Gudskul, Sekolah Temujalar, pedagogical installation with audio, cameras, drawings and games exhibited at Fridericianum, at documenta fifteen, in Kassel
Gudskul, "Sekolah Temujalar", pedagogical installation with audio, cameras, drawings and games exhibited at Fridericianum, in Kassel. Photo: Patricia Rousseaux

“Make friends and friends, not arte!”, defends the collective ruangrupa, right in the introduction of the documenta fifteen guide, for which they are responsible for artistic direction. The provocation is far from being a catchphrase. The entire design of this show is focused on creating spaces for meetings and exchanges, based on a wide network of artists and collectives. On the website, 72 groups are listed, but as each one works with dozens of collaborators, it is estimated that around 1.500 people will participate in this edition of the show.

In this sense, it's hard not to notice the energy that emanates from the 39 places where the show is spread out in Kassel, Germany, some receiving just one large panel, while others occupy several floors of old, unoccupied factories. In many of them, the artists themselves live during the 18 days of the documenta, which opens on June XNUMX.

Created in 2000, ruangrupa is an Indonesian collective that has been developing participatory proposals. Among them is the lumbung, which in the rural area of ​​the country is the granary where, in a community way, the surplus rice harvest is stored. Thus, if there is a need in the future, anyone in the community can use part of this reserve. In the field of art, to put it simply, lumbung ends up being a system of exchanges and, therefore, of solidarity, of friendship.

Within the competitive system of contemporary art, these two ideas are far from being a practice, but the fifteen documents through the complex network created by ruangrupa, point out how not only they are possible, but they already occur in fact. In fact, the collective itself was expanded, welcoming five new members from four cities: Kassel, Amsterdam, Jerusalem and Møn (Denmark).

Thus, the Fridericianum museum, documenta's first headquarters, in 1955, was transformed into Fridskul, a school space, which is inhabited by 11 collectives, including Gudskul, from Jakarta, Indonesia. It is composed of three collectives, including ruangrupa itself, and is aimed at consolidating creative and intellectual resources, in a critical sense of formal education.

The entire right side of the Fridericianum's ground floor is occupied by Gudskul, with a part being accessible to visitors to see how the workshops work, and the other restricted to only the 40 people who participate in the project and live in the museum, sleeping and eating there too, to the dismay of some Kassel citizens.

the world of babies

Also on the ground floor of Fridericianum, but on the left side, is the project by Brazilian artist Graziela Kunsch, Public Daycare (public daycare) and is a great example of the complexity of lumbung in the context of documenta fifteen. It is a large space divided into two parts: one of them, the day care center itself, open daily and free of charge from 10 am to 17 pm, where mothers, fathers and other caregivers can take children up to 3 years old – through the back door of the museum – and experience with them the pedagogical approach of the Hungarian pediatrician Emmi Pikler (1902-1984), who inspired the project. The other section, accessible to visitors all day, features photographs by the also Hungarian Marian Reismann (1911-1991), who for decades documented the daily life of the Pikler Institute in Budapest, and a video of the artist showing the “free motor development” or “self-initiated” from his own daughter. From 17:XNUMX, all spaces are open for visitation.

Pikler demonstrated that bonded babies are able to play freely, without adult guidance, and that free play coincides with free bodily movement, each baby in its own time. “It is common for adults to anticipate the motor positions of babies – sitting them up, putting them up, helping them to walk – hoping that, as soon as possible, babies will become part of the 'adult world'. What if we invert this relationship, going down to the ground, making it possible for babies to fully live their first years of life, or the 'baby world'? My contribution to Fridskul was to create a space where, more than teaching babies, we adults can learn from them”, explains Kunsch.

To design the prepared environment, she worked with Elke Avenarius, director of a local day care center and a civil engineer by training. The furniture was all designed to ensure the growing autonomy of babies. The collaboration in architecture was so intense that Elke became a co-author of the project. For years, Kunsch's practice has been based on collaboration, but in the context of documenta fifteen, it multiplies in several layers, from respect for women who were already working with children's education and photography in the 1940s, to building networks in the city of Kassel, as in the partnership with Avenarius.

This, in fact, is the mobilizing energy of the show, which begins before the exhibition itself, and will continue in the future, when the furniture will be transferred to Casa do Povo, in São Paulo, an entity that is also a partner in the project. In total, 26 people and entities are listed as “cooperators” of the Kunsch proposal. In the days after it opened, she said the back door was increasingly being used and the city had embraced the beautiful project.

I am because we are

In this way, as can be seen, from each Lumbung-artist, that is, those initially invited, a web is woven that expands in various directions, generally seeking to question the idea of ​​authorship and the notion of object. Documenta fifteen, in fact, is not an exhibition of objects, but a possible experience of collaborations.

However, this is not a repetitive and homogeneous exhibition, since the idea of ​​experience is very broad and the diversity of themes in this document is immense and with great surprises. One of the lumbung-members is the Foundation Festival sur le Niger, founded in 2009, which organizes a multicultural festival in Segu, Mali. It is not an event, but an institution aimed at promoting the training of young artists, in addition to encouraging collaborative practices based on the Maaya philosophy: “I am because we are”.
At documenta, the group occupies a large space in the Hübner Areal, a three-story former train and bus factory, with several areas for musical performances, in addition to exhibiting works by some of its founders, such as Abdoulaye Konate, one of the most prestigious African artists, who participated in the 19th edition of Sesc_Videobrasil, in 2014.

Named as Vestibule Maaya, based on the importance of hospitality as a practice in Mali, 39 artists occupy the space of the Festival sur le Niger in the German show.
In that same building, in its basement, is one of the most overwhelming installations of documenta XV – which makes it impossible to say that there is no art in Kassel, a recurring phrase by the show's critics. By the way, yes, in addition to all the networks created from the Lumbung-artists, there are many impressive plastic works, as is the case of Amol K Patil, an Indian artist who presents a series of sculptures, films and drawings with dramatic lighting. Among the sculptures are maps of places where the artist has lived in recent times, including Kassel, made of earth with gears that discreetly create small movements in the structures. It is one of the most impressive works in documenta.

against narratives

In another unoccupied factory, Hafenstrasse 76, near the city's harbor, is the work of non-binary artist Nino Bulling. A cartoonist who explores the boundaries between documentary and speculative fiction, Nino exhibits enlarged drawings of his new publication, firebugs, made possible by documenta fifteen, on site. However, their presence in Kassel also represents a debate about queer, trans and non-conforming artists who work with comics, and they will participate in a workshop organizing together with the Lebanese collective Samandal Comics.

The result will be published by the German publisher Steidl. Here, in this case, we can see how the lumbung proposal multiplies organically from each guest – in Nino's case, the Graphic Artists Union also participates. In the same building, another queer collective, Fehras Publishing Practices, also deals with graphic narratives, this time addressing issues of the Eastern Mediterranean, North Africa and the Arab diaspora.

Another important axis of this documenta concerns the environment: there are several collectives that work on this issue, as is the case of the Spanish INLAND, created by Fernando Garcia Dory, which has a radio station, an academy, organizes shows and produces cheese. In this edition, INLAND occupies part of the Ottoneum Natural History Museum, where it presents the video Animal Spirits, in collaboration with Hito Steyerl, which mocks the concept of “animal spirit” (an emotional impulse) developed by John Keynes. Another of the great works of this document, Animal Spirits is also a way of expanding the ecological debate carried out by INLAND.

Finally, it is essential to point out political militancy collectives, such as INSTAR – Instituto de Artivism Hanna Arendt, created by Cuban Tania Bruguera, which occupies part of the Documenta Halle, a large space created in 1992, for the ninth edition of Documenta. There, INSTAR organizes a series of ten exhibitions with Cuban artists who produce counter-narratives about the art and history of their country in Central America.

This edition of documenta, like every major exhibition, also faced controversy. First, a persecution by far-right groups of Palestinian collectives. Then, right at the opening, the accusation that there were anti-Semitic images on a huge panel near Documenta Halle, People's Justice (2002), by the Indonesian collective Taring Padi, which was covered and finally withdrawn shortly afterwards. The fact generated a formal apology on the documenta website, from both ruangrupa and Taring Padi, in addition to organizing a debate on anti-Semitism in art at the end of June. The Taring Padi, by the way, occupies several spaces in the show, one of the most beautiful in an old public swimming pool, the Hallenbad Ost, with a variety of posters and posters of political demonstrations, many made as engravings. The controversy, however, served as fuel for culture wars that like to attack contemporary art.

Taring Padi in documenta fifteen
Works by the Taring Padi collective at the Hallenbad Ost in Kassel. Photo: Frank Sperling

What happened, however, does not deprive the show of its power and energy that was unheard of in large-scale exhibitions such as the document. Built collaboratively and organically, providing an immense active network of artists, activists and activists, it is a forceful response to a Europe facing war and a world that sees the neoliberalism of Big Techs collapsing democracies. It is not a matter of believing in utopias, but of demonstrating that resistance is possible and that it already occurs in many places, where lumbung, even if many do not use that name, already exists in practice.

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