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by Dorothee Richter

Curatorial Commons? A Paradigm Shift

The Future of The Commons—Theoretical Perspective
Usually, the understanding of the role of a curator is still based on a universal claim of a singular entity. To redefine the role from a concept of individuality to a situation in which all participants are involved in curating means discussing a cascade of different parameters, to find out if a “curatorial commons” can exist and under which preconditions. As curating is subject to certain constraints, such as the project-based organisation of work related to neoliberal economic conditions, for example, the differentiation between a curatorial gesture that exploits others and an actual shared common space is crucial. George Caffentzis addresses precisely this fine line in his essay, “The Future of ‘The Commons’: Neoliberalism’s ‘Plan B’ or the Original Disaccumulation of Capital?,”[1] which can be transferred to curating: “In other words, the commons brings together pre- and post-capitalist forms of social coordination in a sort of time warp that evades the totalitarian logic of neoliberalism.”[2] His aim is to discuss the political implications of a distinction between two kinds of commons: (1) pro-capitalist commons that are compatible with and potentiate capitalist accumulation, and (2) anti-capitalist commons that are antagonistic to and subversive of capitalist accumulation.[3]

In the case of curating, one must always be aware that curating happens under special conditions: curating takes place as part of the representational space, and it therefore develops a biopolitical power, an emanation of specific concepts for a worldview for a bigger part of society. What happens in the curatorial sphere might present a specific problem, a specific solution, or a specific concept of the relationship between subjects and communities. Dagmar Pelger, Anita Kaspar, and Jörg Stollmann discuss contemporary approaches to the commons in relation to the spatial aspect.[4] I think this is particularly interesting for curating because, here, analogously to the medieval sharing of resources—for example, a shared pasture—a certain place can become a common good. How close this is to curating is proved by the concept of the rice barn proposed by ruangrupa for documenta fifteen. For Pelger, Kaspar, and Stollmann and their perspective of the spatial commons, sharing of natural and cultural resources should serve a community’s wellbeing as a precondition, as opposed to the surplus being consumed by just a few, or a company: “This is because the question of resource availability always extends to the question of the place where such resources are available‚ or are made available for the community—and therefore to the question of a community’s spatial organization.”[5] This means that the ones who benefit exclude others, who do not benefit. For curating, it also has to be acknowledged who the benefactor of shared goods/places/spaces is and in what way. To clarify this further: “The term Allmende (‘common land’ or ‘commons’ in English usage) describes shared ownership stake in a resource. This shared ownership establishes a ‘third space’ between public resource space‚ which is potentially freely available‚ and the privatized space used by individuals or corporations. The common goods extracted from or created within this resource space can be both material and immaterial‚ and therefore this third space can be either physical or virtual.”[6]

For curating, it is precisely this node of spatial, digital, and representational space for the commons that is intriguing. This could also explain why there has been such an interest in collectives in the curatorial field in recent years, compelled, as I argued earlier, by the accelerated alienation caused by the pandemic. Inviting ruangrupa to be the curators of documenta shows that a communal usage of this representational space might be possible, and it also multiplies the principle of sharing and of authorship. Curatorial authorship is here shared with lumbung members and other associated groups and “compost bins.” Implicitly, this proposes another way of being in the world, sharing resources, sharing space, and sharing knowledge—a positioning at the edge of the Anthropocene/Capitalocene seems to be of utter urgency for the state of the planet, hence for (wo)mankind.

Pelger, Kaspar, and Stollmann give an overview of the commons discourse in an attempt to reach a better understanding of the principle of the commons‚ to reveal certain spatial criteria‚ and to counteract appropriations of the concept.[7] One of the criteria that emerged was that commons are never absolutely fixed: “Commons are being described‚ on the basis of their historical development‚ as highly complex and contradictory systems of organization that never actually disappear‚ but must always be fought over afresh.”[8] This implies an ongoing negotiation, as well as an open-access resource space and a self-organised commoner community. Perhaps a self-explanatory point would be the shared use of the yield—which could be in the curatorial field a visual outcome (such as photographic or film-based documentation) as well as cultural capital, if one uses the term coined by Bourdieu.[9] Another interesting point made here is that the owner (if not owned by the community) doesn’t necessarily need to have given permission to use the resource—which also might entail some reference to the art field in which visual material is sampled and reused, but within the constraints of rights of images, which are often held by major museums or institutions. This important claim to ignore what is thought of as ownership has many implications; it also makes me think about the paradigmatic phrase “to steal from the university” as proposed in the Undercommons.[10] The university is here understood as the institution of knowledge production, similar to the art institution as another facet of knowledge production—this would imply a more radical understanding that would entail an illegal conversion of property and knowledge, in contrast to the normative ideas presented by Elinor Ostrom. I will discuss later the way in which ruangrupa was very successful in their method of using the institution and at the same time rejecting the institution of documenta.

Ostrom expands—and narrows—the definition of the commons by including a set of elemental principles.[11] These principles call for‚ among other things‚ resources to be handled more responsibly and thus by necessity with more regulation—by the commoners themselves. Caffentzis understands Ostrom’s standpoint as the major theory of a capitalist understanding of the commons. He criticises Ostrom’s endeavour to show how a perfectly “rational economic” agent who is an “appropriator” of a common pool resource can decide on the basis of cost-benefit analysis that s/he is better off with a change of rules that regulates the resource through a common property regime instead of either privatising or shifting the problem of allocation to the government.[12] Again, we encounter the fine line which separates the benefit for the many from the benefit for the few. Commons can therefore become, instead of shared social capital, the surplus of a social position of a specific small group, as the historian Peter Linebaugh argues.[13] Linebaugh compares medieval primitive accumulation with the waves of privatisation in neoliberal economic systems by identifying an ongoing‚ continuous process of accumulation. In the arts, of course, the art market is in place and will also buy and sell some of the communal outcomes of mega-exhibitions like documenta. In the case of documenta fifteen, this was conducted directly through the Lumbung Gallery, which generally followed the roles of trading like a gallery, with the exception that a part of the revenue would go to the group.[14] So, we should be aware of this; to a certain degree, working in the arts, we are all complicit.

Similar to Silvia Federici, Linebaugh sees the accumulation as continually being produced up to today and a correlated process of new commons‚ which are threatened in turn by further appropriation. And as summarised by Pelger, Kaspar, and Stollmann, “He describes this dynamic as the action-bound nature of commons‚ using the phrase ‘no commons with-out commoning‚’ thus expanding the traditional concept of commons by including the act of commoning—in other words‚ the coordinated social process that first creates the commons and then preserves it.”[15] “The real problem here, it seems to me, is not the commons per se. It is the failure of individualized private property rights to fulfill our common interests in the way they are supposed to do,”[16] David Harvey argues, clearly refuting Garret Hardin's ridiculous thesis of the tragedy of the commons. Hardin assumes an inevitable failure of the commons, because the commons would always be exploited and thus exhausted by a few. At the very least, his position makes it clear that rules are absolutely necessary, such as for the use of water and air, and the environment in general, in order to prevent this. Hardin thus unconsciously describes the actual state of affairs in hyper-capitalism that one has to consciously counteract to have common goods as legally common.

Connecting this back to the earlier discussion about Silvia Federici’s arguments on reproductive work, Federici not only identifies reproductive work as the necessary but unpaid work for any wage-earning labour, but she further argues that this kind of work is constantly fuelling the process of reproducing the workforce and therefore (unwittingly) the capitalist system. And historically speaking, the suppression of women and the persecution of communal female forms and knowledges through witch hunts and the enslavement of colonised subjects played a major role in forcefully capitalising on work, knowledge, and (wo)manpower.

Under what conditions can curating offer a practice based in the commons? It is already clear that one has to differentiate between the representational dimension of curating and an actually shared process of curating (commoning) and a shared outcome. So, for example, it is possible for a single curator to initiate a project that invites a diverse group of (local and international) people to produce art and knowledge in art institutions? This would mean that the artistic and cultural authorship is expanded compared to the usual situation of a curator and invited artists who are going through a system of evaluations by an agreed-upon process (the art academy, juries, exhibitions, prizes, etc.), but what would it mean to take commoning further?

On the other hand, if the whole curatorial process can be considered a shared project, in which different groups and diverse subjects come together and contribute to a process that might end in a curatorial event, then social demands might also resonate in this project, but not by fixing these social and political problems and related demands, but in negotiating them. To return to some of the abovementioned categories, it would mean that the group, or the individuals and groups coming together, would abide by certain agreements and decision-making processes, and it would mean that the outcome is owned by all who contribute—for example, the cultural capital gained, the right to use or refer to a project as author, possibly also an agreed equal payment. The exhibition space, or even the exhibition institution, would be (temporarily) appropriated by a commoner community. This implies an ongoing process of commoning, in shared platforms of discussions and decision-making. One could claim that an institution for a huge project like Philadelphia Assembled,[17] the previously mentioned project initiated by Jeanne van Heeswijk and commissioned by and paid for by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, expanded the range of authors and subjects of curating, and of topics of socio-political relevance. The project redistributed the outcome to a large public, related to the groups of the active participants. Van Heeswijk reached out to existing communities and initiated groups with topics (developed by the groups) such as “Futures, Reconstructions, Sovereignty, Sanctuary, Movement.” The groups worked together for three years and developed knowledges, produced art, produced cultural memories, produced shelters, and, as a formal outcome, also displayed the project throughout the museum, including re-organising the café with food connected to the different topics and areas of heritage.[18] The outreach left out the usual bourgeois group of informed citizens. In an interview, van Heewsijk describes what this working process meant for the subject position:

I don’t think a person needs to change. This fundamental understanding, based on Maria Garces’ text on letting go of your subject position—to understand that, in my opinion, you are in a world in which there are many subject positions at this moment. And there is also a lot of systematic oppression. So, in order to imagine a possibility of being together otherwise, we need to be able to let go of our own understanding of what it is that creates relationality. […] This idea of letting go of one's own subjectivity is also thinking in line with Hannah Arendt, when she talks of the battlefields of publicness, in which we as persona also have to place ourselves in this public space, in relation to each other, and in that relationship creates that in-between space in which we can operate civic resistance or civic imaginaries. If you think about it like that, then the concern is not only on how do we in one way become a public persona, but also how do we put our subject position at risk in public in order to create new forms of togetherness? This is a fundamental question. At the same time, it’s a question of who can afford that. If we then think on a larger scale, there are bodies that cannot afford that risk, that their subject position has been denied forever. How can we create spaces where people can slowly figure that out?[19]

As I understand van Heeswijk here, she refers to the identity politics which might be important for an oppressed group for a certain time in order to be recognised as a group demanding equal rights or demanding reparation—and a safe space would open up the opportunity to go beyond the identitarian thinking. In terms of the economic base, every individual involved in the process of Philadelphia Assembled was paid the exact same amount: $18/hour.

documenta fifteen—A Paradigm Shift
The most prominent example of a collective in a curatorial process would be ruangrupa, where we have seen situated knowledges come together analogous to what Donna Haraway has proposed as new forms of knowledge production outside the patriarchal god view of the Western tradition, the central perspective, and the “autonomous” subject. When I read the essay “From the Margins” by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, I became interested not only in the specific situated knowledges she describes, but also in strategies of resistance. Tsing identifies other forms of knowledge used by the Meratus people and their shamanic female leader Uma Adang.[20] But these forms of knowledge production then culminate in other subtle forms of resistance to a colonial and military power. She uses the term “margins” to signify “an analytic placement that makes evident both the constraining, oppressive quality of cultural exclusion and creative potential of rearticulating, enlivening, and rearranging the very social categories that peripheralize a group’s existence.”[21] The group she encounters on her anthropological travels is based in Indonesia, thus close to the region where ruangrupa members come from. Tsing is critical of the moral dichotomies of scholarly debates that create local and global and “the Other,” and she asks: “Are notions of culture and identity a Eurocentric imposition of disciplinary logic and status difference?”[22] Tony Bennett has argued that precisely these categories were installed with exhibitions as way of educating a larger public. He claims that, in the popular world exhibitions and fairs, especially with the innovation at “the Centennial Exhibition held at Philadelphia in 1876, these pavilions were typically zoned into racial groups: the Latin, Teutonic, Anglo-Saxon, American, and Oriental being the most favoured classifications, with black peoples and the aboriginal populations of conquered territories denied any space of their own, being represented as subordinate adjuncts to the imperial displays of the major powers. The effect of these developments was to transfer the rhetoric of progress from the relations between stages of production to the relations between races and nations by superimposing the associations of the former on to the latter.”[23] When Bennett points out that, according to the supposed inferiority of certain groups, representations of the latter were “reduced to displays of ‘primitive’ handicrafts and the like, they were represented as cultures without momentum except for that benignly bestowed on them from without through the improving mission of the imperialist powers.”[24] This mechanism sounds familiar to any feminist scholar, as this is the exact same strategy for degrading female connotated cultural production. What especially interests me in Anna Tsing’s research is that she discusses the counter-hegemonic methods now used by the Meratus people, and by the female leaders of the group in particular. I want to compare these strategies to the way ruangrupa[25] worked with documenta as an institution (in addition to the abovementioned concepts of the commons), and in retrospect one can understand how ruangrupa prevented the managing director from interfering even when the antisemitic allegations were already justified. It must be made clear, however, that the managing director herself was not willing to limit curatorial autonomy in any way. She acted from a paradigm that was outdated in this case, despite the fact that this paradigm of autonomy was negated by ruangrupa itself.

ruangrupa—Between Joyful Resistance and Strategic Movements
Anna Tsing identifies strategies used by the Meratus people to simultaneously reject and embrace categories that are externally imposed. I summarise the strategies she mentions: 1) feigning compliance to orders; 2) using other parameters and showing the contrast and gap created by other (imposed) value systems; 3) being self-consciously unusual; 4) using parody and exaggeration; 5) contradicting assumptions about gender, “fiddl[ing] with gender expectations and male privileges on every level of otherness”; 6) using the power of imaginary narratives; 7) proclaiming equality as a given and downplaying differences; 8) ignoring boundaries and intermingling rather than demonstrating difference. As argued above, I take the liberty to mirror and project these strategies of resistance onto the way in which ruangrupa dealt with the major Western institution, documenta. Of course, for some of these strategies, one could also argue along the lines of Roland Barthes when he suggests how to deal with a “myth,” that is, a message loaded with an intentional ideology. Exaggeration is one of the strategies he proposes. I do not claim that anti-hegemonic strategies are  the same in different contexts (like the Meratus strategies versus a Western context or, on the other hand, the strategies of commoning in medieval female knowledge production versus a contemporary practice), but I hope that some strategies are interesting, transferable, and useful for other contexts. One can argue that their relation to the institution of documenta is to steal from the institution, which has its justification. The flip side of ruangrupa having prevented processes installed in a democratic multivocal civil society was that there was no possibility of entering into a dialogue (neither from the inside nor from the outside); one has to imagine that their strategies were acquired through years spent living under a dictatorship.

We were introduced to ruangrupa (farid rakun) by then PhD student Antonio Cataldo, now director of the Fotogalleriet in Oslo. From our conversations with ruangrupa that began in 2019, we came to understand that, as a group, ruangrupa functions through a continued exchange. (“We” here means the PhD group and students from the MAS in Curating, both diverse groups with different cultural backgrounds but a shared discourse, which evidently should not imply that we are ever of the same opinion.) In Jakarta, the actual group meets every day in “hangouts” (nongkrong), an open get-together; they discuss each point and come to a shared conclusion—a clearly continuous form of commoning. Being responsible for documenta, which needs at least three to four years of preparation, they agreed to send two members with their families to Kassel, Reza Afisina and Iswanto Hartono. Nevertheless, the group met once a day at least five days a week in organised live online hangouts, via digital tools. Many members of this core group met at the art academy during the time of dictatorship of Suharto; they would have not been able to speak too directly about politics and structural violence. From our manifold conversations with different group members, we understood that through this situation they developed a strong sense of belonging.[26] The core group is clearly male-dominated. The educational part of ruangrupa, called Gudskul, was founded and is primarily run by a female member. When we asked in a workshop in Zurich about this gender gap, Mirwan Andan and Reza Afisina answered that they especially invited collectives who understand themselves as feminist collectives to become lumbung members, and the OFF-Biennale (Budapest, Hungary) and Trampoline House (Copenhagen, Denmark) certainly have a strong feminist agenda. ruangrupa’s concept explicitly includes a shared economy, which is related to a historical Indonesian way of storing and sharing goods in a rice barn (lumbung); this rice then forms the staple food of the respective village community. This evocation of a former agricultural society is surprising, if one takes into consideration that nowadays Jakarta is a mega-city; the metropolitan area had an estimated population of 35 million as of 2021, making it the largest urban area in Indonesia and the second-largest in the world (after Tokyo).[27] Here, the ecological problems are even more pressing than in smaller conurbations: “Jakarta's primary challenges include rapid urban growth, ecological breakdown, gridlocked traffic, congestion, and flooding. Jakarta is sinking up to 17cm (6.7 inches) per year, which, coupled with the rising of sea levels, has made the city more prone to flooding. It is one of the fastest-sinking capitals in the world.”[28] Is this reconnection to traditional peasant society thus romanticising, and is it a kind of self-othering? This doubt is also uttered by the art historian Elly Kent, who sees the way that the Indonesian art scene developed collectives that inscribed themselves in cultural activities as a broader movement in the arts.[29] In many respects, the avant-garde movements like Dada and Surrealism in the ‘20s and ‘30s of the last century, as well as the neo-avant-gardes like Fluxus and the Situationists in the ‘50s and ‘60s, experimented with this form of institutional critique as well; they tried to overthrow the isolation of the art object enveloped in disinterested pleasure, and they aspired to overthrow the autonomous sphere of the arts, where anything could happen but without any consequences. They wanted to merge art and life, and what is more, to influence life: to become political. The critique of institutions did not just aim at the art institution, but at societal institutions, what would be called by Lacan as the “Big Other.” One needs to clearly understand that documenta fifteen is on the one hand situated in this art historical trajectory. Similar to Fluxus, for example, they also tried to reach out to the masses and overcome the arts as an elitist cultural product. The production processes of Fluxus events, editions, and films were multi-authorial, but Fluxus artist Maciunas held a single proto-curatorial position as chairperson; with ruangrupa, the central position was held by a collective, but some of the artworks appeared to be rather traditional—hence, the saleability via the Lumbung Gallery. ruangrupa also brought their specific cultural background from Indonesia with them, on a surface level through specific wording, but maybe more as very specific forms of resistance.

When we look into this using the strategies developed by Anna Tsing, one could easily state that the first one, “feigning compliance to orders,” is a position of resistance that ruangrupa uses: in Indonesia during the dictatorship, it was very difficult to oppose the system directly. This would have been extremely dangerous. Many members of ruangrupa met during their time at university, which is also a highly politicised and hegemonic space, as we discussed previously. Nevertheless, the art university provides some space to act out in dissent, hidden under the guise of “art”—art being positioned as the Other of society, as being situated in an autonomous sphere. This joyful militancy[30] was transferred to documenta insofar as they used “other parameters and the contrast and gap created by other (imposed) value systems” with the proposal of lumbung. Here, it seems that the art world is more open to accept a system that sounds unfamiliar, a poetic term, than the straightforward demand for new forms of common goods. The downside was that different ways of communicating could also make negotiations impossible—which, of course, might be an effect ruangrupa did welcome. Undeniably, for the pressing issues that came up—antisemitic images and proximity to the BDS movement—an open public discussion – and an open internal discussion - was also hindered.

I think that ruangrupa manage Tsing’s third strategy, being self-consciously unusual, very well: every conversation we had with them was extremely polite and agreeable; the only thing that could not be deduced from the amiable conversations was a clear agreement. In my estimation, this works very well as an indirect means of power. In all questions, ruangrupa ultimately remained the decision-maker; due to the lack of clear agreements, nothing was delegated. This kept all cooperation partners in a constant state of tension, making any planning very difficult or even impossible. We dealt with this sort of situation within the framework of the "Composting Knowledge" collaboration, in which selected art academies and exhibition venues were invited by the ruangrupa part of the art education department. In these circumstances, we decided at a certain point to simply start our activities in Zurich, about 100 days before the official start of documenta fifteen in Kassel. The idea of “composting,” a topic proposed by ruangrupa for this part of the art education program, was included to distribute ways of working together on “composting knowledge” for the main operational field of different partners in this network.[31] In this way, we organised a rather independent series of events at the OnCurating Project Space in Zurich. Parts of the project—including the compostable “furniture” by Stirnimann-Stojanovic—we later brought over to Kassel for the spaces used by the compost group. In this setting, back in Kassel, we included a video in which we critiqued the antisemitism that also clearly became part of documenta fifteen.[32]

Composting Knowledge space, documenta fifteen, Hafenstr. 76, Kassel


In my perspective, this nature metaphor of “composting,” however, can prove to be a double-edged sword and backfire as a naturalising narrative if the topic remains a festival of feel-good ecological contributions. Metaphors like ecosystem and composting can be easily connected with existing structures in colonial discourse; the equation of the wild, other, or unknown subject with nature metaphors occupies a prominent space in the hegemonic justification of postcolonial power structures. I also believe that our wild programming of events at the OnCurating Project Space in Zurich in line with the concept of “composting knowledge” was ultimately infected by a certain arbitrariness, which one could see in the documenta generally. Usually, we try to accompany projects with intensive research and reading; however, being very unclear about what was supposed to happen, this important preparation was not as intensive as one could have wished. Our main literature did speak about aspects of the commons, but the ecological topic was not prepared in depth and worked through. Again, we introduced the concept to be developed with young curators and aspiring curators, who proposed and invited artists, activists, and ecological experiments, which included karaoke sessions and DJane sets. We took up the themes of documenta, but more as a chain of associations, and then transformed them into an artistic event series.

For our second format, "Commoning Curatorial and Artistic Education," a fourteen-day summer school, we were able to carry it out because this time we chose to have direct communication with documenta's art education department, and the programme “CAMP, notes on education.”[33] In a way, it is a bit embarrassing to admit this, because one could say that we basically relied on the existing power structures of the documenta institution. One must also take into account that the administrative apparatus has also been deliberately reinforced since documenta 14. For whatever reason, Adam Szymczyk came under such harsh criticism, not least by the local politicians, that the conclusion was that the artistic direction should be limited in its power. My conclusion is that Szymczyk and the curatorial team must have got something right, since the political problems of Kassel were somehow tackled, most importantly by Forensic Architecture.[34] Forensic Architecture’s piece conducted architectural forensic research on the murder of Hali Yozgat:

The Society of Friends of Halit is presenting documentation of their investigation, research and activism into the murder of twenty-one-year-old Halit Yozgat on 6 April 2006 in a family-operated internet cafe in Kassel, Germany. Halit became the ninth victim in a string of racially motivated murders of immigrants conducted by the Nationalsozialistischer Untergrund (NSU, or National Socialist Underground). A Hessian secret service agent, Andreas Temme, was present during Halit’s murder but claimed that he neither heard the gunshots, noticed the sharp smell of gunpowder, nor saw Halit’s body behind the counter when he left. The Society of Friends of Halit situates the shots that killed Halit Yozgat within a long history of racist violence that is deeply rooted in German society. We use the term “NSU Complex” to describe this combination of neo-Nazi terror and institutional and structural racism.[35]

Sadly, this has proven to be true once again, as a politically motivated murder took place in Kassel in 2019: right-wing extremist Stephan Ernst murdered the Regierungspräsident [district president] Walter Lübcke.[36] Walter Lübcke, himself being a member of the Christian Democratic Union party, uttered publicly that refugees have a guaranteed right in the German Constitution to obtain a residence permit and that everyone who was not okay with this could also leave (Germany, he meant). Thinking about the powerful right-wing groups in and around Kassel, we proposed (in vain) to ruangrupa that they work with the artist Chris Alton, who developed an effective response to right-wing public gatherings and marches, with the format English Disco Lovers, EDL—the same abbreviation as the English Defence League. The English Disco Lovers call people to action: they organise spontaneous queer disco sessions on the street opposite these marches and gatherings. This had, at least in the UK, a very lasting effect of resisting with joyful militancy until there were more hits online for the English Disco Lovers than for the English Defence League. The film that shows the project briefly also explains disco as a queer cultural activity. This musical genre was a successor movement to jazz, which was banned by the Nazis, with both music genres suggesting freedom beyond racist or gender-oriented limitations.[37]

Chris Alton, English Disco Lovers (EDL) 2012–15, HD video with sound, 14 minutes 18 seconds, 2019


In accordance with the minimising of the power of the curatorial directorship of documenta fifteen, the Advisory Board, which selected the ruangrupa collective, was supposed to act in an ongoing advisory capacity in principle. One could see this as one of the precautions of the local politicians.[38] However, this did not happen, either because the Advisory Board itself had no interest in doing so (and considered it paternalistic) or because ruangrupa successfully fended it off with their polite and ultimately confusing communication. This way of communicating, one could safely state, was sometimes at the edge of using parody and exaggeration. The people leading university programmes and research projects who were asked to contribute to mediating documenta fifteen, either by ruangrupa members, curatorial assistants, or the official art education department (we were involved in both categories), often felt overwhelmed by the great impact of this exhibition, and also caught up in the impossibility of establishing clear communication about dates, locations, and budgets—perhaps until we started to self-organise with 100 days of composting knowledge—before the official start of documenta. Later, “bad curating” was claimed by Gregory Sholette as a resistance technique. But I argue that it was not necessarily a dissemination of power; everything was therefore concentrated in the centre, which was ruangrupa. Of course, being asked to work with documenta means an important acknowledgement—an acknowledgement of work which is often not recognised or appreciated by the institution where one is situated. Academia is a slippery slope, and the working conditions have deteriorated greatly in the recent years of neoliberalism. Lecturers or professors who dare to be involved in unusual projects and take up decidedly left-leaning positions are often situated at the edge of the institution. Or, to rely on the Undercommons by Fred Moten and Stefano Harney: “After all, the subversive intellectual came under false pretenses, with bad documents, out of love. Her labor is as necessary as it is unwelcome. The university needs what she bears but cannot bear what she brings.”[39] Therefore the acknowledgement of a certain way to work (like our experiments with commoning) by ruangrupa was important, especially as this is often denied in University surroundings. So, our invitation to documenta turned out to be honourable, but ultimately unpaid—and then less honourable, when the first clearly antisemitic tropes were discovered, which also left us shocked and confused.

The fifth point proposed by Anna Tsing is “fiddling with gender expectations and male privileges on every level of otherness.” As mentioned, I did not experience this as something ruangrupa was especially engaged with. As for the sixth point, “using the power of imaginary narrative,” ruangrupa certainly uses imaginary narratives; the notion of a pre-industrial sharing community sets into motion a special field of connotations. In addition, the notions of care and healing have a certain chain of associations. Nevertheless, I wonder how easily this could be recuperated. I fear that this could also lead into progressive neoliberalism, which, as Nancy Fraser has developed, ends in the recognition of difference but without any further possibilities concerning the distribution of wealth.[40] Or, could this turn out to be the left-wing populism that Fraser fantasises about? How to reach the masses, who obviously vote in so many countries against their interests, is a question that the left has been dealing with in increasing despair.

A possible redistribution of wealth was at least performed and enacted by ruangrupa, as they split up the sum allotted for the exhibition to all the different lumbung members equally. The art education section, on the other hand, was not taken into account from an economic perspective. In the theory-practice relationship, art education was not seriously taken into consideration from the artistic director’s perspective. There was a clear concentration on the exhibitions and events put together by lumbung members. The money for lumbung members might have also had the double effect of stabilising the collectives in their respective cultural and political contexts. Another clever and effective move was to use the homeless magazine Asphalt to announce the artist list, and to use it as a publication platform. This meant a tremendous increase in attention for this magazine; it also meant an unprecedented financial gain. This gesture turned out to be sustainable when ruangrupa used this magazine as a publishing platform several times. Rancière’s much-invoked "distribution of the sensible" has here been transformed into a tangible redistribution. One could claim that the two categories, “proclaiming equality as a given and downplaying differences” and “ignoring boundaries and intermingling rather than demonstrating difference,” were performed to a new degree in the art field. This intervention not only points out the class-specificity of visual art, but it also mocks and relativises it. ruangrupa has used strategies to evade the implicit power of documenta as an institution; they have thus also expanded the canon. In many respects, ruangrupa has managed to use new and unconventional methods to install other power structures, other channels of distribution, new forms of distribution, and a commoning of resources, as well as a commoning of outcomes, or “harvest” in their nomenclature. And they might have proposed a new way of reaching the masses, as high and low culture were now merged into one another, like a Fluxus dream.

Left-Wing Populist Propaganda or Vulgar Ideology?
Of course, this possibility to influence “the masses” comes with a lot of responsibility, which in one way might be used in the sense of proposing and producing commons and in other ways might be rather problematic: there remains the question of antisemitism at documenta fifteen. I consider the exclusion of Jewish Israeli artists to be hurtful and problematic (in contrast to artists with an Israeli passport who want to go under the label of Palestinian.)[41] This exhibition is additionally framed by its historic constellations in Germany; it is implicitly framed by the most horrible, unprecedented genocide of deviant-positioned subjects, mainly Jews, Roma, queers, and political enemies of the Nazi regime. Like in many areas, a certain continuity of fascistic personages is evidenced in the early editions of documenta, as Nanne Buurman has researched.[42] A continuity of right-wing positions is still lurking underground, ready to rise to the surface as violence towards subjects identified as migrants or as violence towards democratic politicians or as violence against Jews. Crimes motivated by antisemitism dramatically increased in the years before documenta fifteen.[43] To show something here, in Kassel, Germany, always means having a stance in relation to the crime against humanity, the Holocaust.

So, if documenta fifteen only invites artists with an Israeli passport, who claim to be registered as Palestinian (and who do not live in the autonomous Palestinian regions for good reasons), and if documenta fifteen does not invite Israeli artists who would be understood as Jewish, then I consider this to be not just problematic, I see this as a clearly antisemitic position; it is a BDS position, but it went unacknowledged. To understand the problems of the spontaneous ideology of the art field and its antisemitic tendencies, I recommend Oliver Marchart’s publication on hegemony machine which has recently been published by OnCurating.org in the book section.[44] Some of the spontaneous ideology Marchart analyses in his book has this tendency of a vulgar positioning because the prejudgments are based on a shattering lack of knowledge about the Middle East and its history, beginning with a lack of knowledge of which region was called “Palestine” at the time of the Balfour Declaration. Or who the colonial power in the region was and if Jewish people there were, along with the Arab population, subject to oppression (by the British colonisers). By contrast, in this vulgar ideology, for example, the Jews emigrating to Israel/Palestine are considered the colonisers, ignoring the fact that a colony needs a motherland from where it colonises, as well as the fact that there have been Jews living in that area for thousands of years. Today, the population of Israel is extremely diverse, Arab Israeli (Palestinians with an Israeli passport), Jewish Israeli (with a background of more than 100 countries from where they were exiled), Christian Israeli, and so on. Representatives of the Arab Israelis are in the Knesset, act as judges and so forth, and the Jewish Israeli population consists mainly of Mizrahi, many of them coming from Arab countries, where they were forced to leave. The historical constellations are also often ignored by European/ Western pseudo left-wing position, which also ignores the close collaboration of the Palestinian Arab leadership with the Nazi regime [Bild], the mufti did personally intervene to hinder 3000 Jewish children leave for Palestine, who then died in concentration camps. He additionally helped to install a gigantic radio transmitter that was directed towards the Arab countries. Today the Palestinian administration of both Gaza strip and the West Bank can hardly be called democratic, as the elections have been suspended for a long time, as Hamas and Fatah act often as competitors, the Palastinian administrations have their problems, for example sadly also femicides and murders of homosexual people happen in high numbers in Gaza.

Jennie Lebel, The Mufti of Jerusalem and National-Socialsim, book Cover


Transmission masts near Zeesen, Berlin, later destroyed by the Russian army


These regimes are legitimised by some pseudo left-wing groups in the West as well as the Palestinian slogans of a Palestine between the river (Jordan) and the sea, which obviously does not acknowledge Israel’s right to exist. This ideology (I think it is even difficult to name it a position) is also unaware of the camps in Jordan and Lebanon, in which Palestinians have been forced to live for decades, and they are not allowed to integrate into the culturally close societies. The misery of Palestinians is fixed in this way. The Palestinians in the camps in Lebanon and Jordan (to say it here and there), as well as in the so-called occupied territories in Israel administered by Fatah or Hamas, are not doing well. That is very clear. But why this should now be caused exclusively by Israel? Neither Fatah nor Hamas have had democratic legitimacy for years. Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the more moderate Fatah, outed himself recently at his visit in Germany as a blatant Holocaust relativizer.[*] The BDS movement started out being supported by some left-wing Israelis as well, to enforce the rights of Palestinians in the occupied and self-administered regions, but over time the boycott of Israeli artists and cultural producers has increasingly become an instrument through which to exclude Jewish Israelis from participating in international events and exhibitions. Of course, it also prevents any cooperation between Jewish-Israeli and Palestinian artists. The BDS movement is now de facto excluding Jewish artists, and this in my view is therefore clearly antisemitic, which is never okay, but it is even more shocking when this exclusion manifests itself in Germany.

Our involvement with documenta fifteen culminated in the summer school “Commoning Curatorial and Artistic Education.”[45] We proposed a workshop in which the participating students and lecturers prepared workshops for each other; additionally, we invited speakers who presented projects and thoughts around commons and commoning: Hammad Nasar, David Behar Perahia and Dan Farberoff, Jennifer Deger (FERAL ATLAS), Sandy Hsiu-chih Lo and Hongjohn Lin in conversations with lumbung members,  Gilly Karjevski (Floating University), Philip Horst & Matthias Einhoff (ZKU, Center for Art and Urbanistics), Speculations on Funding (as a Day-long Symposium), Bassam El Baroni, Avi Feldman, Ariane Sutthavong and Lara van Meeteren (Inappropriate BOOK CLUB,  Bangkok 2021), Jeanne van Heeswijk (on Philadelphia Assembled), Dagmar Pelger and Jörg Stollmann, Public Movement (Dana Yahalomi), and Oliver Marchart. We deliberately invited Jewish Israelis (and at least no one hindered us from doing so) and ended the summer school with Oliver Marchart’s book launch, with a very critical review of the antisemitic and anti-Israel attitudes at different documenta editions. The allegation of a secret BDS and antisemitic position by ruangrupa was discussed on many occasions in the summer school; the atmosphere had touches of hysteria, as the managerial head, Sabine Schormann, lacked the ability to bring diverse sensibilities and positions together at one table. Art educators were obviously overwhelmed, as well as finding themselves in a rather difficult position, and some internal fights happened within this group. Artists also felt threatened by right-wing individuals and local people reacting to queer or foreign outfits, and by a general neglect of their needs. (Some artists did not want to have their space guarded by the police and would have preferred antifa. The problem is that antifa is, of course, also divided in relation to issues around Palestine/Israel and generally leans more towards anarchism, which means that yet again a mediation between the artists and German entities was missing, which should have come from the core team of documenta under the head management). Of course, the problems were evident if one thinks about the different collectives bringing with them a multitude of artists, which cannot be handled in the same way as a regular curatorial project. In a way, ruangrupa actually did not curate the show; obligations and decisions were handed over to the invited lumbung members or, as in the case of our other affiliation, to the compost group in general. “The art of being not curated so much,” as one slogan says, definitely came true. Many different international and local collectives did indeed run the show, but on the other hand some basic rules that needed to be established for commoning were completely lacking.

Actually, ruangrupa did try in different ways to react to the antisemitism claim. For example, and probably not registered in art historical or curatorial circles, David Zabel (associated with ruangrupa, Kassel-based) and Reza Afisina (ruangrupa) organised a football game between an Israeli second division club and a Kassel-based club. On a local TV station, a report was recorded and sent. Perhaps this is a good example of strange double messaging and contradictory twisted arguments: the German trainer of the club emphasised that nobody in Kassel was in any way antisemitic, therefore not implicating either the population or documenta fifteen—which was in itself was an interesting equalising and reminds us of the artwork by Martin Kippenberger from 1988: Ich kann beim besten Willen kein Hakenkreuz entdecken (I can't for any reason detect a swastika). Kippenberger points to the inability of the population to face crimes against humanity as a source of guilt and a legacy of the German people, not as individual guilt but guilt as a society which has formed the blueprint for an authoritarian character (as coined by the Frankfurt School of Social Research) capable of running an industrial killing machine.[46] The short reportage on the football game culminates in the awkward scene when the German trainer hands over an antique coffee set to the Israeli trainer, saying that he wants to return something that Jewish fellow citizens had given to his wife's grandparents (or great-grandparents) before their deportation. He had always wanted to give this back and would now take this opportunity. The Israeli coach pats his German counterpart reassuringly on the shoulder but does not comment in the report. The players are then also seen standing around at documenta, and the voiceover informs us that a visit to the nearby concentration camp was also part of the programme, but whether this was the case for all the players remains open.

Needless to say, a friendly football match cannot cancel out the omission of Jewish Israelis from one of the most important European exhibitions. Especially since, in reference to the “no antisemitism whatsoever” remark, violence against Jews in Germany has dramatically increased in recent years. It is dangerous to walk around with a kippah in Berlin. So, to legitimise an anti-Israeli position does something in this situation.

To come back to the arts, Nora Sternfeld has argued: “We know what being stuck in capitalism means; cynicism, art as branding, and fine artistic practice as a form of entrepreneurship. We know that our survival depends to a certain extent in its affirmation, we know it and do it with every line, with every click, but we want to insist and persist with imagining other possible structures for education and for technology.”[47] In this respect, curating as a meaning-producing machine is also bound not only in many different ways to the art market, but also to the market of ideas; therefore, it is so dangerous to visually propose antisemitism. It spreads, like Umberto Eco shows in his 2010 book The Prague Cemetery,[48] in which he describes the genesis of antisemitic conspiracy theories, like the “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” in frightening and disturbing detail. Oliver Marchart sees extreme criticism of Israel as a metonymic shift of antisemitism from the imagined “Jew” to the imagined reality of Israel on a global level. Framed by Germany’s past, it is particularly necessary and inevitable to critique the antisemitic incidents at documenta.

Sadly, the whole complex of antisemitism and extreme criticism of Israel has obscured documenta’s paradigmatic shift from a show of individual artistic works to a show of collective artistic and curatorial projects. Collectivity alone is not enough; it must be clear what political goals collectives are working for. In a certain way, however, the incidents also give credence to the scepticism about communities formulated by Jean-Luc Nancy, Giorgio Agamben, Roberto Esposito, or Maurice Blanchot, in which their ambivalent understanding finds expression in formulations like “community without community,” or the “unavowable,” the “inoperative,” or “coming community.”[49] Community as such can lead to propagandistic, unexamined, sweeping statements. It can also lead to harsh exclusions. As cultural producers, we must always critically examine this and mistrust the ideology hidden in claims of community.

A Short Conclusion on Curatorial Knowledge Production as Ideology
I see curatorial knowledge production as a space for the negotiation of social, political, cultural, and economic conflicts, which understands curating as agency from which new constellations emerge.

This involves a critical review of contemporary curatorial practices and theories and a critical reflection on the rise of a so-called curatorial class. By engaging with these trajectories, the conditions and the foundations of knowledge production in the curatorial field become the subject of critical research leading to their re-positioning. Futurist curating, “curating for the not now,” will therefore remain a movement of searching, a movement that takes up social questions and puts them up for discussion in the present, a movement that involves further segments of the population, a research movement that experiments with new forms of economy and social life, with collectivity, with the expansion of gender ascriptions, with decentring the West. Perhaps the problems described above have also shown the importance of reading curation against itself, that is, having it permeate on a theoretical level and rewriting parts of its paradigms. The theoretical grounding translates into practice and vice versa—a theory of a practice and a practice of a theory—and this is necessary in order to understand and to undertake a politics of display, a politics of site, a politics of transfer and translation, and a politics of knowledge production in a relevant and conscious way. In such a way, curating will be a history of the present, as well as a presence of the future.

The journey of curating began with some rebellious moves conceived in the underfinanced off-spaces and small institutions. It concludes with the arrival of collective curating and the inclusion of non-white artists and publics and experimental formats at major institutions like documenta. Gregory Sholette accurately titled an article “A short and incomplete history of ‘bad’ curating as collective resistance,”[50] just as I tried to analyse more in detail above, where ruangrupa used different techniques to withdraw from the governmental aspect of the institution. But this also led to a situation in which a crude ideology could take over. Sholette sees the antisemitism as just one or two chance discovered caricatures—collateral damage. In his eyes, the real threat to Western ideology—why neo-bourgeois commentators were so enraged—was that Western paradigms like the individual, autonomy, male genius, and the art object were dismissed. For me, this is, of course, not the problem; indeed, it was quite the reverse. The problem is that the space of negotiation was actually not there, and in this way documenta fifteen was quite reactionary.

There is another reactionary move in this exclusion of Jewish artists, which has not yet been broadly discussed: in some ways, documenta fifteen was closely related to documenta 1 in 1955. Just recently, an exhibition at the Historical Museum in Berlin documented that half of the initiators and members of the organisational team of the first documenta were either a member of the Nazi party, a member of the SA, or a member of the SS. Other than Arnold Bode, Werner Haftmann was documenta's most important founding figure. He was a member of the NSDAP from 1937 and still wanted by Italian authorities as a war criminal in 1946; beginning in 1955, he played a decisive role in deciding who was shown at the documenta—and who was not.  He uttered this short-sighted, historically inaccurate sentence as late as 1986: "The artist was [...] born as the existential anti-fascist [...] more than the racially persecuted, [...] more than the politically persecuted.” Walter Grasskamp has already mentioned that there were very few Jewish artists represented in the first issues of documenta, this is now underscored by the aforementioned recent Berlin exhibition documenta. Politik und Kunst.[51] One example: the name Rudolf Levy appears on an early invitation list for documenta 1955; later, however, it is dropped. (Levy was even a neighbour of Haftmann’s in Florence).[52] Today, hardly anyone knows him anymore, while Emil Nolde, who was shown several times in Kassel, became famous—not least because of his repeated representation at documenta. Nolde’s position was recently shown as fascist, as opposed to the whitewashing done by Haftmann, who helped Nolde be conceived as being persecuted, despite Nolde’s attempts to be of service to the Nazi regime and despite him being fiercely antisemitic.

Nora Sternfeld, who has held the documenta professorship, explains that the real scandal is that documenta has not faced its Nazi history. And the renewed scandal is that this has not been worked through and that neither ruangrupa nor the managing director had positioned themselves in relation to this past. This is all the more astonishing given that Ayşe Güleç was even part of the side programme of the abovementioned exhibition, her role meandering between the organisational level of documenta and being part of the artistic team. So, why was this new knowledge not carried back to ruangrupa? Or why was this ignored? The perpetuated official narrative instituted by the first three editions of documenta was that, in Kassel, “real” modernity was being shown, which should prove that Germans had overcome Nazi ideology with the international style of abstraction, as I argued previously. However, this modernity was constructed on the basis of excluding Jews. With this trick, the concept of “misappropriated art” which was coined in the catalogue of documenta 1, so-called persecuted art, was thus in retrospect Aryanised through documenta, as Sternfeld explains—a clear distortion of the victim-perpetrator positions. Jewish artistic positions were extremely marginalised, which means that we learnt through this historiography the racist (völkische) underlying message: Haftmann claimed that there were no relevant German-Jewish artists, and therefore the misappropriated, persecuted, murdered Jewish artists were erased from the historiography. We have a first incidence of exclusion of Jewish artists (not acknowledged, of course) in documenta 1. This was also intended make forgotten the deeds and the guilt of those involved in the murder of the persecuted. It is proven that Haftmann himself was involved in the conviction of partisans in Italy. The second severe incidence of exclusion has now happened in 2022.

A short lived information at documenta fifteen


This edition of documenta made clear that any form of community can forcefully enact inclusions and exclusions if the internal conflicts and those in a specific context do not find platforms and spaces to be negotiated, which is what happened at documenta fifteen. The process of installing these platforms was actively undermined by ruangrupa; they demanded support from the artists for the unacknowledged BDS politics. It was an important gesture by Hito Steyerl to withdraw her work, because ruangrupa presented the participants with an impossible choice. Jörg Heiser pointed out in a radio feature that it is dangerous to separate the battles against antisemitism and neocolonial engagement, especially since the right-wing white supremacists don’t do so.[53] In Halle, a white supremacist tried to kill Jews in a synagogue; when he failed to get in through the massive, barricaded door, he first shot a woman outside and then individuals he considered marked as otherwise "different," namely people with a migratory background.[54] According to Patrick Gensing in the Tagesschau (daily news), in the livestream of this crime, the shooter, Balliet, denied the Holocaust and claimed feminism led to fewer births, leading to mass immigration; he blamed "the Jew" for those issues.[55] I know, this crazy sequence would sound ridiculous, even funny, if it wasn't so deadly serious.

As I had predicted in an interview,[56] a large part of the international curatorial scene continues to enjoy a pseudo-revolutionary attitude and pats each other on the back in a nice old boys’ network formation. Funnily (or not so funnily) enough, someone sent me a picture in which Charles Esche,[57] ruangrupa members, Philippe Pirotte, and Bart De Baere, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp, are literally hugging. Welcome to the new patriarchy. Pirotte suggests that the real goal of the critique of antisemitism is to discredit collective structures and the non-profit approach. I would argue inversely that the idea of commons was stuck in the performative mode; commons structures have to be taken seriously and to be instituted by commoning, and disputing rules, conditions, and content should be discussed by all participants. One could argue that what was proposed with this documenta was a new male-dominated form of governmentality, and it is not by chance that many artists complained about not being treated well and not having been looked after—was this curating without care? The desire to close the wound in the subconscious, that is, to make the Shoah finally disappear into nothingness, is overwhelming. The historian Dan Diner notes the negative relationship between Germans and Jews, whose self-image each tries to come to terms with in light of the unimaginable events: "Beyond the murder of Jews, Auschwitz was a practical refutation of Western civilization. In the face of a purposeless extermination for the sake of extermination, the purpose-rational consciousness bounces off such an unimaginable act. Such action cannot be integrated into the mind determined by secular forms of thinking—or it shatters.” This mechanism is what Lacan would have called the register of the Real, insofar as the Real is not to be integrated; it stays as a continuous thread for the psyche, for the psyche to be overwhelmed by the trauma and to disintegrate. Dan Diner compares the attempt to confront this horrible void: “A comprehension of Auschwitz in view of Auschwitz is comparable to the attempt to stare open-eyed into the sun. The victim, the human being, equipped with defense mechanisms protecting him and turned toward life and survival, had to evade this horrifying reality.”[58]  Some (his)-stories of those involved, including the board who invited ruangrupa, may explain this further. The other hegemonic move is legitimizing Boycott and Sanctions against Israel further, and instituting this approach as being part of a general left-wing agenda—which in my view is a dramatic misconception of the actual situation. As documenta produces cultural capital for the participants, and the art field no longer has long-term contracts, a “pseudo-radical” position, or an ideological attitude, might bring benefits for those in constant need of a new job. This is the obtaining of distinction for some which I mentioned in the beginning.

So, conversely, my demand for curating, curating which understands curating as a politics of display, a politics of site, a politics of transfer and translation, and a politics of knowledge production is to scrutinise the interpellations of curating both theoretically and practically.

It means looking into subjectivities/communities that are proposed, it means looking into the material infrastructures, the institutions, and the media conglomerations of curating, and it means being responsible for the production of meaning through curating and being accountable for the ideology that is produced. And, of course, it means being aware that we are producing the world collectively.

Dorothee Richter is Professor in Contemporary Curating at the University of Reading, UK, and head of the Postgraduate Programme in Curating, CAS/MAS Curating at the Zurich University of the Arts, Switzerland; She is director of the PhD in Practice in Curating Programme, a cooperation of the Zurich University of the Arts and the University of Reading. Richter has worked extensively as a curator: she was initiator of Curating Degree Zero Archive, Curator of Kuenstlerhaus Bremen, at which she curated different symposia on feminist issues in contemporary arts and an archive on feminist practices, Materialien/Materials; recently she directed, together with Ronald Kolb, a film on Fluxus: Flux Us Now, Fluxus Explored with a Camera. She is executive editor of OnCurating.org.


[1] See George Caffentzis, “The Future of ‘The Commons’: Neoliberalism’s ‘Plan B’ or the Original Disaccumulation of Capital?,” New Formations 69 (Summer 2010): 23-41.

[2] Ibid., 24.

[3] Ibid., 25.

[4] See Dagmar Pelger, Anita Kaspar, and Jörg Stollmann, Spatial Commons: Urban Open Spaces As A Resource (Berlin: Universitätsverlag der TU Berlin, 2021).

[5] Ibid., 2.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., 5.

[8] Ibid., 8.

[9] See Piere Bourdieu, Field of Cultural Production: Essays on Art and Literature (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1993).

[10] Stefano Harney, Fred Moten, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study, (Wivenhoe, New York, Port Watson, Minor Compositions).

[11] See Elinor Ostrom, “Reformulating the Commons” in Protecting the Commons: A Framework for Resource Management in the Americas, eds. Joanna Burger et al. (Washington, D.C.: The Island Press, 2001), 23-28; Elinor Ostrom, Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990); Elinor Ostrom, Roy Gardner, and James Walker, Rules, Games, and Common-Pool Resources (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1994).

[12] Caffentzis, “The Future of ‘The Commons,’” 24. “Indeed, many of the examples of commons Ostrom and her co-workers use are integral parts of the capitalist system, from the lobster fishers of Maine to the farmers using irrigation systems in India to the real estate developers who are commonly appropriating the ground water of Southern California. There is no conflict in this understanding of these kinds of commons with the smooth functioning of the “market.” A study of the “design principles illustrated by long-enduring CPR [Common Property Resource] institutions” that Ostrom has used from the beginning of her studies of the commons to the present certainly do not show that there is any necessary conflict with capitalism.” p. 30.

[13] Peter Linebaugh, and Marcus Rediker, The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic (Boston: Beacon Press, 2001); Peter Linebaugh, The Magna Carta Manifesto: Liberties and Commons for All (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008).

[14] Read more about this system in an interview conducted by the author with Martin Heller in the soon upcoming issue of OnCurating on funding.

[15] Pelger, Kaspar, and Stollmann, Spatial Commons, 9.

[16] See David Harvey, “The Future of the Commons,” in Radical History Review 1 (Winter 2011): 101-108.

[17] See http://phlassembled.net/, accessed 1 December 2021.

[18] See interview with Jeanne van Heeswijk, led by Ronny Koren, in OnCurating 43: Revisiting Black Mountain: Cross-Disciplinary Experiments and Their Potential for Democratization, eds. Dorothee Richter, Ronald Kolb (December 2019), https://on-curating.org/issue-43-reader/jeanne-van-heeswijk.html#.YcoX78YxlsE.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, “From the Margins,” Cultural Anthropology 9, no. 3, “Further Inflections: Toward Ethnographies of the Future” (August 1994): 279-297.

[21] Ibid., 279.

[22] Ibid., 280.

[23] Bennett, The Birth of the Museum.

[24] Ibid.

[25] ruangrupa members: Reza Afisina, Indra Ameng, Farid Rakun, Daniella Fitria Praptono, Iswanto Hartono, Ajeng Nurul Aini, Julia Sarisetiati, and Mirwan Andan.

[26] See Wikipedia: “As president, Sukarno moved Indonesia from democracy towards authoritarianism and maintained power by balancing the opposing forces of the military, political Islam, and the increasingly powerful Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI). Tensions between the military and the PKI culminated in an attempted coup in 1965. The army, led by Major General Suharto, countered by instigating a violent anti-communist purge that killed between 500,000 and one million people. The PKI was blamed for the coup and effectively destroyed. Suharto capitalised on Sukarno's weakened position, and following a drawn-out power play with Sukarno, Suharto was appointed president in March 1968. His "New Order" administration, supported by the United States, encouraged foreign direct investment, which was a crucial factor in the subsequent three decades of substantial economic growth.

Indonesia was the country hardest hit by the 1997 Asian financial crisis. It brought out popular discontent with the New Order's corruption and suppression of political opposition and ultimately ended Suharto's presidency. In 1999, East Timor seceded from Indonesia, following its 1975 invasion by Indonesia and a 25-year occupation marked by international condemnation of human rights abuses.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indonesia, accessed 1 December 2021.

[27] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jakarta.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Elly Kent, “The History of Conscious Collectivity Behind Ruangrupa”, in Ronald Kolb, Dorothee Richter, documenta fifteen – Aspects of Commoning in Curatorial and Artistic Practices, OnCurating Issue 54, Zurich 2022.

[30] See Carla Bergman and Nick Montgomery, Joyful Militancy: Building Thriving Resistance in Toxic Times (Chico, CA: AK Press, 2017).

[31] The main organisers of this part were Yuki Immamura and Giulia Rossini, together with Reza Afisina and Iswanto Hartono from ruangrupa.

[32] Here, it can at least be said that we were not prevented from showing this video; however, it was unclear at times whether the rooms even remained open the whole time due to a lack of money. This again shows that new forms of art education did not have a prominent place in ruangrupa's concepts.

[33] See https://camp-notesoneducation.de/.

[34] See https://forensic-architecture.org/programme/events/77sqm_926min-at-documenta-14.

[35] See the talk at Parliament of Bodies programme, https://forensic-architecture.org/programme/events/77sqm_926min-at-documenta-14.

[36] See https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mordfall_Walter_L%C3%BCbcke , translation by the author, “The murder of Walter Lübcke took place on 1 June 2019 in Istha: Hessian right-wing extremist Stephan Ernst killed Kassel District President Walter Lübcke (CDU) in front of his home with a revolver shot to the head from close range.

Ernst was arrested on 15 June 2019 as an urgent suspect and was convicted by DNA traces on the victim's shirt and the murder weapon. He later recanted his first confession and presented his aide Markus H. the executing perpetrator. In his criminal trial, however, he confessed that he himself was the shooter; H. had been present.

On 28 January 2021, the Higher Regional Court of Frankfurt am Main sentenced Ernst to life imprisonment and found that out of his "fundamental racist, völkisch-national attitude" he had increasingly projected his hatred of foreigners onto Lübcke and finally shot him in order to punish him for his stance on refugee policy and to dissuade others from a "policy of cosmopolitanism." H. received a suspended sentence of 18 months for violating the weapons law.

[37] See Chris Alton’s website: https://chrisalton.com/English-Disco-Lovers-EDL-2012-15 .

[38] The Advisory Board is composed of the following members: Frances Morris, Amar Kanwar, Philippe Pirotte, Elvira Dyangani Ose, Ute Meta Bauer, Jochen Volz, Charles Esche, and Gabi Ngcobo. The website states the function of the Board as advising in development, and the board members are clearly presented showing their present position: Ute Meta Bauer, Gründungsdirektorin des NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore; Charles Esche, Director of the Van Abbemuseum Eindhoven; Amar Kanwar, artist and filmmaker, NewDelhi; Frances Morris, Director of Tate Modern, London; Gabi Ngcobo, Curator of the 10th Berlin Biennale, 2018; Elvira Dyangani Ose, Director of the Showroom, London; Philippe Pirotte, Professor at the Staatliche Hochschule für Bildende Künste – Städelschule, Frankfurt am Main; Jochen Volz, Director of the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo, see https://documenta-fifteen.de/documenta-kommission/.

[39] Harney and Moten, The Undercommons, 26.

[40] Fraser, The Old Is Dying and the New Cannot Be Born.

[41] Surprisingly little is known about Israeli society—for example, that Arab/Palestinian Israelis are represented in the Knesset, that some Arab Palestinian Israelis join the Israeli army, and that there are many internal problems in the self-governed regions, ruled by Arab Palestinians, Fatah, or Hamas. For example, no elections have been held since 2006. In contrast, Israel is after all a democracy, in many aspects a problematic one, as most other democracies are. So, the Palestinians with Israeli passports have chosen to live in Israel, use the education system there and the relative freedom of speech there.

[42] Nanne Buurman, “The Exhibition as a Washing Machine: Some Notes on Historiography, Contemporaneity, and (Self-)Purification in documenta’s Early Editions,” OnCurating 54: Commoning Curatorial and Artistic Practice, eds. Ronald Kolb and Dorothee Richter (2022).

[43] An intensive research project published by the Federal Ministry of the Interior, Unabhängiger Expertenkreis Antisemistimus, Antisemitismus in Deutschlandaktuelle Entwicklungen (Independent Group of Experts on Antisemitism, Antisemitism in Germany—Current Developments), conclusions in English begin on page 274.


[i] At a press conference with Chancellor Scholz, Abbas said, when asked if there was an apology for the Israeli athletes killed in the 1972 Olympics, that Israelis had committed 50 massacres, that is, in his words, 50 times the Holocaust.


[45] Shared campus, art education documenta and OnCurating, Partners: City University of Hong Kong/School of Creative Media, Hong Kong Baptist University, Kyoto Seika University, LASALLE College of the Arts (Singapore), Taipei National University of the Arts, University of the Arts London, Zurich University of the Arts, University of Reading.

Summer School and Public Talk series, Commoning Curatorial and Artistic Education, 23 June – 7 July 2022, at CAMP notes on education, documenta fifteen, Kassel. The two-week summer school “Commoning Curatorial and Artistic Education,” as part of documenta fifteen’s educational format CAMP notes on education, sets up experiential workshop formats, reading and discussions, performances, exercises with and in the city, “diversity dinners,” and a variety of events in connection with documenta fifteen. Participants were asked to propose a three-hour workshop to co-teach and teach each other by sharing and discussing their situated experiences of practice and theory in an open and trustworthy way, true to the motto of this summer school, “Commoning starts here.”

Concerning the commoning aspect of this summer school, we considered theoretical approaches like that of the feminist thinker Silvia Federici. She identified commons as the shared goods and knowledges of deviant groups. A renewed thinking about the commons is linked to movements of self-organisation and resistance and is now inspiring, as we see with ruangrupa, different cultural, artistic, and curatorial events. Can the art field introduce, together with activist movements, the projection of living together in a communal way, sharing resources and knowledges? Or as ruangrupa would pose the question: how to compost knowledge together and make it fruitful for a multiplicity of partial practices and for a multitude?

[46] Erich Fromm coined the notion of the “authoritarian character”; he was part of the Institut für Sozialforschung (Institute of Social Research) which was led by Max Horkheimer.

[47] Grégoire Rousseau and Nora Sternfeld, “Educating the Commons and Commoning Education: Thinking Radical Education with Radical Technology,” in Post-Digital, Post-Internet Art and Education: The Future is All-Over, eds. Kevin Tavin, Gila Kolb, and Juuso Tervo (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2021).

[48] Umberto Eco, The Prague Cemetery, trans. Richard Dixon (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010).

[49] See also OnCurating 7: Being With, Ontological and Political Perspectives, eds. Elke Bippus, Jörg Huber, and Dorothee Richter (2011).

[50] Gregory Sholette, “A short and incomplete history of ‘bad’ curating as collective resistance”, in Art Agenda Reports, e-flux, 21 September 2022, https://www.art-agenda.com/criticism/491800/a-short-and-incomplete-history-of-bad-curating-as-collective-resistance .

[51] See documenta. Politik und Kunst, Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin, 18 June 2021 to 9 January 2022.

[52] See website of the programme accompanying the exhibition: https://www.dhm.de/veranstaltung/die-ermordeten-und-die-verdraengten-die-documenta-und-der-ns/

[53] Jörg Heiser in conversation with Mahret Kupka, see https://www.deutschlandfunkkultur.de/documenta-112.html.

[54] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halle_synagogue_shooting: “The Halle synagogue shooting occurred on 9 October 2019 in Halle, Saxony-Anhalt, Germany, and continued in nearby Landsberg. […] After unsuccessfully trying to enter the synagogue in Halle during the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, the attacker, later identified as 27-year-old Stephan Balliet, fatally shot two people nearby and later injured two others. […]

Federal investigators called the attack far-right and antisemitic terrorism. The federal Public Prosecutor General took over the investigation and declared it to be a ‘violation of Germany's internal security.’ Balliet, a German neo-Nazi from Saxony-Anhalt, was charged with two counts of murder and seven counts of attempted murder. […]

On 10 November 2019, Balliet confessed to the charges before an investigative judge at the Federal Court of Justice. On 21 December 2020, he was sentenced to life imprisonment with subsequent preventive detention.”

[55] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halle_synagogue_shooting#cite_note-54.

[56] See interview conducted by Tibor Pesza with Dorothee Richter, “‘Antisemitismus auf drei Ebenen’ Expertin: Boykottbewegung wirkt rassistisch ausschließend,” Die Hessische/Niedersächsische Allgemeine (HNA), 13 September 2022; the interview was republished in the Frankfurter Rundschau under the title “Dorothee Richter widerspricht Pirotte – ‘Das Modell Documenta wird modifiziert werden müssen,’” Frankfurter Rundschau, 15 September 2022, https://www.fr.de/kultur/gesellschaft/documenta-antisemitismus-dorothee-richter-widerspricht-philippe-pirotte-interview-91788410.html.

[57] The Advisory Board/Appointment committee was composed of the following members: Frances Morris, Amar Kanwar, Philippe Pirotte, Elvira Dyangani Ose, Ute Meta Bauer, Jochen Volz, Charles Esche, and Gabi Ngcobo. The website states the function of the Board as advising in development, and the board members are clearly presented showing their present positions: Ute Meta Bauer, founding director of the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore; Charles Esche, Director of the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven; Amar Kanwar, artist and filmmaker, New Delhi; Frances Morris, Director of Tate Modern, London; Gabi Ngcobo, Curator of the 10th Berlin Biennale, 2018; Elvira Dyangani Ose, Director of the Showroom, London; Philippe Pirotte, Professor at the Staatliche Hochschule für Bildende Künste – Städelschule, Frankfurt am Main; Jochen Volz, Director of the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo; see https://documenta-fifteen.de/documenta-kommission/.

[58] Dan Diner, “Negative Symbiose. Deutsche und Juden nach Auschwitz,” Ist der Nationalsozialismus Geschichte?, ed. Dan Diner (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 1987), n.p. Translation by the author.

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Issue 54

documenta fifteen—Aspects of Commoning in Curatorial and Artistic Practices

by Ronald Kolb and Dorothee Richter

by Unchalee Anantawat, Ariane Sutthavong, Lara van Meeteren, Bart Wissink

by Anna L. Tsing, Jennifer Deger, Alder Keleman Saxena and Feifei Zhou

In Conversation with Anastasia Baka, Leilani Lynch, and Anna Wälli

in Conversation with Leilani Lynch and Maria Mumtaz

in Conversation with Sophie Brunner, Marinella-Sofia Gkinko, and Maria Mumtaz

in Conversation with Rosela del Bosque, Olena Iegorova and Veronica Mari

Hajnalka Somogyi, Eszter Lázár, Nikolett Eross, Katalin Székely, Bori Szalai, and Eszter Szakács in Conversation with Anna Konstantinova and Giulia Busetti

in Conversation with Smadar Samson and Giulia Busetti

An Interview with Morten Goll, Trampoline House in Conversation with Nadine Bajek, Thamy Matarozzi, Alejandra Monteverde, and Anna Wälli

In Conversation with Chiara Borgonovo, Rosela del Bosque, Marina Donina, and Lotte Van Ermengem

In Conversation with Marina Donina and Regina Tetens