until the genocide of the Turks by the Turks in 1915, Armenians, Kurds and Persians lived peacefully with each other in Müküs. The film shows how the traumas and consequences of the unspeakable events of 1915 are still a daily reality for the residents. With long, slow shots, Ögrenci brings life to the mountain village, which was completely closed off from the outside world by snow in winter until the construction of an asphalt road in 2013. Armenian singer Hayrik Muradyan sings about the landscape and mourns the history of Anatolia.
The top floor of the Grimmwelt Museum is the domain of storyteller and musician Agus Nur Amal pmtoh. He knows how to bring heavy issues into the limelight in an easy way, such as military violence, human rights and ecological destruction. In a video, we see how he visits rice fields in Indonesia while talking to farmers and singing, he tells their story. In recent months, Agus Nur Amal has made a project about the future of the Fulda River with school children from Kassel, the results can be seen in Grimmwelt. Jatiwangi is also present here, a collective that helped its own village out of a financial mishap by establishing a roofing tile factory with all the residents, restoring houses, creating communal facilities and setting up a choir and artistic workshop. The Grimmwelt Adventure Museum is the right place for the projects Agus Nur Amal and jatiwangiwhich seems too good to be true.
Somewhere in the Fridericianum art strikes very hard, as one hopes art does. Sada (‘echo’ in Iraqi) is an initiative of Iraqi artist Rijin Sahakian. From 2010 to 2015, Sada offered a program of seminars and workshops for young artists in Baghdad, in the intimate space of a studio. For Documenta 15, Sada then asked the participants to show what their practice looks like now. The results, films made in Iraq, France, Turkey and the United States, are heartbreaking. Bassim al Shaker was tortured for making studio drawings of Venus de Milo. He now runs a hairdressing shop and saw a child, and then the mother was killed right in front of his shop. He tells the story with drawings. Ali Eyal was at the cafe with a friend when a bomb exploded. Eyal ran outside to discover he was covered in pieces of his friend’s meat. The Sada movies and storytelling are raw, direct and tender. They prove the importance of art, especially in situations of war and chaos.
In it How to book for artists, recently published by ruangrupa, states as one of the lines: “Make friends. Not art. “That’s exactly what they have done. They have certainly made many friends. But the power of art in the work of Ögrenci, Agus Nur Amal and the Sada group is very rare on Documenta 15.