A collective choice ruangrupa (That’s right, with a lowercase letter starting a proper name and which, in free translation from Indonesian, means “a space for art”) for the artistic direction of Documenta 15, which will take place in 2022 in the city of Kassel, is a coherent decision in tune with the current state of contemporary art.
On the one hand, the choice is surprising, given the attack that the institution had by local governments, when the previous edition had a deficit of R$ 32 million, largely caused by sharing the exhibition with the city of Athens, reaching a total budget of BRL 202 million.
They were attacks of political content, typical of the current strategy of the war against culture, also in vogue in Brazil, which ignored the essential issues of the exhibition, focusing on an economic-financial loss, when it is known that art and culture do not make a profit. nowhere. Documenta 14 had a record audience, with 1,23 million visitors, against 904 thousand in the previous edition.
But the essential point is that Germany did not bow to the speeches of unsuspecting politicians and, honoring Documenta's democratic tradition, invited eight internationally renowned experts to join the selection team, including the director of Tate Modern, Frances Morris; South African curator Gabi Ngcobo; the director of the Van Abbe museum, Charles Esche, and the director of the Pinacoteca de São Paulo, Jochen Volz. These four names already point to the representativeness of the cultural diversity of the committee.
“We chose ruangrupa thanks to the ability the group has shown to appeal to various communities, including audiences that go beyond traditional audiences in the arts, and to promote local participation and commitment,” the team said in a press release.
This statement highlights two axes that deserve to be carefully observed and reflect some of the most important proposals of the current art system: going beyond “traditional audiences” and engaging with the context.
Ruangrupa himself, or Ruru, as he is known, made this clear in the text released when he was appointed: “If Documenta was born in 1955 to heal the wounds of war, why shouldn't we focus on the wounds of today? In particular those rooted in colonialism, capitalism or patriarchal structures and contrast them with models based on partnerships that really enable people to have a different view of the world.”
In fact, “models based on partnerships” is an essential expression for understanding contemporary art, since its beginnings in the 1960s, but which, many times, continues to be neglected by archaic models, which maintain the artist as the creator of a commercial object. .
Now, since Hélio Oiticica and Lygia Clark, in Brazil, or Joseph Beuys, in Germany, the idea of a work has been questioned, being replaced by other proposals aimed at expanding what would be the place of art: either in the creation of the Free International University, as Beuys defended, in a therapeutic environment, for Clark, or a meeting space, for Oiticica.
In a text from 2012, for issue 30 of the English magazine Afterall, critic David Teh points out how ruangrupa “has made a deep commitment to Jakarta, both as a place and as a subject, and to its population, both as an audience and as an author. From day one, the group has made the city — the noisy machine of commerce and administration not considered a source of culture — a primary protagonist of an epic adventure of collective storytelling.”
In this sense, the idea of artist-proposer, defended by both Oiticica and Clark, is clear. Also according to Teh, in the same article, “the prodigious capacity of the collective achieves a diversified aesthetic, incorporating everything from punk to street culture, through documentary and ethnographic research, to conceptual and procedural experiments. Mixing it all up is a firm conviction that the participants are agents in a living social history.”
This proposal of considering the public as an agent, after all, is what Beuys and Oiticica were looking for, in a program that advocated such a huge expansion of the artistic field that there would be no more limits between art and life. “The museum is the world”, defended Oiticica. “Everyone is an artist,” preached Beuys. Not by chance, it was at Documenta 6, in 1982, that the German artist used the show as a space for the Free International University, and two years later he produced a series of postcards with provocative texts, including the phrase “With this I abandon the art”, making manifest the institutional exhaustion of art, at the moment of the so-called “return to painting”. A few months later, he would die.
In the last 50 years, many similar proposals have been presented, such as one by Frenchman Nicolas Bourriaud, who came to outline a somewhat Eurocentric theory, the “relational aesthetics”, giving an account of a production that also made use of partnerships.
However, among the recent and most radical proposals is the work of Cuban Tania Bruguera, at Tate Modern, during its installation in Turbine Hall, between October 2018 and February this year. Along with the occupation of the monumental space, she was also responsible for the Tate Exchange program, the museum's educational arm, in an unprecedented action that changed the name of the Boiler House building from Tate Modern to Natalie Bell, in honor of a local activist, in addition to to work with a group of neighbors of the museum, which occurred for the first time in the history of the institution, which will be maintained for three years.
In a lecture in Switzerland, in Verbier, Bruguera defended what he considers the new way of understanding what is aesthetic today. To do so, she separated the word in Spanish, which also applies to Portuguese, in “Est Etica”, that is, to be ethical. “This is the essential issue in today's artistic production, to take the context into account, to be ethical with the other”, said the artist. She even promoted meetings between residents and those responsible for the museum.
In Brazil, many artists have been trying to create bridges with specific groups and communities. There are those who open their studio, transforming it into a welcoming space for trans people, while others participate in activities in occupations, such as the 9 de Julho Occupation, or even work with institutions such as Redes da Maré, in Rio, generating actions to defend these people. spaces. These are all activities that start from a commitment to social issues that are mixed with concerns in the field of art or that have a trigger in it. Casa do Povo, in the neighborhood of Bom Retiro, in São Paulo, has been a privileged place for this type of partnership.
Therefore, when Ade Darmawan, one of the members of ruangrupa, states that “an artist must be able to constantly balance the faith of people and everything around her or him, and contribute critically to social negotiations about existing values”, it is It can be seen that Documenta 8 15 will continue to be the best thermometer for the art or non-art of the present.