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by Ronald Kolb

documenta fifteen’s Lumbung: The Bumpy Road on the Third Way: Fragmentary Thoughts on the Threats and Troubles of Commons and Commoning in Contemporary Art and Knowledge Production

This text presents fragmentary lines of thought on the ramifications of commoning practice in the exhibitionary complex, exposing threats to the art market and art discourse that unfold between hegemonic maneuvering and friendship.[1]

Early on—when the road to the next documenta was not yet rocky or hardened—ruangrupa explained the concept of documenta fifteen in terms of “lumbung”—the famous rice barn in small village communities from Indonesia and their practice of collectively managed resources (originally rice) that are freely shared with all community members. Lumbung is a practice of the collective sharing of resources, common ownership, and common means and methods of production. In their June 18, 2020, press release, ruangrupa described “lumbung as a collectively-governed architecture for the storage of food serves a community’s long-term well-being through communal resources and mutual care, and it is organized around a set of shared values, collective rituals, and organizational principles.”[2] Lumbung, however, should not be seen as a mere concept or metaphor for documenta fifteen's large-scale exhibition project—curatorial concepts for biennials tend to embed their exhibitions in a larger political and social picture, although they often do not incorporate any of these ideas into the exhibition practice itself, resulting in a more traditional formula of knowledge display. The lumbung practice proposed by ruangrupa for this large-scale exhibition was extensively incorporated into all processes of artistic direction for documenta fifteen—as far as it was possible.

From that moment on, various conflicts loomed on the horizon, not to mention the internal difficulties of “scaling up” a resource infrastructure and its sharing principles, originally intended for a rather small village community or small group of people, to a global scale.[3] At this point in time, around one month after documenta fifteen has ended, it is still not easy to grasp the impact of this very different approach toward the representative exhibitionary complex, even on the more flexible and less traditional models of the art field—recurrent major exhibitions such as biennials and documenta alike.

This text aims to address the empowering aspects of commoning strategies for exhibitions and their impact on the broader public and also aims to analyze possible fault lines. My critique attempts to avoid antagonistic criticism and relies instead on a reflexive mode of theory, that is, on the practice of self-reflection, of understanding one's own privileged position as situated knowledge with all its blind spots and exclusions. Following Donna Haraway's slogan, “staying with the trouble,”[4] we must also critically engage with practices we endorse.

The commons approach challenges the established art field on many levels: in addition to removing the separation between fine art and craft (high/low art dispute)[5] and addressing the still prevailing issues of inclusion/exclusion in a globalized art world that still mostly only "adds" non-European artistic practices to the established art field,[6] I would like to focus on the specifics that the commons idea can bring to the exhibitionary complex. I would like to analyze this under two crucial aspects: deaccumulation of capital and collectivization. The former poses a serious threat to aestheticized commodification in line with the established distribution of the art market and singular artistic figures at the top.[7] The other poses no less of a threat to the “modern autonomous individual,”[8] and thus to a much criticized and critiqued model of the "Western" ideal of the subject as author-figure, but one that is quickly resurrected against a supposed collectivity of the "other," as postulated by Bazon Brock,[9] among others.

Diagram at the Fridskul area, in the Fridericianum, Kassel


Commoning practices in the exhibitionary complex have far-reaching consequences and force thorough reconfigurations—besides the look and feel of the actual exhibition in itself:

– for the relationship of contemporary art to its economic base, especially to the neoliberalism of capitalism and its elaborated critique of precarity;
– for the representational function of art institutions and their non-coercive proposals of conduct within their established learning environments and epistemologies;
– for the hierarchy of responsibilities and accountabilities;
– for modes of production (collective practices vs. cooperation);
– and there might even be changes in art vis-à-vis the established critical discourse that accompanies the major art world industry.

But before I address the fraught effects of commoning practices on art institutions, I want to situate the commons discourse. Ten years after the peak of the (revived) discourse on commons,[10] strategies and initiatives related to commons and the idea of shared ownership and collaborative practice found their way into the "most important major exhibition" documenta in Kassel, Germany, in 2022.

Short History of the Commons
The commons cannot be considered a form that is easy to define and can take different (self-)governmental forms today, ranging from very strictly horizontally governed community projects to loose formations led by a core group with peers and partners attached in lesser responsible roles. One can rather think of differing forms on a scale. Historically, commons can be seen as communally shared and cultivated (farm)land within a territory that is used but not owned or in which there is common ownership. Through Silvia Federici[11] and Peter Linebaugh,[12] one can learn how these relatively resilient, self-organized formations of pre-accumulative production have often been forcibly dissolved from the outside for primarily economic reasons throughout history. Contemporary projects of commons combine urban life, ecological issues, and autonomous desires.[13] These commons typically run parallel to a capitalist system and create spaces where community life can be economically sustained, often leading to long-term infrastructures and networks. The newest forms of commons can be found in the digital realm, where the shared production of software and building of digital communities goes hand in hand with the vocabulary of commons but does not provide a community life with physical interpersonal interaction that could be considered crucial.[14]

Nonetheless, commons can be seen primarily as non-fixed conglomerations (or governmental assemblages[15]) with practices of commonly shared and governed goods and resources that defy profit-oriented capitalism—in this offering of resistant practices to the individualization of neoliberalism—though they neither dissolve nor universalize property relations as a whole, but rather shift them from sole ownership to collectively shared ownership by a group. Commons can be seen as ambiguous in this sense, as often these projects can be quite easily situated within capitalist or state structures. They do not place themselves in total opposition to capitalism, nor do they crystallize into an ideology of all-encompassing public means of production. There is a certain practicability to the commons projects: DIY and DIWA practices are an integral part, decision-making goes hand in hand with gatherings, subsistence takes precedence over ideology, etc.

In 2010, George Caffentzis pointed out the ambiguous relations of the commons (and its plural forms) to the capital system in his essay “The Future of 'The Commons': Neoliberalism's 'Plan B' or the Original Disaccumulation of Capital” with the aim of strengthening certain forms of commons while rejecting others.[16] For him, certain commons can be used as repair for neoliberalism’s devastating neglect of social relations. And specifically because the practice of commons can take care of communities—they even actively produce them—, by forming social interconnections between people that would be otherwise suspended in a capitalist system, commons seem to be a good fit for a neoliberal agenda of Western nation-states, aiming to outsource their social responsibilities. I have argued elsewhere that neoliberalism should not be viewed as a unitary development, as it adapts to different contexts and appears in different forms and represents a fusion of the ostensibly capitalist logic with a progressive agenda (“self-actualization,” etc.).[17] Nonetheless, some desire for belonging is crucial to the formation of commons and any society—in a neoliberal framework or otherwise. The moments of belonging—which are still so strongly directed toward a national community dovetailed with capitalist logic (individualization, meritocracy, cooperation)—seem, at best, to find their new home in smaller, self-selected networks or are locally anchored in microcultures. In this sense, a renewed concept of citizenship—and its aspects of self-selected forms of belonging beyond the legal framework—can develop into a collective process of community building.

For the notion of citizenship and its creation beyond a nation-state, I may draw our attention to one of documenta fifteen’s very ambitious projects called citizenship. This participatory project is being conducted by ZK/U Center for Art and Urbanistics and aims to create a community through an elaborate constellation: the participatory project turned the roof of the ZK/U building literally upside down to become a ship—though it’s more like a raft—to “sail off in it to documenta fifteen—a trip of 650km, fueled entirely by people power.”[18] The boat trip relies completely on the help of communities along the way (small village societies), volunteers and friends, who help with moving the boat, but also with sustaining the crew with food, accommodation, and other needs. A project like this interlocks different groups of people in new ways—even for the experimental field in contemporary art—and creates an alternative form of an open community with its own fabricated formation of belonging—at least temporarily. And, of course, these artistic practices always come with a risk of getting stuck, and of falling apart. On June 28, 2022, in a contribution for the series of talks “Commoning Curatorial and Artistic Education,”[19] we[20] learned from the artists behind citizenship, Philip Horst and Matthias Einhoff, about their current troubles with low water levels and defunct machinery.[21] On a heartwarming side note, Horst and Einhoff asked the audience for a skipper in the discussion following their talk. They lost their skipper due to the changed timeline, and by change, Dan Farberoff, from Common Views, another lecturer from the series attending their talk, was able to help out by recommending a friend of his. I consider this act as a type of participation in this project of citizenship, and therefore as a form of belonging to this temporary community.

Talk via Zoom by Philip Horst and Matthias Einhoff on citizenship, at Hafenstraße 76, Kassel, June 28, 2022.


To stay with Caffentzis, his wish for the commons to become “the Original Disaccumulation of Capital” is less clear-cut than his critique of the neoliberalist reading of the commons. He refers to capitalism’s ability “to organize the reproduction of our lives outside of its structures,”[22] pointing to the enormous degree of organization of global relations that the capitalist system and the neoliberal agenda have created over the past forty years. In a broader—one might even say enormous, because world-changing—framework, we would need to examine the history of globalization and how neoliberal policies (the last stage of Western-driven globalization) have succeeded in organizing and rationalizing trade and finance on a world scale, largely by privatizing public enterprises and deregulating economies—both in the direction of individualization and individual ownership, and in dismantling structures of public projects established by states in a national framework. We should not dismiss globalization as a whole or think that globalization is only a result of neoliberal policies. Other versions of a globalized world without the hegemony of profit are certainly conceivable and may have to develop sooner rather than later, as neoliberal policies are unable or unwilling to deal with our current global crises.

lumbung, or Commoning Applied to the Large-Scale Exhibition Called documenta fifteen
In order to get closer to understanding what a commons-driven practice can produce in a large-scale contemporary exhibition, I would like to mention some insights into ruangrupa's practices and methods, some of which I have experienced through my participation in two networks related to documenta[23] and various meetings with them, as well as through several visits to the exhibition and related events myself.

I would like to suggest this quote from Peter Linebaugh from a historical perspective as a blueprint in order to understand commons thinking for the exhibitionary complex:

Commoners think first not of title deeds, but of human deeds: how will this land be tilled? Does it require manuring? What grows there? They begin to explore. You might call it a natural attitude. Second, commoning is embedded in a labor process; it inheres in a particular praxis of field, upland, forest, marsh, coast. Common rights are entered into by labor. Third, commoning is collective. Fourth, being independent of the state, commoning is independent also of the temporality of the law and state.[24]

First: Translated for the exhibitionary complex,Commoners think first not of title deeds, but of human deeds,” speaks of subsistence over representation. It changes the mode of representation of and in exhibitions. It shifts the power of representation and its vertical mode of establishing a certain understanding of the world, of establishing knowledge through a universalized “objective” public display directed toward a public to a more horizontal interpersonal exchange that offers direct participation enclosed in contact zones. I will later argue that both methods of exhibition-making—the “traditional” representational mode, and a full-body participatory mode of knowledge exchange—have their advantages and disadvantages, the former enabling precise articulations often with the costs of higher levels of exclusion, while the latter enables a fully engaged public with the risk of flat levelling and relativizations. Both have their weaknesses and their strengths.

“[H]ow will this land be tilled?” relates to both a localized analysis of the situatedness in which one finds itself embedded and a working methodology for possibilities of future display. In commons thought, with the definition provided by Linebaugh, tasks are clear: “What grows there? They begin to explore.” At least since 2020, ruangrupa began to form networks on three different levels: “lumbung inter-lokal” (the international networks ruangrupa already had relationships with), “Kassel ekosistem” (initiating and connecting various projects, off-spaces, and association in Kassel’s civil society) and “lumbung Indonesia” (the collectivizing process conducted respectively in locations in Indonesia). This establishment of a network of networks embedded through local practices in a trans-local network on such a scale is unparalleled in the art field. In our globalized world—and specifically for exhibitionary projects like documenta and other biennials—working the local depends on global trajectories, inter-local interconnectedness, and trans-local alliances. ruangrupa’s vision for documenta fifteen was a very compelling enactment on this front. The exclusions of its own that it produces will be discussed later.

To establish the “Kassel ekosistem,” two members of ruangrupa, Reza Afisina and Iswanto Hartono, moved to Kassel with their families in 2020. Though the claim to “localize” biennials is an often-promoted curatorial statement, it more often than not falls short. What ruangrupa set out to achieve by situating two of its core members in the city of Kassel in order to create the Kasssel ekosistem, has never been done in documenta’s history, and for the most part, is very unusual for biennials. This level of engagement in a city and its society is unmatched. Okwui Enwezor’s similarly major impact on the large-scale exhibition as a whole with documenta11 in 2002 directed much-needed attention toward artists of non-European locations, yet it was not inclined to ground this global endeavor in local issues to too great an extent.[25]

You might call it a natural attitude” points to a non-formalized way of working: from my experience in the newly established network of “Composting Knowledge,” relationships developed casually—“naturally”—over a period of time. There were no representative or formalized arrangements at play—for better or worse.

Second: “[…] commoning is embedded in a labor process; it inheres in a particular praxis of field, upland, forest, marsh, coast.”

Commoning practices prefer doing, rather than contemplating or representing. For the exhibitionary complex this means a shift away from the representational mode of display to an active involvement of artists and public alike, artists and public as present bodies on display in the exhibition. In this sense, performativity takes on a new meaning. For example, our workshop group of the Summer School “Commoning Curatorial and Artistic Education” was often viewed as an artistic performance. The workshop space of the summer school was placed inside the exhibition space and on more than one occasion, our group was considered part of the exhibition by the visitors. On an intentional level, many artists present at their given exhibition space were constantly engaged in discussions. The performative aspect of art was expanded to the body of the artist, and the body of the visitor—a fuller embodiment within the exhibition than the traditional contemplative “viewer’s gaze.” The integration of the relation between audience and the art institution was set out to change, hence given practices of art mediation and interpellation. We learned that ruangrupa proposed art mediation as the activation of artists and collectives present in the exhibition space. I experienced this in the first weeks of documenta fifteen, where the exhibition was activated by the artists and collectives present on site. For example, the gudskul area at Fridericianum was curated as a contact zone or—in the terminology used on the official website—“gathering space.”[26] Different artist collectives from Indonesia were invited to actively engage with the audience on a playful manner, yet with the aim of creating a co-learning environment. In their words: “Gudskul is open to anyone who is interested in co-learning, developing collective-based artistic practices, and art-making with a focus on collaboration.”[27]

Fridskul area, activated at that time by La Tabebh.


ruangrupa's reticence towards art mediation could also be rooted in the reflex of seeing art mediation as a hegemonic function of the art institution: in this framework, a constellation might occur where artists in the exhibition space engaged with the audience are confronted with art mediators who additionally "explain" the works to the audience from a seemingly institutionalized point of view. This could become uncomfortable and undermine the direct exchange between art, artists, and the audience and trigger problematic forms of “Otherings.”

From the proposal of a commoning practice in exhibition-making “embedded in a labor process,” a “radical” other form of interpellation of the audience in a museum emerges. It brings the individual spectator—still prevalent in museums—into a collective process. We experienced ourselves how easy it was to engage in a discussion over tea, cooked and served as a tool for starting a discussion in the gudskul area at Fridskul. In this way, the museum space is not only a constellation of display, media and (art) objects, or where labor is shown (in form of artworks), but it also becomes a space to be used. For an incisive experience, we can see Fridericianum’s left wing dedicated to toddlers with a sandbox and resting area, and children with an installation of a children’s playground and daily program organized by RURUKIDS.[28] One has to ask why no biennial or museum addressed parents and their children in this inclusive way inside the exhibition space as an integral part of the exhibition—and not as something offered outside of the exhibition to bridge the time.

Playground at Fridskul area.


Our learned behavior in museums as primarily reflective intellectuals engaged in aesthetic judgment produces an “autonomous individual subject”; it sets the audience in front of a complex artwork. A collective interaction—let alone a loud discussion—is unwanted in the most traditional sense of museums. Although participatory practices have entered the museum for a while now, I would argue there are significant differences between participatory forms that are located in the relation between audience–museum. There is socially engaged art that addresses the audience—even with participatory means—as reflective individuals only, which is different than an activated public in museum spaces that co-produce exhibitions by engagement as part of a community-building practice.

ruangrupa's aforementioned shift away from a more traditional form of art education did not play out well. Art mediation was still established, yet late, since the institution insisted. Finally, the sobat-sobat (“friends” in Indonesian) were introduced as a separate grouping specifically with the task of art education. In the context of art mediation, sobat-sobat took over the more traditional guided tours and mediation efforts that a more traditional audience expects. In our conversations with members of sobat-sobat, however, it became clear that the mostly young and eager art mediators initially had other forms of mediation in mind and wanted to engage in encounters with the public in a more experimental way. Besides other issues,[29] the friction in the sobat-sobat group towards the institution for a more experimental form of mediation is an indication of the opposition of art institutions’ mode of representation over direct engagement. It shakes the foundations of the function of museums to produce, reproduce, and control a hegemonic narrative. Despite the initial refusal for art mediators, these very instrumentalizing aspects of art mediation, which can adopt an integrated institutional formation to convey a specific reading or narrative to the public, was later taken up by the artistic team itself, it seems.[30] Coming back to the practical-curatorial field, I wouldn’t want to dismiss representational mediation at large, as it can provide a highly informative and precise articulation of knowledge, yet accompanying forms of collective engagement can produce situated knowledges in non-canonical ways. The question is always how these forms of mediation are embedded and executed, between ideologically instructional and open to discussion.


Coming back to Linebaugh’s definition, I would like to briefly hint here at the particular and situated practices of the commons. At least as I understand this: “it [commoning] inheres in a particular praxis of field, upland, forest, marsh, coast.” A commoning practice is specific and situated, it needs a precise understanding of the “land” or in our case the fields of knowledges in contemporary artistic practices that are on display and put on exposition. Transported to documenta fifteen, some locations and areas felt neglected, or less formulated and embedded than others, or perhaps I couldn’t experience it due my presence at the wrong time, where no activation occurred. But it could also be the case that among the many invited artists and collectives and their varying experiences on exhibition-making, some were less prepared for a precise exhibition practice, and its mediation, especially with these complex global entanglements brought to documenta fifteen.[31]

Third: “commoning is collective.”
This category speaks not only of more "horizontal" forms of decision-making or at least of more flexible transversalities within power structures or organizational procedures, but also aims at collectivizing economic benefits. For collective decision-making, ruangrupa established the “lumbung inter-local” network—the largely established network with which ruangrupa already had close ties. The network met and discussed in so-called majelis in 2019 in physical form, first in Indonesia and in Kassel, and later online.[32] An economic restructuring was initiated within three trajectories: first, the fourteen lumbung members were given two budget pots, the “seed money” (€25,000) and the production budget (€180,000).[33] While the latter was obviously directed to production costs, the “seed money”—transferred upfront—could be spent freely as decided collectively by the respective lumbung members without any attachment to documenta fifteen whatsoever. Lumbung members used this budget to pay rent or buy land—to strengthen and sustain their own projects “at home.” Needless to say, this type of artist fee without conditions is rather unusual and unique, even in the particular field of art and its rather opaque compensation in the form of speculative distributions through an increase in recognition.

Second, they established alternative distribution models with the “lumbung Kios”[34] (localized self-run shops to trade goods and resources with low environmental impact), and the “lumbung Gallery.” The latter is a collaboration with TheArtist, a non-profit organization run by professionals from the art field.[35] This collaboration was organized by the lumbung Gallery working group and aims to set up a distribution model beyond documenta fifteen with lumbung principles of collectively shared resources—in this case, of sold art objects. The pricing of the artworks is instead determined by “the collective's basic needs and artists’ basic income in addition to production costs and other material condition variables rather than speculative market prices,”[36] while 70% of the sales price is aimed to go directly to the artist or collective, and 30% stays with the lumbung Gallery for sustaining the platform.[37]

This sales platform—ultimately it is nothing else—comes with a different distribution model embedded in collective needs in the background but mimics a rather slick gallery aesthetic on the front—and is another example of commons compatibility or indifference to capitalist structures, but with a different idea of distribution in mind: not towards an individual artist, but towards a collective.

On this note, rasad, the artwork by Britto Arts Trust, a re-creation of a stand with food and other goods replicated in artistic material in ceramic, embroidery, and metal displayed prominently in the documenta Halle—next to the wonderful halfpipe by Baan Noorg, set up to be used—adds another dimension when realizing that every single replicated object can be bought via the lumbung Gallery platform.[38] I don’t want to mock this economic procedure. In a lot of large-scale exhibitions, sales and other non-monetary remunerations—like recognitions, promised exhibitions in other museum shows, speculative promises all in all—advance in rather well-covered areas, carefully hidden from “regular” visitors, whose contemplative experience shouldn’t be distracted by the vile power plays of speculative and profit-oriented business. However, despite Britto Art Trust’s collective and valuable activist practices, that is also negotiated in other works at documenta fifteen, rasad seems to me to play with art and its exhibitionary practices—with its enormous empowering function—on a mere economic level of redistribution with its aim to sell each single art piece one by one—and there are plenty of them—via the lumbung Gallery platform.

From a broader perspective, the underlying “de-accumulation of capital” might not be easily achieved even with the Lumbung gallery idea of price calculation according to the needs of the artist collectives—a value calculation detached from the usual evaluation mechanisms in the art field. On the one hand, it creates a platform to place artworks on the market and through that redistribute the profits for the collective, but it cannot prevent the secondary circulation in the art market’s speculative mode.

rasad, installation by Britto Arts Trust


Britto Kitchen, installation by Britto Arts Trust. A kitchen to be used: every day at lunchtime, different people activated the kitchen and cooked for the public.


Third, the working group lumbung Currency and its lumbung members initiated experimental so-called community currencies: the BeeCoin by ZK/U—Center for Art and Urbanistics, the Cheesecoin by INLAND, the Dayra by The Question of Funding, and the Jalar by Gudskul. The goal for these separate alternative currency proposals is to connect them in the long run.[39] Understanding and analyzing the concept and differences of these alternative currencies will be undertaken another time, but what all of these concepts have in common is that they become more independent and resistant to funds that often come with certain conditions, be they funds directly from governmental state institutions that follow a national identity logic or funds from companies that follow a logic of capital. This fascinating project could be one of the greatest impacts of those initiated by documenta fifteen, but we will have to wait and see.

Fourth: “being independent of the state, commoning is independent also of the temporality of the law and state.”
This relation across a superordinate structure that navigates commoners in a position dependent on the state and institutions is shaped by an (embodied) experience of violence and control imposed by states or other sovereign entities throughout history—historical struggles of commoners and current struggles of minority communities in various contexts around the world.

The wish to stay “independent” gives us insights into ruangrupa’s artistic-curatorial method. It’s their approved practice we can observe from their artistic participation at the 31st Bienal de São Paulo, where they ran a “home”-like spatial infrastructure called “ruru” in 2014[40] and in the exhibiting platform Cosmopolis #1 Collective Intelligence at Centre Pompidou in 2017, where they again created a space inside the institution—called “ruangruparasite,”[41] in order to make it a living space but also a permeable space to the urban surroundings. For both exhibitions, they established a resilient practice challenging the institution and curators who invited them: a parasitical practice—resistance as a method—that undermines the traditional functions of art institutions, as well as its proposed set of behaviors for audience and artists, and its economic structure and so on.

For documenta fifteen, and with the primary managing position of artistic director, this resistant practice toward (and in playful opposition to) the institution is actually impossible to sustain. This is how I read ruangrupa's gesture to invite documenta back to its own “institution” in Jakarta, Indonesia. A complexified notion of an institution would clearly frame collective practice—especially long-term, and self-sustained ones—as an institution itself and as an institutionalized practice, as it follows a set of (self-given) rules, but still embedded in general or even universalizing frameworks (e.g., the art field, trade, politics). The desire for the independence of institutions does not only result in the rejection of contractual obligations. It also pits the commoner’s wish for independence—sustained or recreated as an artistic practice—all too easily against institutions of contemporary life, art, and culture. A simplistic juxtaposition of institution-artist (or perpetrator-victim?) can occur, portraying the institution as a predetermined formation of state hegemony and control—unable to change—, and in the process, recreating artists as pure, resisting people struggling for a self-determined life. I would have wished for the many invited collectives not only “to bring and activate their practice to Kassel,” but also to use this amplified stage in contemporary art and culture for a critical introspection of their own practices, too. However—how the events have turned out—this openness and permeability could not be established. In a rather classical formula, a hegemonic struggle between the so-called “documenta gGmbH”[42] and its alliances in German news media outlets and the lumbung collectives and their alliance came into being.

The Threatening Scenario of Commons for the Exhibitionary Complex and Beyond
For the first time in the history of documenta, a collective—predominantly based in artistic practice—was entrusted with the artistic direction of this major exhibition. The methods and strategies derived from commoning that ruangrupa adopted have been explained in detail above. To a large extent, documenta fifteen was carried out as a festival—not a classical exhibition—with many public and informal events, with open networks formed in numerous meetings before and during documenta, with chance encounters in the many locations scattered throughout the city of Kassel. In this sense, documenta can be seen as close to those early forms of spectacle in the 18th century that helped shape the institution we call the public museum, if we are to follow Eilean Hooper-Greenhill and Tony Bennett.[43] Already these early forms of exposition were set up as a learning environment with more or less hidden agendas and hegemonic formations attached. What also played out like a spectacle was the various utterances—a rumor-filled buzz—in social media and mass media with regard to documenta fifteen, long before the antisemitic iconography in People's Justice, a work by Taring Padi, was on view and was removed.

It is difficult to say in what way the challenging and even threatening aspects of this documenta will change the established exhibitionary complex, the established art, its discourse and history in the long run. However, I would like to look into some of the basic principles that might see readjustments in the future, concentrating on the following:

a) serious changes in the function of the curator and a serious threat to “authority,” accountability and responsibilities;
b) changes in the mode of representation in the arts that create a different relationship between the audience and art, under commons-guided direct engagements—ultimately a threat to the “modern autonomous individual” —;
c) a new proposal of the modes of production (collectivity vs. cooperation).

The first two points stem from the collectivization practices at work. The third position speaks against a capitalist logic. Yet, obviously these threats are entangled, just as the “modern autonomous individual” is interlocked with the capitalist system.[44]

A) The Function of the Curator and the Anxiety of the Authoritative
ruangrupa’s artistic–curatorial collective practice is rooted in their personal situatedness in Indonesia from the foundational year 2000 and is therefore—even in terms of their artistic and curatorial experiences on a global level—not imbued with the so-called “global art discourse” of Western influence and its, at times, universalized terminology and concepts. An early description of the collective’s practice and context was formulated by David Teh in 2012: “To profile ruangrupa is to describe an event: time-based, immediate and loosely structured; with a sense of purpose, yet more celebratory than agonistic.”[45] The developed curatorial positioning of ruangrupa was established independently of the art market, and—even if artistically based—it appropriated curatorial function and thought early on.[46] And for documenta fifteen as well, their invitation policy for artists, projects, and collectives can be described by the construction of loose networks—of a “collective of collectives”—and is primarily based on trust, a position in contrast to a targeted selection of artworks and its framing within a wider art discourse from a single authorial position. In that sense, their decision not to follow the—still today—hegemonic rules of a curatorial complex of representation that dominates Western art history can be said to be intentional.

Banner “Collective of Collectives,” Fridskul, gudskul area, Fridericianum, Kassel.


In ruangrupa’s curatorial practice, the curator as the main figure of an exhibition—set up by Harald Szeemann and crystallized in documenta 5 in 1972—is clearly called into question, and with it the so-called gatekeeper function that excludes certain art from entering galleries, museums, and ultimately art history.[47] I would argue that this poses a serious threat to what I would call a traditional curator function—traditional and still prevalent, especially in public museums connected to state structures.

Nonetheless, in 2022, we should be aware of the contested field of the artistic-curatorial complex. Curatorial work has continued to expand in contemporary discourse, merging into a rather collaborative relationship and should not be reduced to a mere (extractivist?) scheme of “the curator selecting artworks from within a (usually) already legitimized art field.” In the rather academic-led discourse on the curatorial function, whose main protagonists in recent years have been, among others, Simon Sheikh, Paul O’Neill, Irit Rogoff, Dorothee Richter, and Nora Sternfeld, differentiations of curating have not only been discussed in terms of the concepts of “curating,” “the curatorial,” “post-curatorial,” and “paracuratorial.” Yet, at the same time, relationships between artist–curator–institution have been questioned practically, and thus curating beyond Institutional Critique comes into being. Expansions of curatorial practices towards knowledge production, philosophical discourse, and research-based public expressions as part of the exhibitionary complex or even post-exhibition formats outside of traditional infrastructures of art institutions have been conceptualized and established.[48]

Within this expanded field, curatorial practice is not only occupied with the caretaking of art and its spatial exhibition, but is working, researching, and developing (self-)critically together with artistic practitioners and with and sometimes against institutions towards a “making things public.” I would like to emphatically add to this discourse the governmental aspects of exhibition-making, emphasizing the understanding of one’s own embeddedness in society, in its institutions and economy, and the embeddedness of art and artists in a learning environment. This will lead to situated and more responsible positions with regard to expressions in the exhibitionary complex and expand curating again for a broader social responsibility towards the public and society, one that is aware of its own entanglements in a comprehensive governmental framework.

Astonishingly, this complex and entangled relation of artist–curator–institution is captured poetically in the video installation Smashing Monuments by Sebastián Díaz Morales at Hübner Areal. The work is projected—slightly over life-sized—in the first area of the exhibition space, accompanied with simple wooden seating arrangements and depicts five members of ruangrupa in a dialogue—or rather inner monologue—with and in front of iconic Indonesian monuments in Jakarta. On documenta fifteen’s website, it states: “Indonesia’s history of independence and ruangrupa’s own path as young citizens of the new republic mingle in these half-improvised and intimate dialogues. The monuments symbolize several lumbung values.”[49] I may add that these dialogues between the members of ruangrupa, and their dispute over the representation of a nation-state and its national community were brought up from each member’s individual perspective—a perspective that is, of course, informed by their collectivity. Nonetheless, the discussed subjects came from each one’s personal background. I would like to think of this artwork as exemplary of an articulation of individuals—in our case, of artist-curators—towards their superstructure, embedded in governmental formations from personal life experiences to state structures and their own interpellations in state institutions, and in this case, additionally expanded in a global and post-colonial framework.[50]

Installation Smashing Monuments, on the right side.


While ruangrupa’s refusal of the traditional role of the curator is well understood, the expanded curatorial function that introduced situated, critical, responsive, and responsible modes of knowledge production—internally and externally—may have also gotten discarded due to their clear anti-authority stance. To contextualize and complexify this (old) tension between artists and curators and the disdain towards the curator—but which type?—that was expressed on a few occasions during documenta fifteen[51]—I would like to draw attention again to David Teh's words:

However ruangrupa might seem to embody the disciplinary merger [of artistic and curatorial practices], then, in attributing to the group the form of a curatorship to come, with or without the italics, we run the risk of mistaking tactical moves for a strategic programme. And however appealing the image of their ‘contemporaneity’, the group should first be seen in another light, a light in which modernity and nation still matter, and instrumentality is not (yet) the arch-enemy of art; a light in which artists make artworks and curators curate, and it is possible to do both. Perhaps ruangrupa is more a spirit of curatorship—not limited to a single body, yet somehow tied to a place—that would defend the autonomy of artists, singular or plural, but not necessarily that of the artwork.[52]

Teh’s pointed articulation of ruangrupa’s stance towards curating is ten years old, but might still hold true, as there seems to be a clear division set up between the artists and the curator as an authoritative figure and agent of the institution. From a post-curatorial perspective, Simon Sheikh argues with regard to exhibition-making that, “Ideas must thus not only be enacted, but embodied, which always accepts a lessening of curatorial authorship and authority. Such post-curatorial approaches take place on a dual background of lack and loss, however.”[53] In terms of lack, he is referring to what is literally lacking in the exhibitionary complex, in theory and practice, meaning its exclusionary mechanisms, marginalized knowledges, and the un- and underrepresented. Loss, however, speaks to what might have to be given up, e.g., the well-running infrastructure of institutions and its actual publicness.

There are many implications here between the two arguments by Teh and Sheikh—arguments uttered in different contexts, and in specific cultural discourses—, but it might be fruitful to look into this in greater depth, yet elsewhere. Nonetheless, it exposes that a withdrawal from authoritative positions in an assumed oppositional structure (artist–institution) comes at a price: one internal risk that arises from an open and authority-diverting curatorial practice, like the one ruangrupa chose for documenta fifteen, can be found in the organization of responsibilities (as in being able to respond) and responsiveness, resulting in a rather opaque mélange of relativisms. State structures and (art) institutions are rightly called to their responsibilities—being responsive towards a society they represent or aim to govern. The same must be demanded of para-institutions. A call for the artist's (social) responsibility—as in able to respond—and responsiveness is urgently needed in this regard, too.

Another aspect that arises from shying away from the tough, authoritative curatorial tasks of representation and their entanglements with state policy is the takeover of the void left behind. The representational space in the exhibitionary complex does not disappear just by refusing to take on the central position—and at the moment this is the established "traditional" curator. What it creates is a blank space, a void of a trajectory or a proposed reading, which has thus far usually been taken up by the curator as the main author. This void left a space for amplifications of fractional agendas and hidden trajectories within the many participants of documenta fifteen and also led to the external rumors and cheap explanations of uninformed or ill-intended actors. I consider these utterances—both from the “inside” and the “outside” —violent acts of representation. By this, I am not referring to the important heterogeneous multiplicity of artistic practices and their situated knowledges that were expressed at documenta fifteen, rather, that this heterogeneous multiplicity was not secured in a representative sense through an expanded curatorial function as the central framework. Instead, the heterogenous multiplicity had to “close off” in solidarity under pressure.
In fact, (post-)curatorial struggles test and contest, between representational and critical and deviant practices, the status quo of museums and its exclusions, as do artistic practices. If you withdraw from this position, you will not be able to influence it.

To conclude (for now) this discussion on curatorial discourse and practice on a high note, I want to return to the benefits that an expanded curatorial practice would bring, a practice that holds on to the uncomfortable position of representation and authority, but with different, inclusive, and open forms and empowering ways of carrying them out: a transparent, open-invitation policy for large-scale exhibitions with a distinction-reduced access to contemporary art, an embodied practice for artists and audiences, a “contact zone” that needs trust, openness, and a willingness for solidarities over hegemonic politics. This could be a sketch for an ideal infrastructure that has not yet been achieved.

B) (Apparent) Threat to the “Modern Autonomous Individual” aka “Author”
The division between (modern) art and craft (or culture)—with each their separated specific infusions in cultural contexts in infrastructural dimensions in knowledge production and value systems—can still be observed in the 21st century. On this matter, and speaking from the position of the Western “subject” and free individual’s aesthetic judgment, Bazon Brock criticized documenta fifteen by claiming that “documenta fifteen stands for the end of the Western idea of authority as the author function,”[54] or—I might say—the “modern autonomous individual” in its entirety. He sets up culturalism [“Kulturalismus”]—relating to the collective practices of the invited lumbung members—against the free and individual artist in Western Enlightenment tradition, who can critically challenge the great ideological machines like the Church, religion, kings, and capital through the hard-won “freedom of art.” In a more comprehensive and rather fatalistic lecture entitled “On the power-grotesque appropriation of the arts by cultures," subtitled "A dispute about the whole, the end of Europe,”[55] which Brock delivered prior to documenta fifteen in March 2022 at the University of Art and Design Linz, he is concerned with saving the European author, the at least one exceptional achievement of Western philosophy that needs to be universalized, it seems. He thus positioned art as a recurring European tradition of individuals and authors, of authorship and authority against a—rather reductionist—conception of collectivity as a totalizing instrument. It is quite obvious that Brock speaks too easily of what I would call the idealizing and romanticizing—apparently—Western achievement of the “autonomous individual subject,” brought into being by the Enlightenment. We might be aware that within the Western discourse, many critical analyses by French philosophers alone—Foucault, Barthes, etc.—have been undertaken on this position of the subject. As a counter-note, in alluding to similar ideas that idealize and romanticize an innocent notion of indigeneity or collective practices—as ruangrupa is aware[56]—that are seen as non-hierarchical and non-exploitative per se, I want to emphasize that there are neither innocent perspectives nor universalized positions but that all positions come with privilege and one cannot bail out to the “good” side.

Works by Gazan artist collective Eltiqa at WH22.


I would agree with Brock in his description of the Enlightenment as an immense endeavor of the people and individuals against the Church and sovereign structures—a massive amount of resistance and liberating effort at that time. But I’d like to bring up the problematic sides of the author function and how it is established and maintained, mainly by diminishing and obscuring context and sources, and its exclusions of the “Other” (Foucault’s famous “madman”), who is not allowed to speak—both inside the Western system and outside of it with the ripple effects of European colonialism—, and of its gendered formation in cultural articulations, since the author was established as a male figure. In reference to the poststructuralists and their critiques about the author (“The Death of the Author,” etc.), I would add that the vision of the author as a male figure (individual, universal, free, powerful) might be over, but maybe not the author as a feminist figure (interdependent, situated, connected, accountable).

There were other less grand criticisms uttered against the collective concept of documenta fifteen (and their situated concept of collectivity) as a form of an idealized “We.” Those critics usually spoke from their own art historical frame of reference—of “Western” artist circles and friendship networks from the 1980–90s. They had little knowledge of (or did not want to engage with) the contemporary collective artistic practices that were established by many lumbung members in very different contexts.

In trying to understand positions in a postcolonial context, I can imagine that the positive effects of Enlightenment—and the rise of the author as a powerful agent— were not experienced as an empowering or liberating movement from a perspective outside of protected Western identities. Instead, this author function came in formations of colonial power and domination with (real) acts of violence, but also implemented through non-coercive, “persuasive” hegemonic machines in education and culture. The situated experience of the origin of the figure of the author, a self-empowered individual who uses critical tools to procure authority over ideology as a resisting practice against the Church and monarchy, does not match the situated experience of an externally determined, authorized Other, an Other who experiences this—once resistant—authority at best as a condescending gesture or at worst as a mechanism of control. The subtle difference between “learning” and “teaching” gives an indication of the dilemma we face. Learning is an activity of the self, while teaching requires a teacher.

Ultimately, I would suggest reading Brock’s argument in a universalizing way, as he projects his own worldview onto another position. The problem stems primarily from this shift in position. It lacks, at a much deeper level, an understanding of a different way of thinking structured in another historical and cultural background. We find ourselves in the classic thought of Foucault’s The Archaeology of Knowledge.[57] Foucault analyzed the system of knowledge and its development in the European (French) context, but systems of knowledges are plural and situated, and produce slightly different subject constellations through slightly different systems of thought and slightly different discursive formations within different situated contexts.[58]

In the—let’s call it for now—Western[59] episteme, the author is set up to be foremost autonomous and critical. The same for the artist. In this line of thought, art and artists are positioned against the Church and religion, against the sovereign, and—one could add—later against capital. At least this is my learned understanding of the role of artists I obtained in my higher education in Germany: art is a critical activity directed against the capitalist system. That’s why artists need to be autonomous, and art objects need a specialized form of representation, always embedded in critical discourse, separated from handicraft, design, and other applied creative disciplines. Of course, artists’ autonomy can be seen as rather hypocritical, since all the well-known artists who have entered the annals of art history and relevance in contemporary exhibitions—besides their undoubtedly refined and complex articulations—are heavily complicit in a distributional art market that generates profit in speculative financial strategies.[60]

Considered as specifically embedded artistic practices, the strict separation of (critical) art and craft cannot be sustained. Art under current “Western” conditions could be described as ideologized object production—an abstract token ready for fetishization or speculation—, and easily, yet in a disguised way, implanted in capitalist structures of profit-making. Art practices “outside” of this position might fall under the category of creativity or handicraft and are more inclined to be attached to daily commerce and directed to subsistence. These different notions of artistic practices fit well with what farid rakun said at the workshop “Practitheorizing Counter­institutions” organized by The Question of Funding and OFF-Biennale Budapest in Kassel on September 10, 2022.[61] rakun mentioned the contested art field in Indonesia, where art is not considered autonomous. In Indonesia, art, creative economies, and industrialized culture are not separated. Many artists work between the field of autonomous art—hence critical and detached from capital—and of creative practices in the economic sphere.
This indifferent approach to the specifically “Western” field of art might prove to be another threat, not only to the “Western” concept of art, but also to the “Western” discourse of art, a highly differentiated, critical, and self-critical theory built around art as object.

Picture taken at the workshop “Practitheorizing Counter­institutions” organized by The Question of Funding and OFF-Biennale Budapest in Kassel on September 9-10, 2022.


ruangrupa’s avoidance of “theory” can be explained by this logic. They proposed—instead of theory, something they did not have a lot of experience with according to rakun[62]—stories and storytelling as a distinction-reducing approach to subjective readings of art, one that allows multiple entries into the discursive formation of art and reduces the full-blown, professional theorization of art discourse. In colonial entanglements, “theory” according the logic of “Western” epistemes, with their production in discursive formations through exclusionary apparatuses and reproductions of superiority through distinction, might not hold the promise of freedom, nor the promise of (self-)empowerment. But—and this is a big but—theory, in its most profound form—apart from the distinguishing apparatuses that create and keep power structures alive—, understood as a critical mode of self-reflection, of critical reflection on one’s situatedness, must not be abandoned.

I would like to propose reconsidering the relationship between art and craft, economics and artistic practices, by acknowledging—not comparing—the differences embedded in different frameworks and not universalizing one epistemology over the other.

Cooperation and Collaboration
To better understand the new mode of production proposed by documenta fifteen, I would like to contrast collaboration and cooperation: the former being an intertwined and flexible production mode of collective effort with a shared common goal, and the latter being a solidified process of working together in distinct roles to achieve someone’s goal. While cooperation is very much integral to industrial capitalist production, collaboration on the other hand—although it sometimes enters capital’s start-up economy linguistically without a collectivized goal, let alone economic structure—usually remains separate from organized work and labor and in the realm of non-organized production apart from large-scale industry. One could say this is for good reasons, since the collaborative condition comes with rather time-consuming efforts of horizontal decision-making. In farid rakun’s words, “Collective work is not the most effective, efficient, or even productive way of doing things.”[63] Here, communication is direct and interpersonal, operational range is not strictly separated, roles and responsibilities are flexible, every collaborator almost needs to have an overview of the overall project. There is no assembly line order. Communism—or rather socialism—relies likewise on cooperative modes of production yet subordinates the processes and results of production to a universally shared entity. In real socialist terms and in the words of Lenin, the results of production go to the working-class and the “political power [that] owns all the means of production.”[64] Both forms of cooperative practices—on the one hand, capitalist cooperative practice and its enormous apparatus of exploitation, with its need for cheap labor, the still gendered separation of production and reproduction, and “recruitment” of people believing in the system, and on the other hand real-life socialists’ needs for a universalized work force, turning all people into workers, and transforming individual property into societal property—are not the same as collaboration in commons project, I would argue.

This specific collective practice proposed by ruangrupa with the many mini-majelis—meetings in smaller focused groups of around eight people—and majelis akbar—larger gatherings with lumbung members, lumbung artists, and other participants of around fifty people— not only challenges a capitalistic logic of cooperation, but is also not the most tried and tested way for artistic practices—be it from the perspective of a single artist or from collective practices with different methods:

Not all documenta fifteen participants are enthusiastic about the Majelis system. Some artists complain that too much time is wasted on lengthy presentations and discussions instead of using it for production. Still others find the bureaucratic hurdles too high that Documenta as an institution sets in order to actually release the collective money.[65]

This experience was related by Christina Schott, a journalist who attended some of these meetings. The quote also points to problems that a collective practice might create vis-à-vis the stakeholders and their evaluation systems, as money is only paid out when clear project descriptions are met. Furthermore, collective practices complicate a clearly delineated ownership relationship, which is quite important for an aestheticized commodification process in line with the art market.[66]

There is tension between a collective practice—which creates almost no fixed roles, but instead builds formations with utmost flexibility and decentralized authority—and the institutional framework of cooperation—even in the more flexible areas of the art field, the recurrent large-scale exhibitions—based on a clear structure and hierarchy that comes with its titles, with deadlines to be met, and one overarching goal to be pursued. We can note that capitalist cooperation and commons collaboration are accompanied by different modes of ownership and utilization. One corresponds in an exaggerated way to a neoliberalist logic of individual maximization and profit, while the other aims more at subsistence and “living well.” To avoid binaries, I do not want to pit collaboration and cooperation against each other, with one being “good” and the other “bad.” Both practices need to be considered in terms of their specific situated formations.

To exemplify the complexities that arise with collaborative practices, I would like to direct the attention to Taring Padi’s artistic practice and its elaborate methodology, which will show at the same time the susceptibility of—strategic?—misuse and toxic contraband:

Taring Padi’s own convivial, collective approach to art is crucial to understanding why there are no simple answers to the question of how the offending image appeared in the banner in the first place. Not only does Taring Padi have many members who are involved in the creative process, but they also often invite non-members such as workshop participants to contribute to works in progress. While large-scale works are planned through discussion, notes and sketches and the division of labour is coordinated (though not strictly enforced). It is a process that deliberately eschews authorship—works are not signed by individuals but instead stamped with the collective’s distinctive logo. As Bambang Agung wrote in Taring Padi: Seni Membongkar Tirani (Art Dismantles Tyranny), “Collective artworks, in other words, are a critique of the reification of art and the commodification of its artists.”[67]

This quote from Wulan Dirgantoro and Elly Kent, published on June 29, 2022, followed the take down on June 21 of People’s Justice, Taring Padi’s 8-meter x 12-meter banner that was placed in front of documenta Halle, and showed classical stereotypes of antisemitism.[68] This quote provides us with a rather complex constellation of a collective practice, neglecting authorship and the artwork’s distribution as a commodity.[69] It also points to the open and relative process of production that obfuscates responsibilities by rendering its own positionality unlocatable inside a collective. I refer to responsibility not in a manner of “find the culprit”—which can be much more easily done in cooperative production—, but in a manner of performing a position that is locatable and is able to speak from a position, without tricks of relativism.[70]

There are two relational nodes to be mentioned in this field that might help to understand the deep implications of the different modes of production—cooperation and collaboration—and its implementations in a larger system: Competition–Interdependence and Flexibility–Precarity. For a closer look at the notion of competition and interdependence I would like to refer to Lynn Margulis, whom I have written about elsewhere.[71] On flexibility vs. precarity, I want to briefly hint at Biao Xiang, who complicates the notion of precarity as a universal critique of unstable labor conditions triggered in Western societies by the neoliberal economic agendas of individualizing working conditions and the consequent outsourcing of many social security programs with it.[72]

To return to the exhibitionary complex: with this understanding of the concept of precarity, not only would the critique of precarious labor in the artistic field have to change its conception to align it with other forms of oppression, but it might also be a misconception of specific “precarious” forms to argue that all flexible labor conditions—self-realization and DIY/DIWO practices alike—are a universal form of management of the self and a forced entrepreneurial orientation concerning all aspects of one’s life in the “Western” neoliberal logic.

Problematizations of Commoning in Lumbung One
So far, I have discussed the various threats that could have been seen on the horizon with ruangrupa’s proposal for a documenta with methods of decentered authority, of disengagement of the art market and art history, with a focus on collective practices, and a strong impetus toward the formation of webs of solidarities that establish a system of redistribution rather than of recognition. Needless to say, this endeavor, with its multiple threats, presents an enormous challenge. In the next part, I would like to problematize a few subjects that might pose a challenge to the proposal and its actual realization. I want to state here that I am aiming for a critique that is a truthful and thorough analysis of concepts and phenomena. I will do so using the methods I know best from cultural studies and its authorial referencing and thinking with other sources that are available to me at the time of writing.

Complexities of “Scaling Up”
The problems of “scaling up” commons are often discussed in the discourse on commons and also present a challenge for Lumbung One. The intimate collaboration based on interpersonal exchange is easily lost when the number of the commoners is increased from fifty to 1,500 people. Suddenly, the emphasis on the artistic-curatorial practice is occupied foremost with setting up managerial infrastructures to feed in all the contributions by the various participants. A responsive position is nearly impossible to sustain, given the time and financial constraints of every exhibition project. However, this also gives the “strategic” agents enough space amid the vast number of participants in this network for their own agenda. The insistence on an unconditional form of trust[73] in the network makes it difficult to find nuanced ways to deal with “strategic friends,” “critical friends,” or “toxic friends” for an exhibition that is always a “product” of a representation—even if only temporary. At a very basic level—in daily life, in work environments, and on the political stage—, we all are confronted with our problematic friends, with grandparents’ traditionalist worldviews, with ideology-imbued peers with racist, antisemitic, misogynist, etc., thought patterns. One way to deal with this is to withdraw. However, I have learned that this is not ruangrupa’s method, which is instead a “radically” inclusive one.

The Question of (Un)conditional Solidarity
The “scaling up in solidarity” can become an even more seriously problematic function, as it holds the danger of universalizing solidarity in relativizing ways and equalizing struggles at the global level without their complex, situated contexts and practices. It runs the serious risk of ideologizing the specific practices of resistance under the lowest common denominator and produces—reproduces?—a rather dusty image of an antagonistic, binary world structure in an old-school geopolitical counter/hegemonic sense. Solidarity is then yet another universalist tool to produce trenches. Trenches that cannot be overcome. This is the last stage so far—this text was finalized shortly after the end of documenta fifteen at the end of September—of the final twists and turns of the conflict between Lumbung One and its apparent counterparts.[74] A state that, despite all odds, hopefully can be overcome!

The community formations at play at this documenta are based on shared experiences of resistance against many scenarios of oppression, but primarily uttered toward the capitalist system and the logic of the nation-state. This is evident on many levels, in the many works on display that speak of oppression and communal struggles against large corporate and state structures, and in many written contributions and interviews by ruangrupa and other lumbung members. This is also evident in the decision to omit the mention of the nationalities of the artists and collectives, instead situating the artists and their practice in their place of residency and using time zones to indicate where they are located. Apart from being a rather helpful side benefit for the various online meetings that had to be organized across different time zones, it also points to the refusal of the classical funding scheme, where all artists have to indicate their national identity and are immediately placed in (postcolonial?) hierarchies. Consequently, informational materials on the artists' biographies most of the time only mention their place of residence, never their national identity. It is even more surprising that—throughout the whole exhibition and the accompanying texts—one name of a nation-state (at least its project to become a nation)—Palestine—is repeatedly mentioned.

1. Prompt: Re-Location
Imagine transporting documenta fifteen as a whole, with all its works and activities, to another city, another country, another context...

Answer the question: what would be found as offensive? What would have been urged to be taken down. Which works? Which practices?

Different Methods of Counter-Hegemony
But let’s take a step back. In all the interviews and announcements and personal encounters, ruangrupa talked about their own non-conflictual way that has developed in the culture of Indonesia, where antagonism is rather unknown. In Geronimo Cristóbal’s article in Third Text on October 26, 2020, he cites from an interview of farid rakun conducted by Pedro Lasch:

‘We have different sensibilities’. Cultural differences, however, have diversified their modes of activism, which the group notes in Indonesia lacks the kind of antagonism with government seen in other parts of the world. Such antagonism is ‘not the strategy that can work in our context... There’s less violence.’[75]

And even in our encounters and meetings with various members of ruangrupa, I never felt an antagonistic approach was at hand. Rather, our encounters could be described in terms of contact zones, where open discussions and thoughts could be uttered and picked up, or not.

Conflictuality in discourse is a tool developed more in “Western” thought, and adding cultural hegemony struggles to violent real-life contexts takes conflict and its connotations to another level. Speaking from a commons perspective, a—perhaps—tamed contact zone might be better suited to creating a common ground for understanding, exchange, and solidarity. And I still consider this approach ruangrupa’s intention, after all. However, this did not prevent other forms from entering documenta fifteen, especially with ruangrupa’s open approach: besides many specific and situated collective practices of resistance, and the creation of solidarities between lumbung artists and the public, there was also an ideology-driven community mobilization project to be found. It unfolded over time and ended with the compartmentalization of lumbung (as an entity) in solidarity, which exposed the problematic sides of community building by establishing a clear line between “we” and “them,” the one-to-one of hegemonic and counter-hegemonic strategies.

2. Prompt: De-Radicalization
Create a gathering as a contact zone that discusses a relevant local issue. Avoid weaponizing identities and avoid instrumentalizing speech acts and other utterances.

Be sensitive to these words: "they," "them," "us," "we," "comrades," and comparisons or other tricks of whataboutism.
Expand the list of words and phrases that trigger enclosures.
Share your experiences.

Recalling the initial impact by ruangrupa, it is surprising, paradoxical, or even schizophrenic how the scandal and scandalization unfolded throughout documenta fifteen, which began in January 2022 with—to make a long story short—a troll attack.

The first accusations against documenta fifteen were voiced in a blog of “The Alliance Against Anti-Semitism Kassel,” which spoke of “involvement of anti-Israeli activists” and alleged support for BDS and condemned documenta as a purely antisemitic project.[76] These accusations were picked up by media outlets in Germany and elsewhere and repeated—it is fair to say—without doing any research of their own on the matter. In this dynamic, a response letter was put forward, distributed via e-flux Notes on May 7, 2022.[77] And I would argue that with this letter, the counter/hegemonic machinery was set in full force.
The long letter dealt in length with a rather academic argument about definitions of what antisemitism, anti-Zionism, and criticism of Israel are. In all its details and specific context, it does not so much pursue the goal of openly explaining the struggles of Palestinians from the perspective of civil societies, but rather served to set its own agenda, namely, to attempt to redefine the boundaries between what counts as antisemitism and legitimate criticism of the state of Israel:

The Working Definition of Anti-Semitism, often just IHRA definition for short, is a definition originally developed informally for monitoring purposes. Attached to it are practical examples that refer primarily to common examples of criticism of Israel. It has been adopted, sometimes without the controversial examples, by numerous organizations, from governments to soccer clubs. The definition has been heavily scrutinized, one of the authors, Kenneth Stern, has publicly bemoaned its political “weaponizing”. […]
A [sic] a reaction, internationally recognized scholars from the fields of Holocaust studies, anti-Semitism studies, and Jewish studies have developed the "Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism" in order to more clearly delineate between positions critical of Israel, including anti-zionist, from anti-Semitism (https://jerusalemdeclaration.org/).[78]

And it also made its own accusations that Germany was incapable of a “neutral”(?) discourse on the Israel-Palestine conflict. It was such an extensive piece written in such detail that the “normal public” was clearly overwhelmed. And between the lines, it seemed like too strong a response to an accusation that was said to be unfounded. Simply put, it seemed to have struck a nerve. If one had not wanted this conflict to be amplified in such a hegemonic way, one would have had to write deflectively and generalize. An all-encompassing response letter against all forms of racism (naming antisemitism, ableism, misogyny…) was precisely what was presented after the first letter, but it was too late. Experienced in digital communication, we all know: do not feed the troll. Unless you want to end up in a never-ending dispute, no one can “win.” And the first response letter felt exactly like that, an intentional “trolling back”—by someone taking over a public discourse? So, the question of who wrote the first letter is to find out the intentions and the respond-able position. It is not about pointing fingers at someone, but about understanding the context from which we speak. This is a prerequisite for situated knowledges and mutual understanding through exchange—which should not be disguised as something else.

A Short Excursion into (Counter-)Hegemony
Historically, the theory of hegemony describes nothing other than the relationship between the dominance of one party (state, cities, milieus) over other parties (other states, other cities, society at large). It is a framework for looking at the geopolitical power relations between dominance and subjugation. It occurs in different forms in different places and times. In this sense, hegemony can also help describe the colonial power of European states over their colonies, both back then and in today’s post-colonial dynamic. Oliver Marchart applies this idea to the cultural realm with Antonio Gramsci's further development of the theory of cultural hegemony—Gramsci analyzed the modern nation-state in the early decades of the 20th century and its fascist tendencies with what he called “cultural hegemony”—and Marchart specifically applies this to the history of the last six documentas.[79] It is essential to understand that these large-scale exhibition projects—the many European biennials and documenta—come from the tradition of the “Western” public museum,[80] and—to keep it short—are set up infrastructurally within the art field and society in national frameworks as tools to convince society at large—not by blunt force, but by persuasion—of a dominant worldview. This worldview was historically attached to nation-building, and in contemporary global terms, large-scale exhibitions might still serve “civil, national, occidental, or Europeanist dominant culture,” according to Marchart, which he therefore calls “Hegemony Machines.”[81] But like any other not fully determined “public” space, there will be unauthorized behavior:

On the other hand, however—and herein lies the irony—major exhibitions of this kind will never succeed in keeping the effects they produce completely under control. Wherever resources are available, they will also be tapped by unauthorized persons.”[82]

A large-scale exhibition in this sense—precisely because it is embedded in a hegemonic cultural infrastructure—can be changed from the dominant perspective by “unauthorized” persons. Hegemony is not to be confused with the dominant position but describes the “unstable balance of forces, in which there are always dominant and subordinate forces, […] consolidated by the civil society’s institutional network in favor of one side.”[83]

Following this thought, we might be in the fortunate position of being observers of a major hegemonic shift and its impacts on the art field at large with its artists, curators, cultural producers, and publics… Marchart sees these “Tectonic Shifts in the Art Field” starting to occur already with dX, the 1997 edition of documenta headed by Catherine David, and with Okwui Enwezor’s D11 in 2002. Others would rather point to documenta fifteen as a bigger breaking point in history. This becomes clear when one follows the director of the Van Abbemuseum, Charles Esche, who calls documenta fifteen “The 1st Exhibition of the 21st Century.”[84] In contrast to established critical practices within the art field, this documenta exceeded criticality as a passive practice and built its own infrastructure of friendship (with an inclination towards subsistence), before art and its embeddedness in modernity; hence, “Make friends, not art.” But I would shy away from following Esche’s argument entirely, which ends in a highly reductionist trenching of the mechanisms of oppression of the “White Male Power,” realized in “German mass media” and their “scandalization” of documenta fifteen. Esche spoke of the “calcification of Europe,” as a metaphor for the inability to move or open one's own epistemological system. Ironically, this can be seen as the flip side of Brock’s “End of Europe.” Seen from a distance—or maybe just from a specific feminist perspective—both (Esche and Brock) are powerful hegemonic locutions in the logic of name-making and in the promotion of the self, yet another “Western” practice of the author in cultural capital, an attention-guaranteeing practice that “Western” artists, and “non-Western” artists alike, have perfected. Seen benevolently, Esche entered into defense mode for ruangrupa and the lumbung community—and ultimately for his own cause, which will be picked up later—an effect of the pressure ruangrupa and documenta fifteen had to endure.[85]

But on a structural level, with a good counter/hegemonic strategy, Esche took on the task of creating the dominant narrative for this very multi-vocal documenta—together with Philippe Pirotte and Nikos Papastergiadis, I might add. All were invited to speak at the symposium. Pirotte and Esche—both important veterans in the European cultural field, as curators and directors of museums and art institutions—spoke from a rather similar anti-imperialist perspective: can this “taking over” be called a form of representation in extractivist logic? Meanwhile, Papastergiadis complicated the relationship between multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism.[86] And I don’t want to miss this opportunity to mention Nuraini Juliastuti’s presentation on the last day of this symposium, since these situated and complex attempts of positioning fall more than often into oblivion. I would argue that she spoke from a non-universalizing position, presenting four situated stories—and yet theorized: critically and in attempt to connect to a larger infrastructural thinking—that used a different epistemological method.[87]

Which Ways of Counter/hegemony?
Esche’s critical thoughts on strategies to “humble” modernity—embedded, I would say, in the critical discourse that the art field has had to offer in recent decades—aimed at a new alliance (or front?) very much in line within counter/hegemony theory, ultimately re-introducing the narrative of the “West and the rest” with slightly altered frontlines. Esche and Marchart report on a huge hegemonic shift in which we find ourselves: Esche is eager to dismantle “European” modernity and its multiple and deep-rooted effects around the world, seeing primarily its exploitative aspects. Marchart emphasizes the shift in the art field from apolitical consumption and contemplation of a purely aesthetic experience to a critical, political and theory-driven presentation of art that is open to a broader public sphere. Both perspectives may have been seen on the “same side” before documenta fifteen but find themselves in different areas between the trenches afterwards.

Yet—to complicate matters by introducing a new perspective—I would like to focus for a moment on questions of the hegemonic methods at play: is the process of forming new alliances carried out through means of manipulative propaganda and antagonistic and vigorous campaigns—choosing “sides”—in any way a good way? Is this form of trench-building valuable beyond creating temporary majorities for dominant opinion? In its current form of radicalization and weaponization, it seems to be the dominant method. But in the long run, it seems more destructive, as forms of reconciliation are ruled out in this scenario, so it appears. Even in the discourse of hegemony theory, there are suggestions of acknowledgments—not without criticism within the discourse of hegemony, of course—that opponents should not be seen as “enemies,” according to Chantal Mouffe:

A central task of […] politics is to provide the institutions which will permit conflicts to take an ‘agonistic’ form, where the opponents are not enemies but adversaries among whom exists a conflictual consensus.[88]

But let us not get into the inner theoretical discourse of hegemony theory here. The current dominance of a certain type of propagandistic method in hegemonic struggles is real and a problem. It is worth examining the current evolution of this radicalization and its multiple effects on the social fabric. A projected future of scarcity, a feeling of losing power and wealth—for a dominant group of people who have never known it any other way—, the essentialization of identity and the weaponization of speech acts in political formations of identity, a profound transformation of interpersonal communication, and forms of social relations shaped by digital mass media, all of this accelerated by a global pandemic beginning in March 2020—all of these can be starting points for answers.

But on a more profound level, and to put it naively, are these counter/hegemonic strategies—old or new—even capable of producing a “better” world for all—or at least for more? Or—more elaborated —are hegemonic strategies capable of “making meanings, and [of making] a […] commitment to faithful accounts of a ‘real’ world, one that can be partially shared and that is friendly to earthwide projects of finite freedom, adequate material abundance, modest meaning in suffering, and limited happiness.”[89]

Hegemony Formed by Contemporary Propaganda
Unfortunately, however, we have to deal with the propagandistic methods of the hegemony of today. documenta fifteen proposed—among other things—highlighting and amplifying many oppressed struggles by inviting various artists and activist collectives who came with their specific practices of resistance. It was hoped that a complex multiplicity of "partially shared" solidarities would emerge, and so it did. But there was another hegemonic instrument at play that shaped a political solidarity movement in ideological formation.

It is one thing to—also—highlight the struggle of Palestinians’ lived experience in Gaza that contains also experiences made under military rule in the Israeli-occupied territories. It is another thing to (re-)establish an ideological framework that sets out to (re)create the myth of Palestine as the ultimate and universal placeholder for a struggle against oppression. Considered individually, important contextualization of Palestinian struggles—e.g., the displayed texts and documentation material alongside the works of Eltiqua at WH22, a location curated by Question of Funding—is made.

Picture taken at the area curated by Question of Funding at WH22. You see texts that describe the situation in Gaza through artistic practice is possible.


However, seen in its entirety—which is not an easy task to do in this immense documenta—, there is a clear ideological structure at work: the aim is to position Palestine as a universal imaginary of resistance and anti-colonial struggle, and further to link the Palestinian struggle with all other collective struggles—in order to form a united front, which some claim is the lumbung community. This was finally expressed publicly by Lara Khaldi, a member of the artistic team of documenta fifteen, in a symposium organized outside of documenta by Framer Framed, the Van Abbemuseum, and the University of Amsterdam, one day before the end of documenta fifteen. Khaldi said: “Many of the artists and collectives of documenta included [Palestinian struggle] […] this is anti-colonial struggles in solidarity. The Black Archives had an amazing shelf of books in the exhibition about solidarity between the black struggle and Palestinian struggle. […] It’s an intersectional struggle, and it will [now, after documenta fifteen] come up everywhere, in queer struggle, in the anti-colonial struggle, it keeps coming out. […] How will the institutions deal with it?”[90]
If this is not a successful hegemonic maneuver, then what is?

Images taken of the installation by The Black Archives at Fridericianum.


Hegemonic “Winners”
Curating and curatorial practice then becomes a practice of ideological propaganda. And a new role of the curator emerges as the leader or shaper of hegemonic movements, able to shape new alliances and create a bigger narrative. This capacity for narrative influence and myth-building—not a new capability for curatorial discourse, but one that works unashamedly in a propagandist way—usually pays off. Khaldi was appointed the new director of de Appel, a curatorial program in Amsterdam, the day after documenta fifteen ended.

Mastering hegemonic maneuvers not only leads to personal gain, it also likely (re-)produces stereotypical structures. At least this is how I understood the oppositional comparison by Gertrude Flentge—also a curator in the artistic team of documenta fifteen—after Khaldi’s input, when she stated: “Speaking about Israel and Palestine—[pauses] the institution and the lumbung.” Israel stands for institution, and institution stands for capitalism; Palestine stands for lumbung, and lumbung stands for resistance in friendship and solidarity. This shows a clear old and deeply rooted stereotypical pattern that was reinvented at documenta fifteen—with the help of few agents.

Fig.15: Screenshot of the panel discussion “Other Ways of documenta-ing: Democracy, Inclusion, and Decolonised Models of Art” with speakers Charles Esche, Ade Darmawan, Lara Khaldi, and Gertrude Flentge, moderated by Wayne Modest.
The symposium “(un)Common Grounds: Reflecting on documenta fifteen” took place at Framer Framed at the Akademie van Kunsten in the Trippenhuis, Amsterdam from September 23 to 24, 2022.


Far from searching for “culprits,” I would like to bring these hegemonic struggles, which are fought with specific propagandistic means, to a structural level. Let us assume that in hegemonic thinking the—temporarily—dominant forces can simply be called “winners.” The “winners” are those who can shape the reading of documenta fifteen and produce meaning and a narrative in a larger public framework. You might see these “winners,” at least in the art field, sitting on the panel I mentioned before. But from the perspective of discursive formations, it is not so much the Palestinian artists shown, but rather their spokespersons who can be called “winners,” and also the spokespersons of the imagined “other side”—the Israeli state? Or the defendants of a Jewish community?—since documenta fifteen ultimately gave vocal expression to the Israel-Palestine conflict. And basically, not much has changed in the creation of the speaker position, almost fifty years after Michel Foucault's fundamental critique of exclusions in discursive formations. It is once again approved intellectual actors in a discursive formation, this time from “oppositional sides.” In order to break up this well-oiled oppositional framework,—still—other actors have to be able to enter the stage.[91]

From a perspective of situated practices, documenta fifteen might have benefitted by starting with ruangrupa’s own embeddedness in the Indonesian context.[92]

“Documentation” as Propagandist Tools
For a better understanding of the various propaganda methods enacted at documenta and alongside it, and in response to it, I would like to look at one of the controversial works exhibited, the Tokyo Reels. Before doing so, however, I should point out that other forms of propaganda were active at documenta, for example, in form of caricatures in the works by Taring Padi,[93] or the collages by Eltiqua,[94] or in Richard Bell’s and INSTAR’s activities, to name but a few. Some resemble an “old-school” leftist kitsch aesthetic and indulge in nostalgic gestures of resistance, others reduce complexity to make a pointed statement, still others “propagate” important issues to make them visible and sayable. Nonetheless, there is a discernible line that runs throughout documenta that places some works in an ideological lineage. This is pretty obvious if you count all the references to nation-states or to national projects. Avoiding nation-state logic was yet another call-for-change idea by ruangrupa to avoid categorizing artists under a national flag. For me, this is a strong sign against the determination of a national identity. It speaks not only to commons’ desire for independence within national frameworks, but also to a post-migrant idea of belonging, of situated knowledges in collective practices.

3. Prompt: Counting Names of Nation-States
Count the names of nation-states (or names of nation-state projects) in a large-scale exhibition (like documenta). Include the names within works, in excerpts, in descriptions…
Which name was mentioned most often? Which name appeared second most often […]? Which name came in last place?

Trolling, Dog Whistling, and Revival of (Leftist) Kitsch?
Tokyo Reels[95] is an interesting work in propagandist terms, since it cleverly brings together an assemblage of themes and aspects—politics of documenting and archiving, themes of solidarity and propaganda, issues of artistic freedom and curatorial contextuality—that may not be immediately apparent and turn out differently depending on the viewer’s position. Tokyo Reels is a ten-hour screening consisting of approximately twenty historical propaganda films on 16mm by different auteurs. The individual film works come from different contexts and were produced for different audiences. There is lot of promotional material in a tourist point of view, produced from “Western countries” for “Western audiences” to find. Other films depict war-like scenarios, reporting from Israel-Palestine for a national TV audience—for Japan, the United Kingdom, and others. Still others cover highly ideological war propaganda and political speeches from a Palestinian perspective. Among the conglomeration of material—a few of them interesting case studies to be analyzed and contextualized for cultural and postcolonial studies, e.g., along the line of Edward Said’s Orientalism, and as cultural forms of the Othering of the “Orient” by “The West,” and subsequently self-othering mechanisms—even the “neutral” perspectives uttered in public media, find “propaganda in the form of exaggerations and untrue insinuations regarding the Israeli ‘enemy’ […] that are ‘carried out in places in the films’. These are ‘[…] only understandable against the background of the armed Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the time, with its flaming rhetoric on both sides.”[96]

The curatorial context, with its aspects of spatial representation, adds nothing to the historical contextualization: the screening is installed with the largest projection of documenta fifteen, in a darkened and rather emptied space reserved solely for the works of the artists’ collective Subversive Films. Between the individual films, Subversive Films comments unagitated— almost whispering—on the material shown. There are subliminal insinuations of criticism of the archive’s function vis-à-vis toxic material, but otherwise little contextualization or positioning occurs. For example, I heard a comment between two films that stated, “It might be a question if these kinds of materials should be archived, but we think it’s worth it.” But given the ten hours of material, no one can form a comprehensive impression of the works on view, and the lack of any contextualization in the whole installation cries for outrage. Intentional?

Installation view of Tokyo Reels by Subversive Films at Hübner Areal.


Fig.17b: A warning sign was put up at one point. By whom?


The accompanying text—on the back of the screening wall and on the website—likewise provides too little to help contextualize the works in their historical contexts and their original fields of use. On the contrary, it obscures or downplays the contexts of their distribution and archiving, by “shedding light on the overlooked and still undocumented anti-imperialist solidarity between Japan and Palestine.”[97] The footage apparently belonged to Masao Adachi, a former member of the Japanese Red Army whose life story should certainly trigger warnings and require a careful introduction. Adachi was active in the “Japanese New Wave” film movement in Japan, making films with “leftist” political themes, but went on to join the Japanese Red Army in 1970, radicalized, and moved to Lebanon. Calling the Japanese Red Army’s actions “solidarity relations between Tokyo, Palestine, and the world” is euphemistic at best. I can’t help but read this as a huge trolling move, as it calls for solidarity under cheap, “old-fashioned” agit-prop effects of a “transnational militant cinema”—echoing a tried-and-true avant-garde-style shock aesthetic disguised as documentary footage. Mohanad Yaqubi, one of the members of the Subversive Film collective, prefers to define these propaganda films as “solidarity films” or “Restoring Solidarity.”[98] In the long run, this could be problematic for a peaceful solidarity network like the one lumbung is aiming for.

My impression of being trolled—a speech act invented merely to provoke outrage—or mocked (is Subversive Film trying to poke fun at the rather aesthetic effects of these old-school agit-prop materials?) would point to a historical lineage in radical avant-garde and post-avant-garde artistic practices that reinvented shock and tricksterism. Then the work would subtly comment on the violence of some “Western” avant-garde artistic practices that exploited attention effects and shock as mere gestures for hollowed-out social change. This reading would correspond to a distanced art thinking deeply embedded in the "Western" art discourse of postmodernism of the 2000s.

Another reading might be to call it simply “dog whistling,” a precisely coded articulation for a politicized group under the radar, a politicized speech act masquerading as harmless to the uninformed. Along this line, the soft-spoken, fluffy statement can be taken in: “Subversive Film proposes to collectively reflect on possible processes of unearthing, restoring, and momentary disclosure of the imperfect archives of transnational militant cinema. By bringing back into circulation these moving images, they carefully reactivate present-day solidarity constellations, reflecting the lively utopia of a worldwide liberation movement”[99]. What does “carefully reactivate” mean in a militant framework? And what does “worldwide liberation movement” actually mean, given the history of real acts of violence within the history of Red Army Factions? Ultimately, Subversive Film can turn out to be a place for dark tourism.

It would do no favors to the many other works and resistant practices, as it would discredit the significant and relevant issues articulated in documenta fifteen: Trampoline House has also created an installation at the Hübner Areal—not far from Tokyo Reels—that tackles the European and especially the Danish “treatment” of migrants. But there are many other aspects of migration and marginalized struggles to be found throughout documenta fifteen. There are science and ecology-related works to be found (Water System Project by Cao Minghao and Chen Jianjun,[100] and the Kiri project[101]); issues of property relations (Who Is Afraid of Ideology by Marwa Arsanios,[102] an ongoing film series showing very complex entanglements of de-commoning threats in Lebanon), confrontations with religious (re)reappropriation (the entire exhibition at the Roman Catholic Church of St. Kunigundis by Atis Rezistans | Ghetto Biennale) and many gender-related issues, especially the struggles of LGTBQI+ (see the works by New Zealand collective FAFSWAG at Stadtmuseum Kassel) and feminist struggles (Archives des luttes des femmes en Algérie’s archive of the women's movement in Algeria, or Saodat Ismailova's work Chilltan, depicting the collective of forty genderless beings—a core of Central Asian spirituality), etc.

Installation view of the area occupied by Trampoline House at Hübner Areal.


Picture taken in the Roman Catholic Church of St. Kunigundis curated by Atis Rezistans | Ghetto Biennale.

These heterogeneous and complex issues are ultimately dominated by a hegemonic maneuver that produced a subtle red thread with Subversive Film’s Tokyo Reels as its central point, taking a turn from societal and communal forms of solidarity to a solidarity in militancy. And ultimately all the efforts to show the practices of situated collective artists and activists—concrete and relevant struggles—are discarded and shifted to the map of a (supposedly leftist) vintage kitsch-agit-prop struggle, still entrenched in the logic of the Cold War.

Two Types of Artworks
Broadly speaking, there are two types of artworks on view here: you will find contemporary (i.e., current) artistic collective artworks that are situational, and relational, and aim to create new relationships beyond the realm of art. As an example, I would like to refer to the non-profit collective Baan Noorg Collaborative Arts and Culture. Baan Noorg built an impressive installation at the documenta Halle called Churning Milk, with a video work, a skateboard ramp, and pieces from the Thai shadow puppet theater Nang Yai—both for use. Baan Noorg has also managed to create a dairy farm exchange program between a farm in Kassel and Nongpho.[103] There are plentiful other “artworks” oriented in the same way, which I will not list here.

View of documenta Halle: In front the print workshop, in the middle Baan Noorg’s skateramp, and in the back Britto Art Trust’s rasad.


Baan Noorg’s theater pieces in use.

Other artworks—usually more traditional works of art that are also traditionally exhibited—follow a more binary logic. These works do not refuse to speak to the power of representation that an institution like documenta holds. And so, in the best hegemonic structure, these works—and its curated placement in display—use the power of representation to (re)produce myths, to establish a dominant narrative—to naturalize and universalize it—within the rules of the exhibitionary complex as an educational machine that we all had to learn and constantly question.

4. Prompt: Observing Art in a State-Oriented Logic
Can you find works of art that can be considered artworks within a state-oriented logic or can be seen as "state art" in large-scale exhibitions?
What aspects make these artworks an expression of a national identity to you?

Ways Forward
One can assume that the entire documenta fifteen has been envisioned by ruangrupa as a staging of various struggles—a staging that is not exhausted in a mode of representation but aims to strengthen the many collectives—also financially—and to create deeper relationships between the many participants of documenta fifteen, especially the artist groups and activists, but also the public. Many of these struggles spring from the artist’s own first-hand experiences with marginalization and can understandably lead to hate towards the oppression. Other works on display speak to learned or mediated, generational second-hand experiences, most of which can be seen in archival material. And there are also large collective stereotypical narratives touched upon—imaginary, historically (re-)produced over a longer time and naturalized. These are embedded—not only in right-wing propaganda, but also—in the fabric of anti-imperialist movements and the aspects of their global conspiracy: everything comes together and is on display in this documenta. One could argue that this amalgamation is nothing new, as it mirrors the mindset of most people around the world on a daily basis with varying degrees. But precisely this amalgamation was the core problem that led to the scandal and scandalization of documenta fifteen, as the different struggles did not stand on their own but were subsumed under a greater narrative. Some see only their specific struggle in front of them, others see a stereotypical ideology that potentially incites hate crimes.

How to Go On From Here?
Charles Esche’s strategy of “humbling European modernity” turned out, it seems, less humbling in its approach. Rather, he argues for compartmentalizing and moving forward with a unified alliance of (forced?) solidarity for “a” change. In his talk at the symposium “(un)Common Grounds: Reflecting on documenta fifteen,”[104] he concluded his statement by saying: “The conservative radical, conservative left, who says, we want a change [of value], we have to have change, but not that change, and every specific change is always excluded in the desire of being [colonial? The last word was muffled]. And lumbung is a change, and what Hito Steyerl from the conservative left and those people say, ‘Yes, we want change, but not your change,’ and that is as negative a response as any from the far right.”

Esche spoke out at a delicate moment, in a time of heated awareness in the midst of the hegemonic struggle. His utterance might be a response to the ongoing criticism by rather conservative newspapers, judging documenta fifteen as a whole as antisemitic, among other things. Yet, it exemplifies a particular mode of operation, which is to establish the dominant narrative by excluding other positions and “closing ranks.” Esche derides the calls for change expressed in the contemporary and progressive art discourse—for decolonial practices in the exhibitionary complex, for repatriation, for “radical inclusions”— as critiques not willing to be realized. He seems to have lost faith in these discourses, or simply does not want to wait for the change—maybe understandably. But! But how can “change” be produced with these tools of propagation? And what change is produced with that? We have to insist—always—to ask and question "what change"!
In a pointed question posed by Maayan Sheleff to Oliver Marchart during the lecture he gave on July 7, 2022, as part of the Summer School “Commoning Curatorial and Artistic Education” at the CAMP notes on education format at documenta fifteen, in which he mainly presented the arguments of his book Hegemony Machine: documenta X to fifteen and the Politics of Biennalization, Sheleff asked Marchart: “You wrote [in your book Conflictual Aesthetics[105]], ‘Curating politically means organizing, agitating and propagating.’ If you are ruangrupa, what would you suggest we do in order to enable conflict in different ways as the ones in the moment?”

This question puts a finger in the wound of political curating as agitation. Marchart responded by pointing to a more open design of conflictual formations. Despite the concept of conflictuality discussed in hegemony theory as the main driving force of political movements with an agonistic debate that allows for different opinions, he sees the problem of current forms of activism in the avoidance of inner-group conflicts and rather in the externalization of conflicts through exclusion mechanisms and even more through the pressure to “choose a side.” He argued for an emancipatory form of activism that develops a new sense of how conflicts can be acted out rather than suppressed internally.

But even with its expanded version of hegemony theory, the political theory of hegemony historically builds on war vocabulary, it speaks of trenches, parties in constant struggle for new alliances for a dominant hegemonic front—a never-ending battlefield that becomes a political playground in culture for majorities. A “game” played peacefully and without reconciliation only when unlimited resources are available. The image of today’s hegemonic propaganda machine leads to an entrenched scenario—in leftist Kitsch?—detached from reality and to winners by distinction. So, the question is, how can we solidarize without radicalization? Without essentializing identity and without weaponizing every speech act into ideology?
Possible answers would have to address how these new formations, which challenge the traditional infrastructure of culture and life—and subsistence—can be constructed in such a way that they are not easily hijacked—or appropriated—by hegemonic maneuvers from within and from outside. Answers need to find a way, how to de-essentialize identity—since identity is nonetheless a contingent formation—, how to avoid gestures of innocent positioning as safe rescue zones, and how to share responsibilities in all positions.

5. Prompt: Propositional Exhibition
Consider documenta fifteen as what is shown and implemented (and not what would be if, or what is missing or needed, or what went wrong).

What does documenta fifteen make possible? What can we not do with it?

I strongly believe that we can only achieve this if we re-evaluate our critical tools and situate, contextualize, and—try to—translate positions. Concepts developed in theory and scientific methods in supposedly “Western” thought can be reappropriated for our own use. An utter dismissal of so-called “Western” knowledges is whimsical. I dare to say that I would rather opt for a renewed “discourse of truth” in feminist objectivity than to call for “the end of history” in a postmodern “hegemonic” game that renders all utterances as equally valid[106]—or equally opinionated.[107] Picturing theory as “only” a mechanism of exclusion and oppression fails to recognize the empowering effect of theory as a useful and practical tool for understanding one’s own position within society and how it is shaped. It denies the primary function of criticality to help to overcome one’s impulses of a naturalized common sense. It imagines a method only in patriarchal logic but dismisses its potential efficacy in feminist thought.

documenta fifteen presented many different positions, which was rather foreign in this form of a “Western” large-scale exhibition—linked to the logic within a nation-state, and modernity in general. It was a proposal that was difficult to “read”—or decipher—for “Western” publics, audiences, and press. In this sense, it was a radical—unapologetic—ostentation that not only shook the normally well sheltered art field—despite claims of “radicalization” on display—, but also caused cracks in the mode of representation of exhibitions by shifting from politics of recognition to a politics of redistribution. This proposal is something profoundly different from what we call “socially engaged art” or participatory art in the art discourse. And for better clarification—in this untested field, which has also made its own problems visible—I would call “Lumbung One” rather “Lumbung Zero.”

In terms of the exhibitionary complex, we could call it the “propositional transition” of museums. It can mean developing propositional exhibitions with social formations that take and display specific positions—not universalized ones. But these propositions must be equipped with (self-)critical tools. These propositions must be in permeable solidarities, in constant exchange and dispute, not in an enclosed framework of a new hegemony. In contrast to a view that sees the exhibitionary complex primarily through conflictuality, I would argue for emphasizing a framework for a political contact zone: a space where different world views, lived experiences, and situated knowledges come in contact to be shared and discussed. As conflicts in societies, communities, small groups, families, etc.—in their various forms from micro- to macro-politics—are inevitable anyway, a practice of “commoning” might be a better filter through which to see. It involves “learning” by doing, listening, showing, and discussing and trying to understand the situatedness of others, perhaps leading to an agreed understanding of a “truth.” In this way, it is in indeed a matter beyond the politics of the “left” or the “right.”

Once again, I want to refer to Donna Haraway’s words that so aptly summarize the idea of an infrastructure for a feminist objectivity in power-sensitive, rational, and situated knowledges that is critical and responsible—and desirably resistant to ideology and simplification:

Rational knowledge is a process of ongoing critical interpretation among "fields" of interpreters and decoders. Rational knowledge is power-sensitive conversation. Decoding and transcoding plus translation and criticism; all are necessary. So science becomes the paradigmatic model, not of closure, but of that which is contestable and contested. Science becomes the myth, not of what escapes human agency and responsibility in a realm above the fray, but, rather, of accountability and responsibility for translations and solidarities linking the cacophonous visions and visionary voices that characterize the knowledges of the subjugated. A splitting of senses, a confusion of voice and sight, rather than clear and distinct ideas, becomes the metaphor for the ground of the rational. We seek not the knowledges ruled by phallogocentrism (nostalgia for the presence of the one true World) and disembodied vision. We seek those ruled by partial sight and limited voice-not partiality for its own sake but, rather, for the sake of the connections and unexpected openings situated knowledges make possible. Situated knowledges are about communities, not about isolated individuals. The only way to find a larger vision is to be somewhere in particular. The science question in feminism is about objectivity as positioned rationality. Its images are not the products of escape and transcendence of limits (the view from above) but the joining of partial views and halting voices into a collective subject position that promises a vision of the means of ongoing finite embodiment, of living.[108]

This text was finalized November 1, 2022. A longer version of this text is available at my academia.edu account: https://zhdk.academia.edu/RKolb.

Ronald Kolb is a researcher, lecturer, curator, designer and filmmaker, based between Stuttgart and Zurich. Co-Head of the Postgraduate Programme in Curating, ZHdK and Co-Editor-in-Chief of the journal On-Curating.org.
PHD candidate in the Practice-Based Doctoral Programme in Curating, University of Reading/ZHdK. The PhD research deals with curatorial practices in global/situated contexts in light of governmentality – its entanglements in representational power and self-organized modes of participatory practices in the arts.


[1] This text is elaborated further in my dissertation, “Curating in the Global World.”

[2] documenta fifteen press release, “documenta fifteen and lumbung practice,” June 18, 2022, accessed August 22, 2022, https://documenta-fifteen.de/en/press-releases/documenta-fifteen-and-lumbung-practice.

[3] It is said that around 1,500 artists were exhibited or participating in documenta fifteen, accessed September 29, 2022, https://news.artnet.com/art-world/documenta-15-preview-2130857.

[4] See Donna Haraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016).

[5] Even though these high/low art distinctions have been tackled for at least two decades—since d11 by Okwui Enwezor—, they still trigger many misunderstandings and judgmental assessments.

[6] The press coverage framed the focus of the invited artists for documenta under the label of the “Global South,” though I would like to reject this terminology, since it produces a simplified and streamlined understanding of the various, utterly diverse art and practices invited to documenta fifteen. I would even say that even the curatorial team of documenta did not do enough to emphasize the specificities of the invited collectives and their contexts.

[7] Few gallery artists were involved in documenta fifteen. Most of the art on display was created outside of the regular distribution channels set up by galleries.

[8] For an early critique on the “modern autonomous individual,” I would like to refer to Michel Foucault’s lecture at the Collège de France on neoliberal governmentality, subsequently published in Economy and Society 30, no. 2 (May 2001): 190–207, 191. For Foucault’s thoughts applied to the exhibitionary complex, specifically for biennials, see Ronald Kolb, “The Curating of Self and Others: Biennials as Forms of Governmental Assemblages,” OnCurating 46: Contemporary Art Biennials—Our Hegemonic Machines in States of Emergency, eds. Ronald Kolb, Shwetal A. Patel, and Dorothee Richter (June 2020): 67–74.

[9] For a curiously ideological and apologetic stance against collectivity and for the single author, I would like to refer to a talk by Bazon Brock called “On the power-grotesque appropriation of the arts by cultures," subtitled "A dispute about the whole, the end of Europe.” The title was translated by the author. Lecture at the Kunstuniversität Linz, March 16, 2022, accessed August 30, 2022, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dOFuQgzyZQk.

[10] See Massimo De Angelis and Stavros Stavrides, “On the Commons: A Public Interview with Massimo De Angelis and Stavros Stavrides,” e-flux Journal 17 (June 2010), accessed August 29, 2022, https://www.e-flux.com/journal/17/67351/on-the-commons-a-public-interview-with-massimo-de-angelis-and-stavros-stavrides.

[11] For a specific insight into violent enclosures and the destruction of communal life in female populations, see Silvia Federici, Silvia Federici's Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation (New York: Autonomedia, 2019).

[12] For a historical analysis of commoners’ struggle in relation to the power of the sovereign from the perspective of the Magna Carta, see Peter Linebaugh, The Magna Carta Manifesto: Liberties and Commons for All (Oakland: University of California Press, 2009).

[13] Common projects might have started in a “Western”-known context with the Italian autonomia movement of the 1960s, and with kibbutz projects in Israel as a kind of enclosure for communist ideas on a small scale.

[14] For a stance towards (post-)digital commons, see Cornelia Sollfrank, Felix Stalder, and Shusha Niederberger, Aesthetics of the Commons (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2021).

[15] Kolb, “The Curating of Self and Others.”

[16] George Caffentzis, "The Future of 'The Commons': Neoliberalism's 'Plan B' or the Original Disaccumulation of Capital?," New Formations 69 (2010).

[17] See Ronald Kolb, “Situated Knowledges and Interdependence in the Exhibitionary-Educational Complex, OnCurating 53: Situated Knowledges in Art and Curating, eds. Ronald Kolb and Dorothee Richter (June 2022): 44.

[18] For more information to this project, I want to refer to the project website of citizenship: https://citizenship.zku-berlin.org/about, accessed August 29, 2022.

[19] The two-week summer school and public talk series “Commoning Curatorial and Artistic Education” organized by Dorothee Richter and Ronald Kolb took place from June 23—July 7, 2022, by the Shared Campus Platform, Zurich University of the Arts, as part of CAMP notes on education for documenta fifteen. Among other invited lecturers, we had a contribution by ZK/U live from their boat journey with citizenship.

[20] By using “we,” I am referring to the group that was established by the participants and the staff of the summer school “Commoning Curatorial and Artistic Education” that Dorothee Richter and I organized. We not only visited many exhibition areas together, but also talked intensively about what we saw and experienced. All participants conducted a workshop derived from their own practice.

[21] You will find most of the presentations by the guest lecturers here: https://camp-notesoneducation.de/events/commoning-curatorial-and-artistic-education-6-philip-horst-matthias-einhoff-einhoff-zku-zentrum-fur-kunst-und-urbanistik, accessed August 29, 2022.

[22] Caffentzis, "The Future of 'The Commons,’” 26.

[23] Dorothee Richter and I were invited to the Composting Knowledge Network and organized the Summer School “Commoning Curatorial and Artistic Education,” as explained above.

[24] Linebaugh, The Magna Carta Manifesto, 45.

[25] The Bataille Monument by artist Thomas Hirschhorn comes to mind as a localized project at d11, though one could question the form of the relationship between the local public and the artist and the public’s “participation.” One crucial problem I have with specific forms of socially engaged art is its practice of rendering the audience “material” for the artist’s work.

[26] documenta fifteen’s description of the Gudskul area on the website: https://documenta-fifteen.de/en/lumbung-members-artists/gudskul,.

[27] Ibid.

[28] documenta fifteen, “Fridericianum as a school. Fridskul,” accessed September 29, 2022, https://documenta-fifteen.de/en/fridskul.

[29] We learned that the many art mediators were seriously underpaid or had contracts in rather precarious forms. These problems were considered structural ones, since previous documentas had the same policy towards the art mediators giving guided tours.

[30] Among the many rumor-riddled processes backstage at documenta fifteen, one story thread around Emily Dische-Becker was “leaked” in a hidden recording that might show how the sobat-sobat were given specific guidelines in preparatory events on how they could react or deflect problematic questions on the issue of Israel-Palestine, and hence accusations of antisemitism, after they had previously been given workshops on antisemitism by the Anne Frank institution. For a chronologically well-prepared and thorough insight into this incident, see Dirk Peitz, “Am Rande,” Zeit Online, July 29, 2022, accessed September 22, 2022, https://www.zeit.de/kultur/kunst/2022-07/documenta-antisemitismus-emily-dische-becker/seite-2.

[31] According to Christina Schrott, some majelis participants were challenged to make certain decisions: “According to Christina Schott, within the mini-majelis that Taring Padi belonged to, artists were challenged by the sudden expectation to make decisions about matters with which they have no experience.” Wulan Dirgantoro and Elly Kent, “We need to talk! Art, offence and politics in Documenta 15,” New Mandala, June 29, 2022, accessed October 21, 2022, https://www.newmandala.org/we-need-to-talk-art-offence-and-politics-in-documenta-15/.

[32] documenta fifteen, “documenta fifteen announces exhibiting lumbung artists” accessed September 29, 2022, https://documenta-fifteen.de/en/news/documenta-fifteen-announces-exhibiting-lumbung-artists/.

[33] ruangrupa, documenta fifteen Handbook (Hatje Cantz, 2022). 21.

[34] documenta fifteen’s description of “Working Group lumbung Kios,” accessed September 25, 2022, https://documenta-fifteen.de/en/lumbung-kios.

[35] See the “about” page for information on the responsible personnel: https://www.theartists.net/about-us, accessed September 25, 2022.

[36] For more information on “LUMBUNG GALLERY“, see https://www.lumbunggallery.theartists.net/mission, accessed September 22, 2022.

[37] Not unlike artist-run “Produzentengallerien” from the 1970s in German-speaking areas, the self-governing desires of artists seeking to avoid the gallerist comes to mind. Not only can artists avoid a not-so-small cut taken from the gallerists, which provide the infrastructure that brings not only space and exposure, but—more importantly—cultural capital and, ultimately, legitimation. Gallerists usually also provide powerful collectors and can make an artist’s career. But they can also neglect artists and their works.

[38] Artworks by Britto Arts Trust on sale at the Lumbung Gallery, see https://www.lumbunggallery.theartists.net/artist/britto-arts-trust, accessed September 25, 2022.

[39] documenta fifteen, “Working Group lumbung Currency,” accessed September 25, 2022, https://documenta-fifteen.de/en/lumbung-currency.

[40] ruangrupa, “ruru, The 31st Bienal de São Paulo, Fundacao Bienal de São Paulo,” Sept. 7–Dec. 7, 2014, accessed September 29, 2022, https://ruangrupa.id/en/2014/09/06/ruru-the-31st-bienal-de-sao-paulo-fundacao-bienal-de-sao-paulo.

[41] ruangrupa, “COSMOPOLIS #1 COLLECTIVE INTELLIGENCE,” Oct. 18–Dec. 18, 2017, accessed September 29, 2022, https://ruangrupa.id/en/2017/10/18/ruangruparasite-cosmopolis-1-collective-intelligence.

[42] The phrase "documenta gGmbH" is used to denigrate the “real institutions” as accomplices of capital and the state. And, of course, documenta as an institution is directly linked to state policy, as a “limited liability company (Germany)”—although not profit-oriented in its status.

[43] In my PhD, I will work out the points of connection between a contemporary commons-led exhibition festival and the early World Fairs that Tony Bennett referred to in defining the birth of the public museum. Tony Bennett, The Birth of the Museum, History, Theory, Politics (London; New York: Routledge, 1995). For a first more historical outlook, see Ronald Kolb, “The Curating of Self and Others: Biennials as Forms of Governmental Assemblages.”

[44] I’m not saying that the “Western” author figure—the ““modern autonomous individual” sketched out during the Enlightenment is inextricably fused with capitalist structures, but it was clearly formed within this structure. I hope that important ideas of this subjectification can be resurrected in different formations.

[45] David Teh, “Who Cares a Lot? Ruangrupa as Curatorship,” in Afterall: A Journal of Art, Context and Enquiry 30 (Summer 2012): 108–117, accessed September 22, 2022,

[46] Early on, ruangrupa organized/curated events and exhibitions like OK Video Festival and later the Jakarta Biennial.

[47] How art enters art institutions and art history and ultimately makes an artist’s career, and maintains it financially, is a rather complex and often opaque process. A process where friendships and networking, ownership and financial speculation, and aesthetic expressions and evaluations—again embedded in societal and situated contexts—are intertwined.

[48] For an overview on the artist-curatorial discourse, see Simon Sheikh, “From Para to Post: The Rise and Fall of Curatorial Reason,” Springerin | Hefte Für Gegenwartskunst 1 (2017), accessed September 22, 2022, https://www.springerin.at/en/2017/1/von-para-zu-post/.

[49] documenta fifteen, “Sebastián Díaz Morales and Simon Danang Anggoro,” accessed September 22, 2022, https://documenta-fifteen.de/en/lumbung-members-artists/sebastian-diaz-morales-and-simon-danang-anggoro.

[50] I recall farid rakun in front of a monument facing west arguing that the monument could eventually face east from time to time.

[51] For an interesting example, see the installation by the Hannah Arendt Institute of Artivism (INSTAR) at documenta Halle, where the manifesto "Curadores, Go Home" by Sandra Ceballos was displayed, accusing curators of being agents of the art system and of the state. This might be true in certain constellations, like in Cuba, the location about which INSTAR speaks. But in a rather uncontextualized display formation at documenta Halle, one can only wonder what a non-invested audience picks up from this: I would argue a rather binary opposition between curator (as state) and artist (as suppressed individual).

[52] Teh, “Who Cares a Lot?”

[53] Sheikh, “From Para to Post.”

[54] The excerpts, translated from German by the author, were taken from an interview of Bazon Brock by Michael Köhler about documenta fifteen in Kassel, Deutschlandfunk, June 21, 2022, accessed September 29, 2022, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m20ZIRywiFY.

[55] Brock, “On the power-grotesque appropriation of the arts by cultures.”

[56] See this quote by farid rakun in an interview by Katerina Valdivia Bruch, March 3, 2020: “I think there is a danger to romanticise collectives, especially when it becomes a trend, which is the danger right now. But hopefully it is not like another trend. If you think about community building, technology offers another type of collectives that treats individuals differently, which is also something we can learn from. If you think about the young generation, for example, they have a different way of understanding reality, as there is almost no separation between what is real and what is virtual. They socialise and relate to each other differently. I think that it has a lot of consequences. Collectivity also grows through technology.” Katerina Valdivia Bruch, “Interview with Farid Rakun from ruangrupa,” culture360.asef.org, accessed September 22, 2022,

[57] Michel Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge and the Discourse on Language, trans. A.M. Sheridan Smith (New York: Pantheon Books, 1972).

[58] Why slightly? The current form of globalization has managed to interlock almost all areas of the world under the same conditions (capital, logistics, trade, etc.). And even earlier, on a worldwide scale, humankind can be considered a migratory species, with peaceful and violent “exchanges” throughout human history.

[59] I must confess that it is becoming increasingly difficult for me to use terms like “Western,” “Global South,” and “Global North.” The reductive and oftentimes misleading effects get in the way of a nuanced and precise description of situated knowledges. These loaded terms draw so much attention that a thorough analysis is in danger more often than not of falling short in its interpretation.

[60] It would be interesting to even look into the origin of modern-day art (production, market, and expression) in parallel with speculative capital. Looking at art production, consumption, and distribution starting from Duchamp’s famous pissoir turned upside down can be seen as an inspiration for speculation.

[61] documenta fifteen, “Practitheorizing Counter­institutions by The Question of Funding, OFF-Biennale Budapest,” workshop, September 9–10, 2022, accessed September 22, 2022, https://documenta-fifteen.de/en/calendar/practitheorizing-counterinstitutions.

[62] farid rakun talked about ruangrupa’s decision to emphasize story over theory for documenta fifteen in the workshop “Practitheorizing Counter­institutions.”

[63] Bruch, “Interview with Farid Rakun from ruangrupa.”

[64] Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, “On Cooperation,” January 1923, Marxists Internet Archive, accessed September 29, 2022, https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1923/jan/06.htm.

[65] Christina Schott, “documenta fifteen: Collaborators wanted,” Universes in Universe, accessed September 29, 2022, https://universes.art/es/documenta/2022/collaborators-wanted.

[66] But we know from art history of the 20th century that collectively produced art works can be rather easily taken up by the art market. Even expressions by artists without an object can be integrated into a commodifiable status, e.g., all of the ephemera and pictures of (post-)avant-garde events moved into private collections or public state ownership.

[67] Dirgantoro and Kent, “We need to talk!”

[68] Documenta fifteen, “ruangrupa and the Artistic Team on dismantling ‘People’s Justice’”, June 23, 2022, accessed September 29, 2022, https://documenta-fifteen.de/en/news/ruangrupa-on-dismantling-peoples-justice-by-taring-padi.

[69] This practice is not unlike other artistic collective practices, often associated with the avant-garde in Western Europe. In their early phases, avant-garde practices were usually a collective effort, or at least art was produced within cycles and networks of close exchanges. From today’s perspective, art history and the art market peeled off singular artists and artworks, stripping the collective context out of the creative process.

[70] “Relativism is a way of being nowhere while claiming to be everywhere equally. The ‘equality’ of positioning is a denial of responsibility and critical inquiry. Relativism is the perfect mirror twin of totalization in the ideologies of objectivity”; I use my interpretation of Donna Haraway’s concept of “accountability” in feminist objectivity, from Donna Haraway, “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective,” Feminist Studies 14, no. 3 (Autumn 1988): 584.

[71] See Kolb, “Situated Knowledges and Interdependence in the Exhibitionary-Educational Complex”:
“In her scientific studies [Margulis] argued against the New-Darwinist idea that competition creates evolutionary changes. Prominently opposing the competition-oriented views of evolution—that needless to stay, still are in place in scientific discourse although a proven fact provided by Margulis and others in scientific terms, and even more than alive in economic structures of financialized capitalism and traditional capitalist industry of production alike,—pointing out the collaborative relationships between species as the driving force of evolution. Adapting this biological scientific truth freely to culture and societies, it would suit us well to concentrate on cooperation (better:) collaboration and interdependencies over competition, separation and antagonism.”

[72] In this context, precarity as a contested concept became an issue in the “Global North” especially, and in this perspective refers to the end of Fordism and the replacement of stable unionized labor relations by a gig economy. In other parts of the world and in (post-)migratory movements, precarity does not seem to fit as an analytical category. In (post-)migratory formations, the main concern is not with security or the loss of economic basis, but with forms of oppression; not with stable jobs, but with the kinds of work that are under constant pressure. Xiang opts to analyze precarity through the lens of social reproduction—producing, maintaining, and improving daily life in terms of childbirth, education, elder care, family structures, etc.—, undertaking systemic analyses that go beyond experiential descriptions such as precarity, to enable the formation of strategies for a social transnational movement.
This proposed concept of precarity was presented by Biao Xiang on June 8, 2021, at the online conference called “Creating Commons in an Era of Precarity: A Multi/Trans-Disciplinary Conference on Migration and Asia,” accessed September 29, 2022, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1QPDUBeEPK0.

[73] “Trust” is one of the foundational values of ruangrupa and is in line with the emphasis on the building of networks in “friendship.” Hence the slogan: “Make friends, not art.”

[74] See the statement of the Scientific Advisory Panel, which was brought in by the shareholders of documenta gGmbH to analyze possible antisemitic expressions and the response by ruangrupa and lumbung artists: “Documenta 15 Releases Press Release By New Scientific Advisory Panel,” Griot, Sept. 11, 2022, accessed September 29, 2022, https://griotmag.com/en/documenta-15-releases-press-release-about-findings-by-new-scientific-advisory-panel.
e-flux Notes, “We are angry, we are sad, we are tired, we are united: Letter from lumbung community”, September 10, 2022, accessed: September 29, 2022, https://www.e-flux.com/notes/489580/we-are-angry-we-are-sad-we-are-tired-we-are-united-letter-from-lumbung-community.

[75] Geronimo Cristóbal, “Pushing Against the Roof of the World: ruangrupa’s prospects for documenta fifteen,” Third Text Online, October 26, 2020, accessed September 29, 2022, http://thirdtext.org/cristobal-ruangrupa.

[76] The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement was initially established by the civil society of Palestine, speaking against the Israeli politics of occupation towards the Palestinian territories.

[77] ruangrupa, “Anti-Semitism Accusations against documenta: A Scandal about a Rumor,” e-flux Notes, May 7, 2022, accessed September 29, 2022, https://www.e-flux.com/notes/467337/diversity-as-a-threat-a-scandal-about-a-rumor.

[78] Ibid.

[79] Oliver Marchart, Hegemony Machines: Documenta X to fifteen and the Politics of Biennialization (Zurich: OnCurating.org, July 2022).

[80] For an in-depth analysis, see Kolb, “The Curating of Self and Others.”

[81] Marchart, Hegemony Machines, 9–10.

[82] Ibid.

[83] Ibid., 11.

[84] In the conference Let there be lumbung, held September 20–23, 2022, Charles Esche, member of the search committee for documenta fifteen, gave a talk, positioning this documenta fifteen as the moment of a paradigm shift. See Charles Esche, “The 1st Exhibition of the 21st Century,” documenta fifteen, symposium “Let there be Lumbung”, September 21, 2022, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BjGxqUwOk0U&list=PLIk899bYfqf6sIWOlUYqfvsRGkiE2Drbv&index=3.

[85] Some “attacks” in German news outlets, but also internationally, indeed reduced documenta fifteen in its entirety to being antisemitic.

[86] Nikos Papastergiadis’ proposal might be interesting to look at closely, though one can see the holes in his argument. At least in the talk he gave in this instance, he excluded the material level and economic structure.

[87]See Nuraini Juliastuti, “Commons people, lumbung as a traveling concept,” documenta fifteen, symposium “Let there be Lumbung”, September 23, 2022, accessed September 29, 2022. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8tRTcX1C3AE.

[88] Chantal Mouffe, Agonistics: Thinking The World Politically (Brooklyn: Verso Books, 2013), xii.

[89] Haraway, “Situated Knowledges,” 579.

[90] The symposium “(un)Common Grounds: Reflecting on documenta fifteen” took place at Framer Framed at the Akademie van Kunsten in the Trippenhuis, Amsterdam from September 23 to 24, 2022. The panel I refer to was titled “Other Ways of documenta-ing: Democracy, Inclusion, and Decolonised Models of Art” with speakers Charles Esche, Ade Darmawan, Lara Khaldi, and Gertrude Flentge, moderated by Wayne Modest. I attended via the live stream on YouTube.

[91] See the paper by Erica Weiss, “Cultural hegemony, speech genres, and reconciliation: creating ‘Middle Eastern’ peace talk,” accessed: September 29, 2022, https://nomadit.co.uk/conference/easa2022/paper/65170.

[92] For the contextualization of ruangrupa’s practice from Indonesia, the last symposium “Let there be lumbung” was motivated to do so eventually by inviting Hilmar Farid, John Roosa, Melani Budianta, and Nuraini Juliastuti, all scholars with profound knowledge of Indonesian culture.

[93] Taring Padi’s collective practice using the means of caricature (a placative and propagandist practice), I also experienced as a very precise and (usually) careful practice, despite a rather binary world view. But integrated in the many other hegemony-producing works, an open-minded observation wasn’t possible—at least for me.

[94] However, it might not be the best idea to use caricaturesque collages as a learning tool.

[95] See the quote: “Tokyo Reels, a collection of twenty 16 mm films made by filmmakers from the UK, Italy, Germany, Palestine, Egypt, Iraq and Japan, exposing the internationalist scope of militant filmmaking during the period of 1960—1980.” “Screening “Mohanad Yaqubi - R.21 aka Restoring Solidarity,” Escautville, June 15, 2022, accessed September 29, 2022, https://www.escautville.org/post/screening-mohanad-yaqubi-r-21-aka-restoring-solidarity-15-june-14-00.

[96] This quote comes from Joseph Croitoru, whose aim it was to situate the film material of Tokyo Reels. Translation by the author. The text was published in: Die Hessische/Niedersächsische Allgemeine (HNA), September 15, 2022, accessed September 22, 2022, https://www.hna.de/kultur/documenta/pauschale-vorwuerfe-so-nicht-haltbar-91789526.html?itm_source=story_detail&itm_medium=interaction_bar&itm_campaign=share&fbclid=IwAR0EmtmpmBdiz7-KLSjAmZ7e6orI75dM3QiG1ykxMFNnwFWq3FgJQWmw0xQ.

[97] documenta fifteen, “Subversive Film”, accessed September 29, 2022, https://documenta-fifteen.de/en/lumbung-members-artists/subversive-film.

[98] “Screening “Mohanad Yaqubi - R.21 aka Restoring Solidarity.”

[99] documenta fifteen, “Subversive Film.”

[100] documenta fifteen, “Cao Minghao & Chen Jianjun,” accessed September 29, 2022, https://documenta-fifteen.de/en/lumbung-members-artists/cao-minghao-chen-jianjun.

[101] documenta fifteen, “KIRI Project /one hundred trees,” accessed September 29, 2022, https://documenta-fifteen.de/en/kiri-project-one-hundred-trees.

[102] documenta fifteen, “Marwa Arsanios,” accessed September 29, 2022, https://documenta-fifteen.de/en/lumbung-members-artists/marwa-arsanios.

[103] documenta fifteen, “Baan Noorg Collaborative Arts and Culture,” accessed September 29, 2022, https://documenta-fifteen.de/en/lumbung-members-artists/baan-noorg-collaborative-arts-and-culture.

[104] “(un)Common Grounds: Reflecting on documenta fifteen.

[105] Oliver Marchart, Conflictual Aesthetics: Artistic Activism and the Public Sphere (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2019).

[106] See “The ‘equality’ of positioning is a denial of responsibility and critical inquiry. Relativism is the perfect mirror twin of totalization in the ideologies of objectivity; both deny the stakes in location, embodiment, and partial perspective; both make it impossible to see well.” Haraway, “Situated Knowledges,” 584.

[107] An example of an equalization can be found in dOCUMENTA (13) with its postmodern gestures towards historicity, relativizing historical and contextual references by arranging historical objects and art works side-by-side in the so-called “brain”, a pivotal exhibition space at Fridericianum.

[108] Haraway, “Situated Knowledges,” 590.

Go back

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